When I started learning guitar, my intuitive approach to practice was to cram in as much as possible in whatever time I had available. Unfortunately, my results were only half positive. I learned quickly but would also have lots of random memory slips in my performances. I developed really good playing stamina but got injured a lot. And my technique also developed incredibly fast but only to an impassible point.
So, after plenty of frustration, I started researching science-based learning strategies and discovered several articles on the benefits of spaced practice for accelerated memory and motor-skill development (e.g., A, B, C, D, E, F, G). The downside was that these articles confirmed that my intuitive approach to practice was completely wrong. 🤕 But the upside was that this strategy was an easy-to-use and effective solution to a big part of my practice struggles! 🥳
The concept of spaced practice is simple: for faster learning and motor-skill development, break up your learning or improvement of a task within and across your practice sessions and across several days.
For example, instead of trying to master phrase 1 (P1) of a piece of music in one 20-minute sitting, add phrase 2 (P2) & phrase 3 (P3) of the same piece to your session to create more learning space. Then focus on improving each phrase in 3 sets of 2-minute practice chunks. You'll end up with a total of 6 minutes of work on each phrase which you can repeat the next day and/or in the next practice session. Even though you end up with less time on each phrase in one session, the spacing (and interleaving) effect will accelerate proper learning if you consistently repeat this idea over time. It looks something like this:
Day 1: Sets 1, 2, & 3
P1 = 2 minutes
P2 = 2 minutes
P3 = 2 Minutes
Day 2: Sets 1, 2, & 3
P3 = 2 minutes
P1 = 2 minutes
P2 = 2 Minutes
IMPORTANT: Use a timer, and when it goes off move to the next phrase no matter how far along you've gotten in your improvement. Your goal should be to make small & mindful musical improvements, not just to fill up the 2 minutes with lots of repetitions.
Aside from the example above, there are several more ways you can use spaced practice to accelerate your learning and motor skill development:
Use Micro-Breaks: Take a 2-10 second relaxation break (i.e., hands off the guitar) between every 1-2 repetitions and a 15-30 second break between challenge spots or phrases.
Use Movement Breaks: Take a 2-3 minute break after every 15-20 minutes of work. Stand up and walk around or do some jumping jacks. Do NOT engage in another task that requires heavy focus or quick changes in focus (e.g., social media)!
Use Long Breaks: If you can, take a 10 to 20-minute meditation break immediately after a practice session. If you have 2 or 3 practice sessions in a day, space them out at least 1-2 hours apart. And of course, make sure to get a good 7-9 hours of sleep. The spacing effect combined with rest will accelerate proper memory & motor-skill consolidation.
Remember to solve your errors efficiently.
And of course, always be highly focused and alert when practicing.
Please let me know in the comments at the bottom of the page if you found these strategies helpful.
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