We all know that exercises are designed to bring our skills to the next level and beyond. But there is a fine line between playing too many exercises and not enough music. Music is the reason why we play the guitar in the first place.
Lets take the scales as an example. At first, you may struggle to play scales, your picking is not smooth and you have a lot of excessive right-hand movement (if you are left-handed, it will be your left hand- the picking one). It might also be difficult to synchronise both hands. Many times one hand doesn’t want to ‘listen’ to the other one. Once you pass this initial frustration, it will start sounding better and better, and of course will start to feel more natural. It will become so easy that you will start doing it more and more … We don’t like to struggle, we love easy stuff. This is where this potential problem may arise from. To be honest, I wrote this article as a reminder for myself, as I am just as guilty as everybody else.
The exercises are predefined, structured and predictable, are easy to use and are the basis for our practicing plan. Of course, we have to use them to bring our technique to the next level (and we should!). On the other hand, playing music, improvising or learning new songs may not be as enjoyable as doing exercises. It requires more of your mental focus.
After a busy day at work, it is just easier to pick up the guitar, play a few chromatic exercises, a couple of scales and have the feeling that we have done the job. This is the moment where we need to change the balance.
Learning and playing songs, improvising and playing with others should be the major focus of our playing. This is the stuff that will make us better musicians and will increase our repertoire and understanding of music. Using the scales in a creative way (for example: selecting the notes that sound good and resolve around the chords instead of playing it up and down the fretboard) – this is where the majority of our focus should be.
I would aim for more than 60% of your time spent on playing actual music. Give it a go for 2 – 3 weeks and see if it works for you. Suddenly you might find out that playing the guitar is more fun, more enjoyable and you are inspired to pick up the instrument!