Use A Timer
Kitchen timer for your guitar practice? really? ok...
When it was first suggested to me that I start using a timer when I practiced I thought it was a real joke. Didn't make any sense to me at all, seemed too technical and too organised, to rigid to be good for music and just silly. But how wrong I was...
There are a couple of amazing things happen when you start using a timer:
• You develop the ability to practice in a very focused way.
• You use your time effectively.
• You practice a range of skills in a practice session.
If you are like me, often when you practice you get really into what you are doing and could quite happily sit and practice the same thing for hours on end. Although not really a bad thing (and lots better than not doing any practice), there are much better ways...
Justinguitar Practice Timer
One of my virtual students made an awesome timer for me - just click here and it will pop up. Big thank you to Alessio Di Mauro for making it. :) Don't forget too that there is a timer built into the Justinguitar Time Trainer Metronome as well!
When people practice something that involves repetition, a big part of the game is to maintain concentration. Other thoughts drift into the mind, thoughts about food or relationships or whatever. The big deal with using a timer is to really focus your mind on the task at hand, there are very few guitar skills that won't benefit from your attention.
When you start working with a timer, set it on 2 minutes. And maybe start with something like scales. Decide the scale you will work on, start the timer and then work on that one skill for 2 minutes. If any other thoughts enter your mind, push them out. Don't let them invade your practice time. Just simply renew your focus on the task at hand, look at how your fingers are moving and what needs work.
Many people find it difficult to focus like this. The major benefit of using a timer is that your mind knows that it only has to use this intense concentration for a finite period. It's a bit like a sprint, when you know where the finish line is you feel better about giving it your all until you get there because you know you can have a rest at the end!
Learning to focus takes practice, and after a while you will find you can concentrate for quite a while without other thoughts getting in the way. Build it up slowly, be confident with a 2 minute focus and build it up over a month or two. I very rarely use this focus approach for longer than 5 minutes on one exercise, I know I can concentrate much longer but most times 5 focused minutes is enough!
Effectively using your time
The other major benefit of using a timer is to stop yourself from over practicing. It's easy to get excited about a particular skill and want to keep working on it, but you then risk ignoring other skills or areas of practice. Many times people work far too much on technical exercises and nowhere near enough on transcribing, repertoire, aural training or theory. Other people spend all their time playing songs and not doing any technical work - both of which are as bad as each other. The only forgivable one would someone who transcribes all the time, that person would end up a good player, but that's a whole other story...
Take a look at the Intermediate Practice Routine and see the way that it is laid out, observe the amount of exercises to do to have a balanced routine. Getting lost in time and spending too long on any particular exercise means that you will be unable to work on other areas. Usually when this happens people work on the areas they like and leave out others they find difficult...
I think it is also very important to schedule in some fun jam and play anything too... just play the riffs you like, muck about. There is a lot more to be learned doing this than you might first think.
I generally recommend beginners schedule HALF of available time to mucking around, playing songs and just enjoying the instrument.
Intermediate players should maybe allow a quarter of practice time to free playing. I find that it opens the doors to the new things I'm working on to come and mingle with the older ideas and concepts I like using. If you do a One Hour Workout and then add on at least 15 minutes of jam muck around time (maybe even a half hour!). Many of my students found it easier to just do the scheduled routine during the week and then jam lots and play for fun on the weekends... just don't forget to do it!
I hope that helps you make the most of your... precious time :)