5 Things You Should Do When Starting To Practice Guitar Again After A Long Break From Playing
by Tom Hess
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Ever have periods of time when you don’t practice guitar for a few days? How about a few weeks…or months (ugh)? If you have, then you know how frustrating it is to pick up your guitar and be shocked by how much your playing has gone backwards…
I can relate… after my 2012 world tour, I took a long break from seriously playing and practicing guitar. What started as a short planned break, turned into a longer one. 3 months later, it was time to begin recording another album. I picked up my guitar and… well, let's just say the sound that came out of my amplifier was nothing I wanted to hear.
If you've ever taken a break from playing guitar (or haven't seriously practiced guitar in a long while), here are 5 things to do to get your guitar speed, technique and consistency back:
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1. Practice With Your Brain First…Your Fingers Second
ZERO mindless guitar practice allowed! Not only is this required for normal guitar practice, but it’s ESPECIALLY critical when practicing guitar after a break. After taking a long break from serious practicing, the chances of bad habits creeping back into your guitar playing are especially high. If you allow your mind to wander while practicing guitar, there is a very good chance you will develop bad habits (even if they were never there in your playing before)! Here are the best ways to prevent this by ensuring that you stay focused during your guitar practice:
- Follow a very effective guitar practice routine that’s designed to get your guitar technique back in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Such a routine will FORCE you to focus and make mindless practicing virtually impossible.
- Apply the principle of focus rotation to make sure that your mind is always actively engaged in the process of practicing. I talk about this at length in this guide to doubling your guitar speed.
- Choose guitar technique exercises that have the maximum amount of guitar playing transferability. This will make it easier to avoid boredom (the primary cause of mindless practicing) and also will drastically reduce the time it takes to get back on track with your guitar playing after a break.
2. Avoid Overcompensation
Many guitar players overcompensate for their periods of no guitar practice by trying to play excessive hours when they start up again. This often leads to ineffective / unorganized practice, injury and massive frustration (similar to trying to play at your top speed immediately after a break from practicing). This overcompensation is based on the false belief that more guitar practice will make you a better player. Truth is, you can easily make A LOT of progress in less time by practicing in short, highly-focused intervals throughout the day. The reason why this works so well is because the short amount of practice time allows you to practice without losing concentration or focus. So, instead of working on your sweep picking technique (for example) for an hour straight, you divide your guitar practice time into four 15 minute sessions. In the end, it is much easier to practice for 15 minutes in a row than for an entire hour (where you would probably take several breaks and lose practice time anyway).
The guitar practice routine that I recommend to use for getting your guitar skills back after taking a break is based upon this principle.
3. Put First Things First
When you don’t play guitar for awhile, your musical skills fade away at different rates. Your guitar technique is almost always the first to weaken (compared to other skills, such as music theory knowledge or ear training for example). Therefore, for the first 1-2 weeks of practicing guitar after a break, you MUST prioritize guitar technique in your practicing above everything else. Yes, you read correctly: you will get your musical skills back faster if, for the first 1-2 weeks of playing guitar after a break, you focus all (or at least most) of your guitar practice time on technique only.
Note: of course I'm NOT saying that you must “always” focus 100% on technique only when you practice guitar. I'm only saying that your first 1-2 weeks of practicing guitar “after a break” must be very technique-focused.
Incidentally, even when you aren’t physically practicing guitar, you can and SHOULD be practicing many things away from the guitar to not let your other musical skills deteriorate in the first place. You can do this no matter how busy you are (since you can make time for practicing during your idle time in the day, such as when standing in line at the grocery store, driving to work / school, etc.).
4. Learn To Crawl Before You Can Walk…All Over Again
In the first week of getting back to practicing guitar after a break, you CANNOT start immediately playing the same licks, riffs or songs you’ve played before. The reason is because you do not have the same refined level of control you once had over fundamental hand and finger movements. If you immediately rush into playing fast or difficult things on guitar, you will play very sloppily and may even injure yourself due to the extra tension caused from inefficient movement. This is like trying to run a marathon after you haven’t exercised in years... Everything that is needed to make your body complete the marathon (muscle strength, cardiovascular health, endurance, etc.) has gone unused for a long time, making it extremely underdeveloped for the work that needs to be done. If you try to run the race before preparing yourself adequately, you will fail to finish and risk injuring yourself in the process.
To ensure that you get your playing back to the level it was before (without injuring and needlessly frustrating yourself), focus primarily on perfecting the fundamentals of your technique for the entire first week of practice. As you do this, pay close attention to the extra tension you feel in your body and minimize it as much as possible. Do NOT give in to the temptation to play very fast or technical guitar licks. By working slowly to rebuild coordination between both hands, you create a solid foundation from which to play guitar faster, cleaner and more accurately.
Good news: it doesn't take nearly as long as you think to get your guitar technique back even after you haven’t played guitar or months (follow this guitar practice schedule to get your technique back in 2 weeks flat).
5. Gain Control Over Your Frustrations To Take Advantage Of Mistakes
It’s easy to get frustrated when you know you used to play guitar much better than you are playing right now. However, do NOT let this frustration take control of your playing and kill your motivation to practice guitar! By allowing frustration, anger or disappointment to influence your guitar practice, it will become much harder to get your chops back to where they were.
Truth is, making mistakes is an inevitable part of the process of becoming a great guitar player. Much of your practice time will be spent in a never-ending process of analyzing, isolating and fixing your guitar playing mistakes to improve your skills to a higher level. If you really love playing guitar, it makes very little sense to become frustrated by this 100% necessary aspect of practicing. Instead, focus on using mistakes as helpful tools for understanding what you are currently doing wrong, so you can refine your guitar practice approaches to get a better result. By removing the negative emotions that stand between your mistakes and your ability to fix them, you allow yourself to address issues in your guitar playing more directly – becoming a better player much faster.
Now that you know what to do to get your guitar skills back after not playing for awhile, implement the concepts described in this article and watch your guitar skills far surpass your previous best levels of playing.
After you get your guitar playing / technique back on track, make sure to STAY on track and make the fastest progress possible by using the best guitar practice schedules for your musical goals.
Learn the best way to organize guitar practice in order to get big results in your guitar playing.