How to Re-Start Your Guitar Practice After a Break

In a life of music, detours and distractions are par for the course.

So how can we best start back up after a break? How can we go from doing nothing, to the habit of daily practice, with enthusiasm and excitement?

First, Release Guilt – It Happens to Everyone

One of the hardest parts to restarting our guitar practice is facing guilt. We often feel guilty that we allowed our guitar practice routine to fall off in the first place.

This feeling compounds when we try to play something from before, and find we can no longer play it. We feel like we’ve slid backward. And this makes re-starting even more emotionally difficult.

To move forward, the next step must be to release guilt.

We must drop the stories of what “could have been”, or “should have been”. We have to stop fussing at ourselves. We have to look ahead, not behind, and get excited about the actions within our control.

Set a Low Bar to Success

When we first sit back down to practice after a break, we need to feel successful. To feel successful, we need to reach a goal or meet an expectation.

To guarantee success, we can set very small goals.

Examples of small, attainable goals include:

  • “Just sit down and pick up the guitar. ”
  • “Review my basic chords, reminding myself of any I’ve forgotten.”
  • “Do one simple exercise or pattern I still remember from before.”
  • “Tune my guitar and organize my practice space.”

The main point is that whatever we make as a goal, we do it. Size doesn’t matter, only successful completion.

These small wins create momentum. And to get back into the habit of practicing, momentum is the fuel to keep going.

Just Have Fun

We may have larger long-term goals, such as maintaining a full repertoire. But at this point, we do best by focusing on fun.

Again, the goal is to create momentum. When we have fun we’re more likely to sit back down to practice tomorrow.

Whatever we enjoy most, this is where we should spend time working.

It doesn’t matter if the practice isn’t balanced or well-rounded. All that matters is that it feels good.

We can always decide to be more disciplined or organized later, when we have the momentum behind us. Fun first, everything else later.

Focus on Fingers

When we’re not practicing, music often becomes a mental game. We philosophize and theorize about guitar playing, instead of actually practicing.

To remedy this, we can put our attention on our hands.

We can perform exercises, scales, chord drills, etc. that demand accuracy and precision. These put our awareness on the small details of movement and sound.

Becoming embodied (body-aware), we’re more likely to enter a flow state and lose track of our practice time. This feels great, and makes for a rewarding and fulfilling practice session.

Gain Momentum

Whatever strategy we choose, the most important part is that we gain momentum.

To play classical guitar takes skills built over time. Large, infrequent practice sessions lead to very little advancement. But consistent, small practice sessions help us become a better guitarist.

Often, we gain momentum in as few as three or four consecutive days of practice. At this point, remembering and showing up to practice becomes much easier.

To start back up after a break, the best way is to remind ourselves why we love guitar. We can re-associate guitar practice with joy and fun. We can reconnect with what brought us to playing music and guitar in the first place. And with this, we get over the hump.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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