Thoughts On: Time Management

"Time is the mechanism God created to keep everything from happening all at once."

Having a Set Time for Practice

So, you’re going to practice really, really hard and become a guitar superstar. You’ll need to practice, practice, practice, and when you’re finished, you’ll need to practice some more. Eventually, you will come to a point of practicing your practice. Which is what I like to write about in this blog.

The first thing you’ll need is a set time to practice. This isn’t a set-in stone, unmovable time, but a consistent time. A time set aside to focus on this instrument you’ve chosen to pursue. For me, I’ve tired many different time slots of the day, before dinner, after dinner, after work, late at night just before bed, lunch hour, but the best time I’ve found for me is in the morning. After my shower, coffee, and Bible reading, I’m ready for an hour or two of playing the strings and working on my technique, new pieces and repertoire.

On occasion, I’ll work through the technique and new music portions of the practice and play the repertoire at night, just before bed. Most times this helps me relax. Point being: find a time in the day that works as well for your schedule as it does your mind. I find that mornings work best for me. My mind is fresh and ready to go and to work out the challenges that await.

Having a Set Time to Practice

Hang on there Mr. Pauly Guitar man, you just covered that. Not so fast, my dear guitar friend. Reread the headings. Once you have determined the time of day to practice, then determine the amount of time you will practice. My full-blown practice regiment consists of 2 hours. If I’m up by 7 AM and ready to play by 8 AM, I have plenty of time to do my full work out. The only hard part is that I’m a night owl and getting up early is hard.

Setting a block of time to practice is well worth the effort. It’s a time to focus. It’s a time to work through those exercises so critical to your success as a musician. The person who plans their time will have success in time. If you don’t have 2 hours for practice, practice for an hour. If you don’t have an hour, practice for 30 or 45 minutes.

Having a Set Place to Practice

As important as it is to have a set time to practice, it’s important to have a set place or places to practice. Having a dedicated room, home studio, or a place where you can just get away from it all for short amount of time is significant. Not only will you have time to focus on your pieces and the technique you need to work on, you can do it without distractions. A distraction free place of solitude with the silky-smooth sounds of a nylon strung guitar… and a metronome. It takes me away.

Having a dedicated place to work on your music will help box your time in. I usually have my time in my corner where I have enough space for my practice book, a chair, my fan, and my phone (i.e. metronome) (at the time of this writing, I have a studio corner instead of a room because we live in a small house). When it’s nice outside, I enjoy practice on back porch.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to beware of the phone distraction. I use my phone for a metronome, but I know for some people that might be a temptation. If the phone distracts you, buy a metronome. You can order one…. on your phone.

Having a Plan to Practice

As they say: “Plan your work, work your plan.” Having a focused regiment. In my two-hour practice sessions, I have 12 sections of techniques and routines that touch on pretty much every aspect of the guitar (that I’m aware of). I spend five to ten minutes each on eight sections of technique. I spend about 10 minutes or so on sight-reading, 20-30 minutes or so on a new piece, 3-5 minutes on pieces I’m ready to film, and roughly 15-25 minutes on repertoire. That’s my long practice.

My short practice, I spend about 30-45 minutes working on the basics: scales, arpeggios, slurs, stretches, and repertoire.  Then there are those days where I sleep in.

Conclusion

The big idea here is to have a set time to focus on set tasks that will make you a better guitarist. While the structure can become complicated, the goal is not. The goal is to play beautifully on this wonderful instrument God has given us.

Quick Tips: 10 Minute Short Practices

So, you got up late and you don't have time to practice. Or, you have plans tonight and you don't have time to squeeze in a few minutes on the guitar. Here's a way (for at least some of us) to practice even when our day is jammed packed (see what I did there). 

10 Minute Short Practices

Some days just don't work out like we plan them to. For me, that's getting up, having a cup of coffee (or two), reading the Bible, and then practicing the guitar for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour and half. However, when that can't happen, I try to practice in short 10 minute practices throughout the day. I wouldn't recommend this as your normal practice routine. It's only for those days when you have a limited amount of time.

For example: my practice routine is broken up into sections, scales, arpeggios, slurs, stretches, new piece etc. (actually, I have 11 key sections of practice, which I will elaborate on in another post). If you break those up into 10 minute slots throughout the day, you can effectively practice what needs to be practiced for that day.

More examples: You could spend 10 minutes on scales before work, then take a break in a couple of hours and spend 10 minutes on arpeggios. At lunch you could play through your slurs and stretches. A couple hours after lunch you could work on a section of your new piece. Adjust the schedule as needed.

Planning is Key

For this to work, you will need to plan for it. You'll notice in the example, the day is broken up into a two hours then break format. This has been my personal practice for years. If you need to do this kind of practice for a day, it helps to know what you're going to work on. Maybe you do scales in the morning and practice your new piece at lunch. As these are short practices, only focus on what's needed. I wouldn't try to do all 11 sections of my practice on a day where I have little time to focus on those areas.

Guitar for Off-Site Practice

Some folks have the opportunity to work from home. Having a home office or an office where you can bring your guitar in and play for a few minutes during the day. However, what if you don't have that opportunity? What if you don't want to bring an expensive instrument to your worksite?

Most of us will have inexpensive instruments around somewhere. There have been days where I would grab the cheapest guitar I had and take it to work with me. Then, on breaks, walk out to the car, grab the guitar, and work the passages I was studying for the day. If you don't have a cheap guitar and you don't fill like taking your guitar to work with you, then you might consider getting a cheaper instrument like the Yamaha C40. Something that can get damaged, lost, or stolen and it's not a huge deal. I'd rather break or scratch a $150 guitar verses a $3000 one.   

5 Things You Need to Learn Classical & Fingerstyle Guitar, Part 2: The Metronome

The dreaded, the feared, the despised:  The Metronome. I've not met a musician who hasn't loathed the thing. However, it is the very thing that makes you good. The metronome itself will sharpen your sense of timing. 

According to the ever trusted and faithful steward of all things true on the innerweb, Wikipedia, Johann Nepomuk M√§lzel wasn’t the original inventor or the metronome. It was Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel who was the original originator. It seems that Dietrich didn’t copyright his invention and Johann seized the opportunity, added the scale, and…. um, stole and… ah…. received the credit for the device.

What is it?

So, what is a metronome? How does it work? A metronome, obviously, is a mechanical or electronic device or software program that produces a steady pulse, either a click or a beep, that helps the practicing musician or someone recording to stay in time with the music.  

The mechanical metronomes operate via an inverted pendulum with a weight attached to it on the outside and a second weight attached to it on the inside of the device. The weight on the outside allows you to control the speed at which the ‘click’ occurs (as you shouldn’t be messing with the weight on the inside…. don’ t you do it). This is usually measured in Beats Per Minute (bpm).

Electronic metronomes use a quartz crystal to create this pulse or beat and now-a-days you can download metronomes on your phone or in your browser.

What does it do for you?

According to Kyle Coughlin the metronome does five things:

  • It improves your sense of timing – A metronome helps you to sync up your playing to the rhythm.
  • It helps develop listening skills – When playing with the metronome you have to discipline yourself and listen to everything that is going on. Listen to the pulse being produced, listen to your playing, listen to your singing… or not singing. Timing is everything. This will make you a better musician.
  • The metronome will reveal the mistakes – have you ever been playing a piece and when the hard section comes up, you automatically slow down? I have. A metronome will reveal that you really need to work on that section. 
  • The metronome provides structure to your practice – It makes you slow down and focus on those hard parts. It helps with your coordination. Practicing slowing and with the metronome makes you accurate in your playing.
  • Accuracy in your playing – The metronome helps you play rhythms more correctly. Listening to the pulse and counting out loud (before you pick up your instrument) will help you understand how the rhythm is exactly played.

So, go forth my very musical friend and be not afraid of the metronome. It will help make you a fine musician. 

Thoughts On: Live Streaming and Videos

A friend recently asked me about making videos and online streaming. Specifically about making guitar videos. I think the first question that I would ask is, why do you want to make videos? For me, I just like the process and the creativity side of it all. I tried the YouTuber thing. Now, I make videos from time to time because I like to. To make a form of art, instead of building a business and hopefully to glorify God in all things. Here are some thoughts on making classical guitar videos:

Teaching or Demonstrating

If you are teaching or demonstrating something in a video, it might be advantageous to speak on the video, especially if you are doing a live stream. Have you ever seen those demo videos where there is music, but no voice-over. Okay, honestly, those drive me crazy. Consider a couple of good examples:

Lighting

Lighting is extremely important in videos. If your on a budget, I would suggest natural sunlight bulbs in a desk lamp with some parchment page as being used to defuse the light a bit (hey, it works).  Here's a video on some other ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flc5iP0KwTg

Premiere Your Videos

If you have the capability (from your video platform) you can premiere your videos. Let your viewer know ahead of time that you are about to release a video or do a live stream. This give people the option to sign up to see the video (set themselves a reminder). It could lead to more streams on your video. Not all video platforms offer this option.... and yes, there are more video platforms out there than YouTube.

Other Video Platform Options

I have to admit. I like YouTube. I like the platform. I've learn a lot of stuff from YouTube. However, YouTube's direction is going downhill.... FAST! Everything is being politized and commercialized. YouTube will eventually die off. It's the way of things. That's sad, but there is good news (and even better news).  There are other video sites out there. I highly encourage you to branch out. There are other video sites out there. YouTube is not the only game in town. There's Rumble, Bitchute, Youmaker, Odysee (I think Odysee is owned by Google, but don't quote me on that), and a few others. The way things are going, these make be some sites you'll want to check out.

Live Streaming

I don't know of many people live streaming and playing their guitar on a regular basis. A downside to live streaming is that, while you can add reverb (and I assume EQ), you can't, to my knowledge, process your audio (normalizing the audio etc). I'm sure there's a way to make the guitar sound amazing without post processing. I think that quality of video is number one when doing a video. If you can bump up your quality in your live streams, I'd do that. Check out this page for video & audio tips:

Bonus Ideas

Banners and Avatars
Most of these video sites have banners and avatars on the profiles. My encouragement would be make these good, high quality images. Tell people what your page does and what you are promoting videos on. Be clear and concise. Be classically. 

Thumbnails
Thumbnails are huge on YouTube. It's the bait for people to click (and I don't mean click-bait). The better, classier, cleaner the thumbnail, the more likely you'll get a click (and possibly a subscriber).

Fill Out All the Information on Your Page
There can be a lot of information on you video page to fill out. The site's name, links to websites and social media, playlists, descriptions... etc. Look for videos that help you help you think about and use these options to the fullest. 

These are just a couple of thoughts off the top of my head to start with. This rabbit hole goes pretty deep, but it's not hard (could be time consuming until you get a workflow down). I hope this helps. 

Thoughts On: Completing Projects

coffee and notebook

Have you ever felt like completing projects is your nemesis? I don't know how many projects I have laying around the house. Those ideas that you come up with and are all the rage at the moment, but after you work on them for a bit, they get pushed to the side to make way for the next 10 exciting projects. Ever feel like that? I do. So, here are some thoughts on completing those wonderful pesky projects. 

Get Organized

The best thing you can do, if you haven't done it, is to get your projects in order. I like to write my projects down on a sheet off of a note pad. I tend to revise this every couple of days depending on the amount of progress that has been made. I like to list them in them in chronological order (i.e. in the order that the idea or project came up). Then of course list them in order of priority over that. This means that some of the more urgent projects will be moved to the front. At the time of this writing I have:

  1. An arrangement for Jesus, Your Mercy by Jordan Kauflin.
  2. Need to learn an arrangement for As the Deer by Martin J. Nystrom for our trio.
  3. Need to learn an arrangement for To God be the Glory by Fanny Crosby and tune by William Howard Doane for a piano and guitar duet
  4. Two orchestra pieces to finish, presently named by the date they were started only
  5. Two EP's to record (you see what has gotten put on the back burner, and I'm working on my first full album also.
Just a word of warning: this list can get very, very long. 

Stick to One Project at a Time

Yeah, I realize that's easier said than done. However, limiting yourself to one (or even two projects) tends to get those projects crossed off the list, because you know that they are lots more projects to do. If you get stuck on a project, then by all means, lay it to the side and let it marinate. If at all possible, stick to the one project until it's done.

Take Notes

As creative people, we are going to come up with more ideas than we can ever handle. Come up with a system of taking notes, jotting down ideas, to visit them at a later date. I usually use my phone's voice recorder to hum an idea and to record something I've improvised on the guitar. Then go back to your idea pool from time to time and see what, if anything, you'd like to work on.