Friday, September 15, 2006

Sunday - practiced for a long time (1.5~2 hrs) standard tuning, drop-D, DADGAD, the works baby. Tuesday ~40 min DADGAD, Wednesday ~50 min DADGAD, Thursday decided to take off of open mic because tendonitis was getting bad. Then Thursday afternoon, at the gym I overworked my right arm, so it is pretty sore at the moment (like I just got 3 tetanus shots all at once).

While I'm injured and not making much progress at the moment towards acoustic guitar virtuosity, I'll share a few thoughts on sustainable practice and injuries. Turn the clock back about 7 years... college senior Tony has just discovered fingerstyle guitar and alternate tunings and is going nuts practicing Bach, Michael Hedges, Phil Keaggy tunes and all kinds of stuff. But I've got a problem: I want to play this stuff now, and it takes a while to build the technique necessary to play this kind of material. Result: I practiced continually, often way after pain in my wrists and hands has been telling me to take a break. Often, I'd become angry that I couldn't play what I wanted to, and practice through the anger, tensing up and using way more pressure than needed to form chords. As a result, by spring 2000, my wrists were a mess, and I had a deep sense of failure and dissatisfaction with my playing. So, even though I am not Catholic, I decided to fast from all guitar playing for the season of Lent.

A couple of things came out of this fast: first, I had a chance to re-evaluate the maniacal importance I was placing on being an impressive guitar player. It gave me a chance to re-discover music in a sense. And I was surprised by how well my memory and technique survived the six weeks of rest. This was key in allowing my mind to relax a little about keeping up a crazy practice regimen. I read about Segovia, Bensusan, other amazingly great players and how they practice six, seven hours each day. There are a couple of important points to call out here:

1. They don't also work a full time job as a computer programmer (which I do, and which alone and take a real toll on the wrists)
2. They probably didn't wake up one day in college and say, from now on I will play the guitar for seven hours a day (in other words, it was probably not a cold start like I attempted)

As a result of my foolishness and the nature of my day job, I still need to constantly balance my desire to play guitar endlessly and the physical limitations with which I must come to terms.

I never play my guitar when I am angry now. Never. There is no excuse for this; one must have inner peace of mind in order to make music (even angry music), and not injure themselves.

At a party a few years ago, I met a guy who was training to run a marathon. He told me he had a specific schedule that took up him and down on different days in terms of mileage. The schedule also had days of rest. A typical week might look like:

day 1 - 4 miles
day 2 - 6 miles
day 3 - 4 miles
day 4 - rest
day 5 - 5 miles
day 6 - 8 miles
day 7 - rest

Day 6 is always the most mileage - eventually it is a full 23 miles. And the total miles per week goes up and down with a pattern similar to (though not exactly the same as) the pattern within a single week. Fascinating I thought - here is a strategy that exercise science has come up with to deal with the problem of ramping up to an event that requires extreme stamina. So I decided to apply it to guitar practice. I simply multiplied the miles by 10 minutes (or 15 or 20, whatever) and there is how much I practice each day.

Recently (since this August) I have been undisciplined about keeping this schedule, but I have mostly stuck to it for the past several years. I still don't quite know how to integrate performances into it (there is a kind of energy that takes over when you perform that allows you to go much longer, but afterwards I am pretty tapped).

Anyone reading this is welcome to post a comment and share what your practice strategy is.
I look forward to hearing about it!

1 comment:

Dan said...

My general practice strategy is to leave my guitar in the case at the back of my closet. Progress is slow, but my wrists feel great!