Is Bad Practice Better Than No Practice?

This is a really great question I was asked recently by a student:


“Obviously it’s best to do practice when you are feeling energised and can concentrate and perfect practice makes perfect. But for those times when you’re not quite sure of a rhythm or when you’re feeling a bit tired, sick or distracted, is ‘bad’ practice better or worse than no practice? Should I avoid playing so as not to potentially compound bad habits etc? Or is all practice better than nothing?”


First of all, when you are learning to play guitar, your MINDSET is the most important thing. What does mindset mean? It means the set of whatever different mental states can exist in your mind! Your mind can be focused or unfocused. Concentrated or distracted. Confident or unconfident. Strong-willed or weak-willed. Full of energy or full of lethargy. Committed or uncommitted.

If you are full of positive mental states, it will be easy for you to practice really well. But all of us experience negative mental states from time to time.

What happens when you feel tired, sick or distracted? Commitment, focus and confidence are going out the window!

Sometimes it is going to happen - it happens to EVERYONE, including me. There are 2 things you can do when this happens:

1) Stop playing and go do something else
2) Switch to playing something easier that you can enjoy playing

If you do number 1, you are setting up a bad habit of giving up when the going gets tough. If you do number 2, you are still playing and progressing - you can come back to the difficult task when you are refreshed, maybe later or maybe another day, with more energy and focus.

I recommend setting a short timer (5 minutes, or maybe more depending on your own level of focus and stamina) for very difficult pieces or parts of pieces, and focusing totally on it for that amount of time, and then switching to an easier task.

Don't frustrate yourself by trying to do something very difficult that requires huge concentration when you are tired or sick!

A word about habits: don't worry about forming bad habits when you play. It is unlikely that you will learn to play perfectly right from the beginning. It is also impossible to focus equally on everything: right hand, left hand, legs, posture, music, rhythm, dynamics, etc etc - there are so many things to focus on! But as you get better at playing, you get more "task-ready", so you can perform your task (playing a piece) and focus on different elements while doing it. In other words, you might form an imperfect habit at first, but that's ok - change it later on. Learn - improve – and this will eventually lead to mastery!


About the Author:


Daniel Jacobson is the owner and instructor at Ultimate School of Music that helps guitar players reach the next level through their guitar lessons in Dublin