Have No Time to Practice Guitar?

Are you struggling to squeeze in guitar practice while juggling a day job, kids, wife, and side hustle?

You don’t need hours. You need minutes over the span of months.

One of the myths I had to overcome was thinking that the demands of life would one day fall away and I would be free to do what I really wanted with my time.

But not only have I found this to be untrue––life’s demands seem to increase as I get older––but I’m not even sure it’s something that I would want.

I think your life as it stands is what makes the time you get with guitar meaningful. It’s a creative outlet, or a place where for moments at a time, you get to pursue mastery at the suspension of everything else. There’s something deeply meaningful about that.

Sure, you could argue that if you had more time, you would derive even more meaning from the guitar. And it’s possible. But in my own case, I highly doubt it.

It took me a while to adjust to the constraints of tendinitis. At first, I could only play for 10 minutes per day. Over time, I bumped that up to 30 minutes. 

And now, I can play for an hour (much more than that and I end up paying a price that’s not worth it to me, since the pain can bar me from the guitar for days).

But eventually, I realized that the constraints helped me thrive in myriad ways:

1. I took the time seriously and made it a priority.

This led to consistency, which has been demonstrated to be even more important than almost anything else when it comes to developing skill.

It’s as if you continue to send the message to your body and brain that this is an activity you have to adapt to. Without that signal, you’re less likely to make the skill a priority on a neurophysiological level (or so goes my useful hypotheses).

2. It forced me to make the very most out of minimal time.

The entire Guitar Acceleration Methodology wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this. It made me ask questions like:

  • How do I ensure that I am practicing the absolute most productive thing I can?
  • How do I ensure that every second of my practice session is spent pushing myself (instead of mindlessly noodling)?
  • How do I get 10x the benefit of a single rep or play-through than is typical?
  • How do I meaningfully track my progress from session-to-session?
  • If I had all the time in the world, there’s no way I would have explored different ways of approaching my practice time.

Constraints are useful, and even vital, so long as you start to see them as such. Instead of lamenting all of the things you wish you could do, why not carefully consider making the very most of the little bit of time that you do have?

It’s a simple flip from: “I can’t do this” to “What can I do?” 

With that being said, here are some practical ways to make sure you are making progress on the guitar even as life seems to keep you from playing it:

1. Schedule it. Make it automatic.

Make it non-negotiable at some point in your schedule. Meaning, carve it out like it was a meeting with your boss that you can’t miss, or as mandatory as taking your kids to school.

We schedule time for everyone else. We can schedule some time for ourselves, too. Even if it’s only five minutes. If you spend that time practicing deeply [which we talk about in detail here], it can pay off surprisingly handsomely, especially over time. 

I like to stack my guitar practice onto a routine that is already firmly established (like making coffee in the morning).

If I can squeeze a few minutes of guitar practice while drinking my coffee, I’m good for the day, and I made it easy because I was taking advantage of the momentum of a well-entrenched habit.

You can see this process in action here:


2. You don’t need as much time as you think.

You don’t actually need a lot of time on the guitar itself to make significant progress. This sounds counter to everything you hear about putting in the hours (perhaps even the whopping 10,000 oversimplification). 

But after working with over 2,000 players (and surveying many thousands more) to reach their goals on the guitar, I’ve seen that many of the goals can be achieved in far less time than assumed.

Not everyone wants to be a virtuoso. Most goals are much more attainable and within your reach. But even if the big goal isn’t, there are smaller goals along the way that are perfectly satisfying. So often, we want it all and we want it now. 

But what if, instead of being able to play the entirety of Cliffs of Dover, flawlessly, and up to speed… you can play the iconic chorus riff well enough for you to smile about it? 

If you learn the riff (which you can learn in less than an hour, even if you aren’t able to play it perfectly or up to speed), you now have it to practice for 5-10 minutes a day. 

If you keep this up, you will absolutely see progress. The progress will be satisfying. You’ll keep going. And before you know it, you’ll have mastered that particularly riff and you can move onto the rest of the song.

The older we get, the faster time seems to move. Months can melt away. We reach the end of the year and wonder what the hell happened.

The point?

A month can be over in a blink of an eye. But with just 5-10 minutes per day over the course of 30 days, you can make stunning progress on being able to play something you’ve always dreamed of playing so long as you commit to consistency

You might as well take the time the passes so fast to learn something that lasts.

3. Practice the right stuff.

Don’t waste the 10 minutes you have deciding what to practice or riffing on the same stuff you’ve repeated for years. Get yourself a rock solid curriculum. I like to collect what I call “Motherlode Scenarios.”

These are exercises that target a single skill at a time that are so challenging and productive that you could work on them for a lifetime without being able to master them (but they cover all of your bases and give you a disproportionate benefit for the time invested).

These take some time to learn, of course, but within a few 10-minute sessions, you’ll have them memorized and they’re something you can practice endlessly and continue to see endless improvement (so long as you are pushing yourself and cleaning up your mistakes along the way).

What’s even better to learn are songs (or moments from songs) that you love. Even if those moments seem impossibly out of reach and beyond your current capability (in fact, that criteria is strongly encouraged, and I delve into why here).

4. Incubate and improve during your downtime.

There are many ways you can improve your skills on the guitar without actually playing it. And many of those ways can happen during your idle time (even, and especially, during sleep). But it takes some consciousness and deliberate planning.

And Incubation tends to do very little for you if you aren’t also practicing consistently (again, the practice can be mere minutes, so long as it’s sufficiently deep).

I always like to think of this as “survival signals.” Are you sending a sufficiently salient signal to your body and brain that the action you are struggling to execute is important?

If the brain gets the message that the action is important, it will use its resources to make the action more or less automatic (unconscious competence) in an effort to conserve energy for higher order priorities (like threats to your life, or the need to acquire food or reproduce, for example).

One of the best ways to transmit this signal is to keep trying––and struggling––to do something, and then to keep thinking about it even when you aren’t actively trying to do it.

An efficient way you can do this is by imagining doing it in your mind (which is way easier said than done). If you do this before you drift off to sleep; that’s all the better.

(We cover many more methods for improving your skills without touching the guitar inside of the Incubation module of Guitar Acceleration, which you can check out here).

Bottom line: there’s no need to stress about feeling short on time. The sense that you are running out of time or simply don’t have time to practice is understandable, but it’s not helpful. 

I assure you: You won’t lose all of your hard-won skills. And what you want with the guitar is still within your grasp. And it doesn’t require as much time as you might think.

There are ways to practice that can lead to rapid progress in very little time. 

There are many virtuosos who insist that the only way to get there is to practice all day every day.

That might have been true in the past, because we had to figure out everything on our own, and stumble around a lot. But we have discovered a lot since then about how the body and brain works, and the process of skill development itself.

One thing we have discovered is that we can only practice deeply and productively for a maximum of 4 hours per day (with vital breaks in between). But most can only put in an hour of this sort of deep practice. 

If you want to be a world-class master, you can do it with just an hour of deep practice per day, over time (and usually much less time that we tend to assume). 

But most of us aren’t going for world-class status. 

So we can get by with far less practice (even just 10 minutes per day), so long as that practice is focused and purposeful.

Now I’ll leave you to it 👍

2 Replies to “Have No Time to Practice Guitar?”

  1. Thanks josh for the last few emails of mentoring. Still practicing hard just learned wonderfull slippery thing by gutherie govan and just finishing up on acid rain from LTE. Took me a little over a month but persistance is definately the answer.
    Thanks again

  2. This post is so timely. Since I started the GA program around 2 years ago, I’ve only utilized the Gamification Spreadsheet twice—once while initially working through the program and once recently. But both times I’ve abandoned them because of interest in other projects, guitar-related or otherwise.

    I feel a sense of discouragement because I didn’t complete my goals—although I definitely benefitted from the practice I did put in—but much of that seems to be programmed into my personality type (INFJ). The main question/idea I’ve been pondering in relation to this is that if you can shorten your practice time from 4–6 hours a day to one hour, what’s to say you can’t shorten that even further like you mention in this post. The question then becomes, “But if I shorten my practice, how can I still keep track of my progress? I can’t fill out the Gamification sheet as I go along; that would take even more time.”

    I’m sure the upcoming Gamification app will help with this, but until then, it would be nice to see an easy way to approach tracking your progress even if you only had 10–30 minutes to practice.

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