Finding the Right Difficulty Level | Hub Guitar

Finding the Right Difficulty Level

Choosing practice work that falls at the right difficulty level is an important skill to have. If you choose work that is too difficult, you are likely to lose motivation fast—and even give up completely.

But, if you choose something that is too easy, you can easily waste an hour per day with little progress to show for it.

Wasting your practice time at either extreme of the spectrum is among the biggest mistakes you can make.

Three Big Mistakes Practicers Make

  1. Not practicing, or not practicing enough
  2. Failure to eliminate distractions and truly concentrate
  3. Practice at the wrong difficulty level (too easy or too hard)

Finding the Right Level

You will often hear teachers and musicians say, “always work on fundamentals.” Do not mistake this advice for permission to practice only the easy things. When practicing the fundamentals, musicians at any level can keep the difficulty level high by increasing their focus and concentration, and always raising their standard. For instance, you might watch an advanced musician play a very simple rhythm along with a metronome, and feel surprised that such an accomplished player will spend their time on this exercise. But after you listen to him play 10 repetitions that sound perfect to you, what you may not hear is that only one repetition was acceptable to his own ear.

Just what is the correct difficulty level to aim for?

Imagine a scale from 1 to 9.

A "1" is something so absurdly easy that it is beneath your dignity.

A "9" is something so difficult that the you would struggle with it even if you were one of the world’s top masters of guitar-playing.

A "5" would be something right at your level. You've got to warm up a bit, but you can play this no problem, with few if any noticeable errors.

You should warm up at "3" or "4", perform at "5", and when you practice you should push yourself to "6" and sometimes "7".

You should never push yourself to "8" or "9". The only way to get there is to keep working until what used to feel like "8" falls down the ladder of difficulty to something within your reach.

A perfect difficulty level for practice is probably somewhere between "6" or "7". This is something you have to concentrate on to do, and there will be mistakes, but the thrill of being able to take off and fly with it is captivating. This is the ideal area to spend your practice time in.

The Practice Progression

Musicians don’t spend all of their practice time on any single difficulty level. You might use "3" or "4" as a quick warmup. You might spend some time practicing at "5" to ensure your high level of confidence and competence. But the work you do at level "6" and "7" is what will define the quantity, quality, and rate of your progress. So stay disciplined to push yourself into this territory as much as you can, and watch your playing climb to higher and higher places.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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