Real Work is Hard | Hub Guitar

Real Work is Hard

For best results, avoid going on autopilot

You get up each day at 5 in the morning and pick up the guitar. You don’t put it down until 6:15 a.m., when it’s time to get ready to leave. Of course you’re making rapid progress.

Or are you?

How do you measure the value of your practice?

Do you measure it in:

  • Time?
  • Checkboxes?
  • Songs?
  • Sweat?

In order to get the most out of your practice, you need to be working hard, every time you practice.

Bring Your Whole Being to the Practice

Practicing with your hands working and your brain asleep is a waste of time.

Resist the urge to do mindless movements, such as practicing with your hands while watching TV. This might be a supplement, but never a replacement for real practice. This is an acceptable exercise only once your daily practice is already done. It’s like going for a walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon when you already went to the gym in the morning.

When you practice, you need to collect your mind, your body, and the better part of your entire being and put it into your practice. Do not let your mind fall asleep while your hands are moving. Do not let your spirit wander away. It should be right there with you, hearing and feeling the notes that you’re playing.

Because of our tendency to believe that practice consists only of hand motions, it might be useful to spend time practicing without our hands, using only the mind and spirit. Listen to improvised music and imagine your fingers playing each note. Look at sheet music and imagine mapping your fingers to each note. Watch a lead sheet and determine in your mind how you would play through each arpeggio.

Does it seem impossible? It couldn’t be more simple. If you have to remember the words to a speech, do you need to speak them out loud while you practice, or can reciting them silently in your own head carry some value as well? Your skill with your first language is likely so good that you can imagine the words you'd want to say to someone in your mind only, and then remember to repeat them when the time comes. Eventually your guitar playing can be this deeply internalized.

When you practice, engage your Head, Hands and Heart.

Easy Practice Is Narcissism

Do major league baseball pitchers take pleasure in striking out elementary school kids playing an after school game?

Ask yourself if what you’re practicing has become too easy, and whether you need to decouple from it—permanently—to pursue more difficult work.

Practicing Within Your Comfort Zone

Practicing within your comfort zone is a subtle trap because you can consistently make improvements within the designated area of your comfort zone without leaving that area to see what other improvements might need to be made.

Imagine your friend is studying a classical guitar piece every day (something you’ve never done) and she tells you that every week for the past year she has moved the metronome up a notch.

This kind of consistency is excellent for making slow, steady improvements. But it often leads to the pitfalls of failing to consider other viewpoints, neglecting to question assumptions, and simply refusing to change methods.

What if the best way for her to get the tempo faster is to rethink the fingerings, and choose better ones? Then what does that mean about all of the time she’s spent in the last year looking only at the number on the metronome dial?

Paying attention to the wrong clues is like competing in a tournament where you’re stuck looking at the other team’s score instead of your own. Without the right feedback, you can’t go in the right direction.

Question your assumptions. Put improvements to your playing at the top of your list of priorities. And set goals. If your goal is to get a piece to 150 BPM, keep working with the metronome. But don’t let that stop you from identifying the other work you need to do.

How to Maintain your Daily Commitment

A good practice session will engage you fully, excite you, and then tire you out. It’s like a good workout. When it’s over, you can feel it.

If you’re not feeling this after a practice session, you may not be taking yourself far enough.

Since guitar is a continuous, long-term commitment it can be easy to fall gradually into the trap of apathy. When you put a commitment on the back burner, sometimes it’s hard to give it the attention and care it really deserves.

Sometimes we find ourselves showing up, checking boxes off, and “going through the motions”, but that kind of uninspired repetition is a formula for disappointment. Do you do this to satisfy some sort of invisible guitar overlord watching over you, or are you genuinely trying to make some improvements?

It’s fine to hang on by the thread of a fingernail when other forces threaten to push guitar out of your life. But as soon as you can, get back in the game and make yourself a better guitar player.


It’s important to have goals for your guitar playing, and a vision for where you want to take it.

You should practice daily for the amount of time you’ve committed, but you should also be focused and working hard during this time.

For best results, measure your guitar practice both in time and sweat.

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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