Practicing Guitar and the Strategy of Convenience

This is the first post in a series based on concepts I’ve been introduced to by the books Better Than Before and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I also highly recommend her weekly podcast Happier.

What is The Strategy of Convenience?

Not every strategy will work for everyone, but this one is nearly universal. It’s known as the The Strategy of Convenience. Simply put, the easier you make it to do something the more likely you are to do it. Far more likely. In Better than Before, Gretchen gives an example: “…in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler’s lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations.” Crazy right? That’s a big change. So let’s think about ways to make practicing more convenient. Below is a short list of things that have worked for me.

Designate an area in for practice

Think about where you are currently practicing in your home and whether or not it invites you to play music and be creative. It doesn’t need an entire room – even just a corner will work but it should be someplace that makes you feel happy and is relatively free from distractions. If you don’t feel good about your current location you may want to reconsider where you practice or just rearrange things to better suit you. For example: even though I have a room dedicated to keeping my guitars, I’ve found that I prefer to practice in my kitchen because it is the brightest and sunniest room in the house. Because I do want to spend more time in my music room, I’m currently rearranging the room so I can always sit and practice with a view of the sky from the window. and planning to put on a fresh coat of paint to brighten things up. Most people only practice at home, but I have had a few adult students that keep a guitar in their office and practice for a while during their lunch hour.

Take your guitar out of the case

This is the number one problem that many students have. They come home from their lesson, put the case in their room and forget all about it. Remember the ice cream example? If people were half as likely to buy ice cream with the cooler lid closed, how much less likely do you think you’ll be to practice if your guitar is in its case? So from now on do this: As soon as you get home, take your guitar – and all of your lesson materials – out of the case and leave them in your designated practice spot. You don’t have to start practicing right then, but this way they’ll be ready to play whenever you feel the urge. I call this “making an accommodation for my future self.” Do you remember the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? The guys use time-travel loops to set up many of their successes.

Bill: “After the report we’ll time travel back to two days ago, steal your dad’s keys and leave them here!”

Ted: “Where?”

Bill: “I don’t know. How about behind that sign? That way, when we get here now, they’ll be waiting for us.” [picks up the keys] “See?”

Ted: “Whoa, yeah!”

I like to think that taking your guitar and lesson materials out of the case is kinda like that. You are momentarily time-travelling. Getting everything ready for “future you” to log some serious practice!

Accessories can make a difference

You don’t need much but having a few items can make your practice space more convenient. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Guitar Wall Hanger
  • This is my absolute favorite thing to recommend and it will make such a difference in your life. If you take your guitar out of the case you’ve got to have a safe place for it. Leaning a guitar against a piece of furniture just isn’t very secure. Personally, I like these guitar hangers by String Swing . They mount securely and do a great job of displaying your instrument at eye level so you’ll be even more tempted to play. I have one for every guitar. Yes, you could get a guitar stand but I really like getting the guitar up off the floor. It looks great, saves space, and keeps your axe out of the way of kids and pets.

  • Music Stand
  • People often try to skip out on buying a stand but this is really important! Trying to look at sheet music that is lying flat on a desk or bed is difficult and causes you to hunch over you guitar to see it. You can get an inexpensive stand for about $15 but if you are series look for a heavy-duty one. It will last longer and support heavier books, iPads, etc. There’s a reason every single room in a music school has a stand in it!

  • Chair
  • Make sure your chair is comfy and promotes good posture. If you don’t like sitting in it, try something else.

  • Guitar pick bowl
  • Get a little bowl or ashtray or something similar and put some of your guitar picks there so you’ll always have them handy. Keep a separate tin of guitar picks in your case or gig bag. Like this Altoids tin pick pack.

    Do you face other issues that seem to make practicing inconvenient? Do you have other strategies you use for making it more convenient? Let me know in the comments!

    Watch Gretchen Rubin’s video on The Strategy of Convenience

    Rob Bourassa’s Video Lessons on YouTube

    My internet buddy Rob Bourassa has a lot of very helpful information in his collection of over 200 YouTube videos. Rob’s method of approaching the instrument is unique and addresses some important skills that are usually missed by conventional teaching methods. I’ve been enjoying working through his material and finding ways to incorporate his ideas into my own teaching. Of particular interest are his well-organized Major Scale Primer and Play By Ear series. The material may seem basic at first, but I promise that mastering the concepts presented in these series of videos will give you some mad skills, so check ’em out!

    Swing Cello and Guitar Mike Karoub & Rob Bourassa