Life’s Little Timers – Maximizing Guitar Time

By: J A Rothenberg

Music teachers want students to practise. Parents want their children to practise. Students want to practise. So why is it that just like exercise, homework, domestic chores, Christmas shopping and so many other things that we procrastinate? Why don’t we fit these tasks in to our lives easily and regularly?

The biggest reason I hear (and the biggest one I even give to myself) is simply “time.” “I didn’t get time” or “I just don’t have the time” to practise. This is probably the single most given response when a student is asked for the reason why they haven’t been practicing.

In truth the “why” factor in this equation is the subject for whole other discussion. What I want to focus on here is the “how” factor.

How do we break through, climb over, get around or tunnel under this “time obstacle”? How do we fit musical practice into the most busy of lifestyles or most stubborn of mindsets?

The answer like so many seemingly unsolvable conundrums is simple and obvious. How do we make time?

Simple, we don’t. We don’t make the time. We just take some back. So how do we do that? We do it by changing our mindset, just a little.

We don’t have to retrain in a life long eastern style programming of our disciplined self or learn anything drastically new here. In fact we need to keep it simple and obvious enough for children to grasp it and even initiate it themselves.

We and our children can all find time to eat, to watch TV, to surf the internet, to play an electronic game and… so on and so on. How can we fit our practice in? We can fit it in by recognising where to take advantage of “trapped time.” If we can grasp this idea we can take what can be a mortal enemy and turn it into a true friend.


Trapped Guitar Time

First we must understand what trapped time is or what it represents. Simply put, trapped time or “void” time is any time where you find yourself restricted in your actions and therefore in the use of it. It limits you by excluding various tasks or activities that you would like to be getting on with.

For example sometimes an important package is to be delivered and signed for or an appliance repairperson is due to arrive on a given date. That’s all fine but let’s say you don’t know what time on that given day. You can only make use of that time within the confines of your home. If you’ve run out of milk or a medicine and need to go out for more or that job interview gets a surprise move to a day earlier or the doctors’ surgery phone to offer you an appointment you have an instant conflict. You are very restricted since you can’t leave the house without risking missing out on another important event. You are trapped. Your use of that time is trapped in limitation.

We all, even our children have episodes of trapped time on a regular basis. This is a great place to make a habit of useful activity. Embed the habit of musical practice into the nooks and crannies of life.


Enter “Life’s Little Timers”

I make it into a game with my younger students. I start by picking a place or activity in the home say the kitchen or cooking and eating. Then go on to ask if anyone likes to wait until his or her cereal gets just a little soggy after pouring the milk on it.

**We move on to pinging microwaves or the boiling of kettles for tea or cocoa, waiting for hot cocoa or porridge to cool, boiled or scrambled eggs to cook, bread to pop out as toast from the toaster or frozen things to soften… (**assume that any activity is either supervised by an adult or that the student is of age.)

The game becomes “who can think of another one?”

The categories and subjects are almost endless. Bath time could mean waiting your turn to shower or brush your teeth. It could be that a bath needs to fill up or a water tank to heat up.

Even our big screen competitors, the games stations, can be used to our advantage. Practise whilst the other sibling(s) finish their game before you get your turn. TV adverts offer short bursts of mindless void spaces. Internet buffering, uploading and downloading, hard drive updates are more opportunity.

Domestic chores and DIY even more chances while paint, glue or varnish and lacquer finish drying. Dying your hair that’s a good one! I think you get the message that it is only limited by your imagination. I’ve got a million of ‘em!


The Three Pillars

Even if you don’t have an instrument you can practise ear training exercises and rhythm techniques. I often get students of all ages practicing drum rudiments or one of my practical rhythmic hand exercises for transferable skill to the guitar.

I use mental theory exercises for anyone who may argue against ear training and rhythm exercises. All my students can recite in thirds and fifths starting from any pitch name in time with a pulse. Some may not even know why they are doing it at first. Then when we start learning that chords are not just box diagrams etched in stone they are soon away flying on the wings of improvisation or composition fuelled by their own imagination and steadied by musical logic and theory.

Encouraging students and parents to understand that short regular bursts of true focus are better than long occasional sessions is a positive step towards the wanted results.

Getting anyone to use “Life’s Little Timers” as a vehicle to always be nurturing the three big pillars of musicianship (in no particular order of importance), namely Technique, Theory and Ear Training will almost inevitably bring out the by product of true musical expression.

I tell my students of the 4H’s: “nurture your Head, Hands and Hearing” and you will play with Heart.

Isn’t that the real bottom line of what it is all about anyway?

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