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Why 'Practice, Practice' Is Often Terrible Advice


"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
- Fannie Lou Hamer

I have been on countless forums and subreddits. They all say the same thing.

Someone asks:

  • How can I get better at X?
  • What is the secret to being the best at Y?
  • Top tips on how to master Z?

They always reply: "Practice, practice, and practice some more until you (magically) get it."

On Quora it is particularly common that people ask questions like:

  • How can I improve my guitar skills?
  • Can I learn to be a great guitarist by myself?
  • Why can't I play cleanly on my guitar?

Yet again, the answer people give tends to revolve around "more and more practice".

For someone without experience, yeah, it does sound reasonable. I mean, you do need time to perfect your craft, right?

Well...yes...and no.

When I first started to play guitar, I was around 15. At that time, it meant pretty much the world to me, so I would spend a lot of hours a week practicing, and practicing, and practicing some more. Don't get me wrong, it was tough but it did pay off quite well, since I did get the hang of the instrument reasonably well in just a couple of months.

As a teenager, I would spend my time with practicing the guitar and playing video games, and that was pretty much it. Of course, it was great back then, since school was not much of a hassle.

But... it did not last. Sooner, rather than later, the excitement of seeing rapid growth in skill starts to fade. This is natural for every activity you can possibly do. This is sometimes referred to as reaching a plateau, which means you reached a level of skill that does not improve any longer (or at least seems that way). I'm pretty sure you've reached plateaus in many activities in your life too.

I believe the most popular plateau comes in the fitness industry. Who doesn't want to get the elusive six-pack abs? Most people do not get it despite working out on a regular basis, so why does this happen?

Do you know what most people do when they get to a fitness plateau, that is, they suddenly don't seem to get any leaner? Well, they start thinking things like:

"If I only put in more effort, I'll make it."
"There has to be something I'm doing wrong."

In some extreme cases, they might feel:

"This doesn't work. It's all a scam!"

And then they'll quit whatever it is that they wanted to achieve, only to then feel guilty about others making it and they not.

The six-pack abs will continue to be in a tiny part of their memory, forever to be reminded about.

What happens when we start seeing that despite the time and effort we are puttin in, we are not seeing the results we expect? Of course, we start to question ourselves, which usually leads to second thoughts.

It was Albert Einstein who (supposedly) once said:


"The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expect different results."

It doesn't matter who said that. What matters is that it does teach us something invaluable. If you feel like you are not getting the results you want, you will have to change something in your approach, unlike what most will think that they have to do even more of the same until they finally make it.

So, dear friend, what does this mean?

It means, at least, the following:

  1. You will reach plateaus.
  2. Expect them.
  3. Be prepared.
  4. Don't be afraid to try new things.

What you need to know, at all times, is that you need to acknowledge that reaching a point where you feel you cannot go past it, does not mean there is anything wrong with what you are doing.

Persistence and effort alone can only get you so far, and you will have to change your angle and strategy at some point.

Remember that:

No pain, no gain, but enough pain is enough gain.

Nobody ever got to be a great cook by cooking one single dish, right? Why would it be different with you?

Play smart.


About the author:

Max Chiossi is a rock guitarist and engineer with a laser-focused approach to teaching. You can visit my website at

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@pauljones   last year
Very interesting points here Max, I agree 100% that if something is not working,you should not be worried and feeling bad about yourself, but rather focusing on changing your approach and trying new things. I've come to think that one of the best ways to improve once you get to a certain level is to practice with fellow musicians and improve each other's vocabulary constructively. Learning new concepts, sharing them and applying them in a 'real life' scenario pays off way more than practicing suff alone. At least that is what I think works better once you get the hang of your instrument. But as you say, you may have to use many other strategies in order to acquire new skills.
@maxtpg   last year
Thanks, man!
I think it's very important to always be on the move. That being said, it's not bad either to stay on a plateau as long as it is what you really want to.
@fl3k   last year
I found myself in that situation, that of "fossilization" in which you can see you are not making any progress, even as a consequence of getting bored of playing and doing the same things, you start going backwards! I am now making the "try something new" approach and this is being like a new start for me, in fact it is.

Good article Max, but I would like to ask a question... What do you thing is the most important action one can take to "deprogram" his/her mind from the musical styles or patterns which have been rooted within? I mean, not a "tell me what to do" plan but some practical ideas that may help us to freshen up our guitar playing.

Thanks for your writing, much appreciated.
@maxtpg   last year
Thanks for your words!

Although I think the solution for everybody is different, there are some general guidelines I believe can help most. One trick I do myself is I regularly learn a new song that's not in my usual music style. I'm quite a metalhead and play mostly rock and metal, but still at least a couple of times a month I learn a song from a totally different style, like indie pop. Hey, I've even learned to play some bachata songs too!

By learning new songs from different styles you open yourself to new ideas. Even if you are still playing the same chords, for some reason the songs are of a different style, right? There's so much more than notes to making songs sound different, so there's always something you can learn; you really never know what you can learn from playing new songs.

Even better...try soloing over those songs, and you'll get double bubble!
@fl3k   last year
Thanks for your quick answer. I'm on the same boat as you, I have always played metal and hard rock so I didn't go deep into other styles. I think approaching other styles will be helpful for me, I have been following some articles about jazz in this site. It looks way too complicated for my right now but I am already learning new chords which I think will be of great help to make further progress.

Thanks Max, and keep up the good work!
@maxtpg   last year
Most people will attempt to play jazz at some point in their lives, so definitely go ahead and try. My last teacher was also a metalhead and liked jazz as well.

Remember you don't need to play complicated jazz at all. Start small, otherwise you probably won't be able to learn much from it.

Thanks for your support, take care!