Saturday, July 30, 2011

Improve your guitar playing by measuring

I recall some years ago seeing the phrase 'What you measure you can multiply'.  At first I was confused. After all I can measure my height but I can't multiply it. As I read on I realized the author was referring to self improvement such as a physical skill, fitness, finance etc. Even once I understood I still felt the idea was a little weak in terms of practical advice until I put it to the test.  My first experiment was to measure my practice each day in terms of actual minutes and sure enough week by week my practice began to increase (multiply). I realized I had done the same with my swimming over the years. Whenever I timed myself I would work at improving my time say over a set distance and every time it worked like a charm. I also noticed how the serious gym junkies would measure everything from body fat to the number of reps and so on. I then started to notice coaches in everything from football to piano measuring everything and anything possible.

The 4 hour work week

In the popular books by Tim Ferris called 'The 4 hour work week' and 'The 4 hour body' he makes a strong argument for using your time effectively so you only have to work 4 hours a week. The books are a worthwhile read but his advice for achieving results can be summed up in one word. MEASURE. Tim is all about getting the maximum result for the minimum investment of time. The idea of the 4 hour work week is to only work for 4 hours a week and get the same result you would working 40 hours. He explains that when we measure something we can improve on it and maximize it. For example if you walk for 1000 steps today tomorrow you can do 1100 steps until you reach your goal of say 10,000 steps a day. You could then improve the time efficiency of you walk by walking stairs and therefore getting the same result in half the steps and perhaps half the time.


How much do you really practice?

Occasionally I will have a student who will say "I don't need to write down my practice times because I usually do 30 minutes a day regardless". The interesting fact here is these same students tend to become disillusion when they don't progress as quickly as they hoped. Measuring your practice even if its the same everyday still has a strong psychological effect. Firstly and probably most importantly you quickly come to realise how many days in a month you miss. Over a year this could be 20% or more. Knowing this fact allows you to be more realistic about your expectations. Secondly writing down your practice feels like an honesty test. When we tell ourselves we practice 30 minutes a day its easy to do 25 minutes and call it 30 minutes. When we have to write 30 minutes in the box and we know we only did 25 minutes we tend to feel a little guilty and know we are cheating ourselves. When we write things down we tend to paint a more accurate picture.

Test the theory

It can at first feel like a waste of time and effort to measure your practice but if you are serious about improving your guitar playing you owe it to yourself to do the A/B test. Spend 3 months measuring your practice and at the end of it see how you feel. Then spend 3 months not writing down your practice and see how you feel. Its best to repeat the test a second time just to be sure. If at the end of one year you conclude that writing down your practice makes no difference then at least you know for sure.


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