At the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to play guitar every day. It wasn't exactly a New Year's resolution, just a realization that if I wanted to improve, I would need to apply myself in a more disciplined fashion than I had previously.
Over the last ten years, I managed to run ten marathons, ultimately qualifying for and running Boston Marathon. While I don't consider myself particularly athletic, it was clear that I was able to improve my marathon times over the years by putting in more miles and more regular training. I think that anyone --of any age and any lifestyle-- who wants to run a marathon can do so. All you have to do is like running and do it regularly. So why not apply the same techniques to guitar? Consistency is key, so that means playing every day if you can. So here are a few tips for getting more time to play.
Play at a Regular Time
When I'm in training for a marathon, I drive 30 minutes to my office and then go running first thing in the morning. If I need to get up at 6:00 am to do it, no problem. I know I will get it done and my day will start out that much better. Same for music. Having a regular time makes it more likely you'll get it done. Schedule it on your calendar every day if you need to. For me, my guitar playing time is immediately after dinner. My wife knows I'm going to disappear into our office and she won't see me for an hour.
Start with Just 15 Minutes
As with running, the hardest thing is just getting started. You might think you don't have an hour available and therefore be tempted to skip it completely. But if you aim for just 15 minutes, you can always find the time. Even if it's 11 pm and I haven't played guitar, I will at least play scales for 15 minutes before going to bed. And as my wife says, "don't let sleep get in the way of rock and roll."
Keep Your Guitar Ready to Rock
For years, I had my guitar in its case parked out of the way where I would never see it. Out of sight, out of mind. Then I got smart and I bought a couple of cheap stands. Now my acoustic guitar is in the living room, not too far out of reach and I have my Steinberger electric about 12 inches from my desk, plugged into my Line 6 GuitarPort. I just pick up the guitar, put on headphones and I'm ready to play with the benefit of drum tracks, effects, loops, etc.
Get a Travel Guitar
I have a Speedster Travel Guitar which I take with me whenever I travel. It's small enough that I can carry it on board airplanes and play guitar in airport terminals, taxis or in the evenings in my hotel room. I also take it with me if I drive for a meeting and arrive early with time to kill. Alternatively, if you routinely spend time in a second home (in-laws, friend's place) with time on your hands but no guitar, consider buying a cheap $100 used Strat that you can stash for emergency playing. I have several cheap guitars stowed at relatives' places around the country. Believe me, it takes the edge off holiday visits! If you spend all day in an office, consider keeping a guitar there and playing for 30 minutes before you head home. While having a second guitar is an added expense, if you amortize the cost over the number of extra hours you'll play, it's well worth it.
Unplug Your TV
The easiest way to get more time for guitar is to simply not watch television. I don't watch a lot of TV, but since I got married, I find myself watching one show a year religiously. These days I'm addicted to LOST as well as the Olympic track & field coverage. Lucky for me the Olympics are over now and LOST won't be on again until February 2009. The average US male watches 4 and a half hours of television per day! And since I'm watching much less than that, there sure are a lot of couch potatoes out there. Believe me, no matter how much time you spend watching TV, you'd be better off playing guitar. And if you must watch TV, at least play scales while you're doing it. Or if your vice is going out and partying with the guys 5 nights a week, well, that's not going to improve your playing at all.
Farm Out Your Chores
Some duties, like driving your kids places are hard to get out of. But others, like mowing the lawn or weeding the garden aren't going to make you a better person. Pay the kids, or your neighbor's kids or a lawn care professional to take care of these things. Look at what chores are bogging you down and figure out a way to do them faster or find someone else you can pay to do them. And who cares if the lawn goes to seed? Hey, it's rock and roll! Do you think Kirk Hammett mows his lawn?
Add Structure and Purpose to Your Playing
Don't just noodle around playing the same chords and same songs you've always played. If you want to improve you need to add some structure and purpose to your playing. For me, this was the biggest missing piece in my playing. I would look at songs, try them for a few minutes, find them too hard, and then just revert back to what I knew. I don't have a perfect solution, but I have found that Doug Marks' Metal Method videos give me some context and structure for improving my playing. The DVDs helped explain to me for the first time how different scales fit together and how you can use them in songs. I'm only part way through the course, but it's made a difference in how I approach learning. (BTW, that's Doug at the top of the posting with an excerpt from YouTube.)
Focus on the Positive
I used to think that good guitar players had some innate musical talent and I just came up short in that department. So for years my view of my skills was "I suck at guitar." Geez. What was I thinking? No wonder I didn't make progress. Now I've got a different perspective: I'm learning guitar. Even if I don't have innate talent, I've decided it just doesn't matter. What matters is putting in the time. The progress may be slow, but I know that I will continue to improve. The more I practice, the better I will get. It worked in running, so why not in guitar? And don't listen to anyone who comes up with reasons why they failed or why you shouldn't try. One of the things I like about the Metal Method course is the positive attitude of Doug Marks. He's also got some good newsletter articles on motivation.
Every once in a while, it's good to reward yourself with something that will motivate your playing. While I think for most people buying a new expensive guitar will not improve their playing, sometimes a splurge is worth it if it means you'll spend more time at it. The Line 6 GuitarPort and RiffTracker products have given me the incentive to find more time to practice and also made that practice time more valuable. And they don't cost that much either. Once in a while, I'll go see a local music gig and come out more fired up and motivated as a result.
Let me know if this is helpful. And If you have other time saving tips, add them below in the comments.