I was just re-listening the audio-book version of “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
It made me to think about numerous students and people here on this wonderful Community.
Yes; you are often on my mind!
I found out about this book last year, I saw Justin recommend it as well in a newsletter and today I encountered it again in a professional training. Reason enough to give it another go. While the autor goes somewhat deep in some methods, a lot of value is there to be read or listened to as free podcast on Spotify.
This particular piece made perfect sense in what I usually recommend to people when it comes to learning a new technique or lead part. I found out is is especially true when practicing timing and strongly time-related skills like finger-picking and strumming
The author explains how it is more important to do a certain activity a lot, rather than doing it a larger total amount of time, in order for it to become a habit.
I believe this is also true for developing muscle memory and something I often refer to as ‘your auto pilot’.
Cartoon by Steve Daugherty
I wanted to show this cartoon as "auto-pilot’ might sound as a negative thing, but in this case I emphasize it is about being able to delegate a task to your extra-self, your subconcious self so you have more (processor)time to yourself
Let’s start off with these 2 theories
My theory on the Auto-Pilot
Want to learn to fingerpick, change chords, keep rhythm AND sing?
That’s 4 things at once so you better start with one skill and train it enough, you can do it with your eyes clothes and automatically while speaking, watching a tv show etc.
This applies to a lot of things, like Keeping a rhythm strumming, fingerpicking a pattern, changing chords… The more you are on auto-pilot, the less resources of your brain-computer it will use and the more real-time resources you have left for other synchronous tasks.
I encounter people who have difficulty singing while they still struggle with rhythm or a picking/strumming pattern. That makes perfect sense as you need to develop enough skill first in order to build upon it. more info on that later.
I believe that doing this in as much sessions as possible is the key.
I rather have you practicing 5 minutes on a picking pattern every day than an hour on Sunday.
I also recommend that sleeping is helping here; each session followed by a quality night of sleep will solidify the neuron pattern, layer over layer. Like painting layers and layers of laquer on top of each other or smithing more and more layers of steel to on top of each other to create a strong sword.
Don’t get me wrong though, your 5th practice session of the day will probably add little to your fatigued brain.
The Layered Guitarist you say?
The authors theory on Quantity > Time
The autor explains that tests have shown that, to develop a durable habit, it is more important have a high quantity of and activity than to have a long total time of doing the activity.
See the analogy with my “auto-pilot-practice” theory?
Doing it a lot will help you do it automatically
The more you do it, the more automaticity, so the graph tells us.
At a certain moment in time, the automaticity is so high, the activity becomes a habit.
Apply that principle in your practice schedule. If you have an amount of hours to spend each week on guitar; try to spread it over as many days as you can. Even if that means shorter sessions.
Of course, grant yourself some time to warm up but you get the picture.
Oh by the way, In this book the author tells A LOT about how to evolve a good thing to a habit and how to eliminate bad habits. I’m not going to go deeper into that but if you combine some of those techniques, you will MISS LESS practice sessions.
The best tip in that regard is to “reset the room”; at the end of your sessions, you clean up and set up everything nicely so you can start practicing RIGHT AWAY next time.
Keep your guitar in sight and playable!
Layering the habits
Now, think again about the “wanting to learn 4 skills” and how I said “more info later”;
This is it.
Observe what the author shows in the following graph…
"The process of mastery requires that you progressively layer improvements on top of one another, each habit building
upon the last until a new level of performance has been reached
and a higher range of skills has been internalized."
Rhythm is your base layer
You need a solid plateau, a solid laquer, a durable sword to build your new habit on. Same goes for playing and singing, where RHYTHM IS THE BOTTOM LAYER.
Singing my friends, will be the op layer in most cases. The more you split up the layers in different small (“atomic”) habits for your autopilot to master, the more solid it will become.
Will you be able to bring lively, rhythmically vivid but solid songs AND solid a tighly tied and melodically pleasant melody in your first months of playing? Not very likely. Will you develop FASTER, when start practicing one layer at a time? YES!
Does that mean you can stop practicing that bottom layer as soon as it is on auto-pilot? NO!
BUT good tihng is that you will practice it anywhay when playing your songs you’re applying this to.
You have the feeling you heard this before?
Bien sur, It works a lot like my approach to building and learning songs as well…in layers rather than in sequence!
So, once again, a very good reason do build a repertoire in the core of your guitar journey
Aint that right @Richard_close2u
Oh yes, we are strong advocates for songs!