Can you practice the guitar too much?

Initially, it was insane – basically, all waking hours. I would sacrifice everything. I wouldn’t go to school. Then when I was a teenager, they had to drag me to parties and stuff like that because I was extremely dedicated, to the point of insanity I think.” Yngwie Malmsteen

It goes without saying that practicing more will help you reach your goals faster. But can you practice the guitar too much? To the point where it’s detrimental to either your life or your guitar playing itself?

The answer is yes, and sometimes I learned this the hard way, as you’ll see in the first of these three situations where practicing the guitar too much can have negative effects.

1. Practicing When You’re in Pain Can Cause Injury

Guitar playing is a physically demanding activity. It requires precise finger movements, dexterity, and endurance. While pushing your limits can lead to growth, practicing when you’re already in pain can be counterproductive and even dangerous. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are a real concern for musicians who overexert themselves without allowing their bodies to recover.

As I’m writing this, I have tendonitis in my shoulder, which is mild enough not to disturb me in everyday life but limits my guitar playing.

I have it because I insisted on practicing a fast legato run even though my shoulder was giving me early signs of pain.

If you’re practicing for long hours, make sure you balance your practice with things that are not demanding on your body, as well as keeping the correct posture to prevent pain in the back and other parts of your body.

Tip: If something is mentally demanding (e.g., learning a new scale sequence or memorizing the notes on the fretboard) you are likely to make fewer demands on your body since you’ll be playing slowly. Thus, if you feel mild pain or discomfort, it may help to focus on the mentally challenging stuff for a while.

If the pain goes beyond something that can be cured with rest, it is always advisable to visit a doctor. 

Note: Never diagnose yourself (unless you happen to be a doctor). Not long ago, I felt the symptoms of what I decided was carpal tunnel syndrome. After three months of stubbornly trying to cure myself, I visited a doctor who instantly realized it was not carpal tunnel syndrome, and all I had to do was change the position of my neck while practicing. I did so, and the pain vanished in a week.

Had I visited the doctor when the pain occurred, I would have spared myself three months of pain, saved money on vitamins and hand braces I bought for the carpal tunnel syndrome I never had, and, most importantly, prevented the risk of more serious injury.

2. Too Much Practicing and No Time to Build a Music Career

While honing your guitar skills is essential, spending an excessive amount of time practicing can leave you with little time for other crucial aspects of a music career. Becoming a successful musician requires more than just technical proficiency; it also involves networking, composing, recording, performing, and promoting your music.

If you’re a beginner or an early intermediate guitar player, practicing should be given prior to making a career out of music. Becoming good on the instrument is surely the first step.

What I suggest that you do if you’re at this stage, is to spend some time learning about the music industry. This will prepare you for what is to come, increase your motivation in the present, and help you set goals and make plans.

If you’re a more advanced guitar player and want to become a pro, you should consider taking time from other activities, including practicing the guitar if you’re practicing during all your free time and start taking actionable steps towards building a career.

3. Not Taking Breaks: Counterproductive to the Learning Process

The belief that practicing the guitar for hours on end is the only way to achieve rapid improvement is a common misconception. In reality, the quality of the guitar practice matters as much as, if not more than, the quantity. 

Intense practice sessions without breaks can lead to burnout and diminished returns.

When you practice for extended periods of time without breaks, fatigue sets in, both mentally and physically. Your brain’s ability to concentrate diminishes, leading to decreased learning efficiency. Short, focused practice sessions interspersed with breaks allow your brain to consolidate the information you’ve learned, enhancing retention and improving muscle memory.

The phenomenon of “plateauing” is also a concern for many musicians. This occurs when you’ve reached a certain level of skill and find it difficult to progress further. In these cases, practicing more might not yield the desired results. Instead, taking a step back, analyzing your approach, and introducing variety into your practice routine can help break through plateaus. 

Finding the Balance: Quality Over Quantity

So, what’s the solution? It all boils down to finding the right balance between practice and rest and focusing on the quality of your practice sessions rather than their sheer quantity. Here are some tips to help you strike that balance:

1. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any discomfort or pain while practicing. If you feel strain or pain, take a break and allow your body to recover before continuing.

2. Set Realistic Goals: Instead of chasing endless hours of practice, set specific, achievable goals for each session. This could be mastering a particular technique, learning a new song, or improvising over a certain chord progression.

3. Prioritize Rest and Recovery: Just as athletes need rest days to recover and prevent injuries, musicians need regular breaks. Incorporate short breaks during practice sessions to keep your mind fresh.

4. Diversify Your Practice Routine: Don’t focus solely on one aspect of playing. Balance technical exercises with creative exploration, songwriting, and improvisation to keep your practice sessions engaging and varied.

5. Focus on Efficient Practice: Practice with intention. Identify your weaknesses and work on them methodically. Utilize techniques like slow practice and deliberate repetition to refine your skills effectively.

6. Invest in Music Career Development: Dedicate time to networking, performing, recording, and promoting your music. Building a music career requires a holistic approach that goes beyond technical mastery.

7. Embrace Patience: Progress in music takes time. Understand that there will be plateaus and setbacks, but with consistent, mindful practice, you will continue to improve over the long term.

In conclusion, the answer to whether you can practice the guitar too much lies in finding a balance that respects your body, your goals, and the holistic nature of music. While dedication and hard work are essential, they must be complemented by smart practice strategies and an understanding of the broader context of your musical journey. 

By prioritizing quality over quantity and taking a holistic approach to your practice routine, you can maximize your growth as a guitarist while safeguarding your physical and mental well-being.

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