Some of us who have taken up the classical guitar dogmatically push our skills to the limit. We have practiced and practiced, pushed the envelope, and reevaluated our routines, sometimes excessively. So much so that we fail to take breaks. So, in this article, I would like to address the importance of taking breaks.
At the time of this article, it has been three whole weeks since I have done any serious guitar practice. That seems like a very long time to me. I remember talking to Philip Snyder once. He told me that he had not touched the guitar in a week. I thought that was extreme. Why would you not play this fabulous God-given instrument? Fast forward many years and I can see the importance of taking breaks from time to time.
Giving It a Rest
When playing and learning guitar or an instrument of any kind, it is important to take a break from time to time. There are several benefits to taking breaks. There are also a few snares, or traps you can fall into when taking breaks. While I want to talk about the benefits, let us look at the value of rest. Yes, rest has value.
Are you familiar with the Old Testament Law in the Bible? In that Law, God prescribed a day of rest for the Israelites. The Israelites were to work for six days and rest on the seven. There are a few theological aspects that we could discuss in detail here. However, I want to focus on resting.
I believe God made us to work. In that work, we are made in such a way as to require rest. Everyone gets tired, right? This rest refreshes us spiritually, mentally, and physically so that we can continue to work. It helps to relieve the brain fog, the weariness and restores a balance to our being. Sorry, that was the only way could think of to express that. Resting revives us.
Mental Fatigue and Burn-Out
Have you ever worked on a problem until you were so exhausted you could not think? Maybe a passage or a phrase that frustrated you to no end? I do not know how many times I have quit guitar because I was burned out. Or because I just could not play the phrase the way I wanted it.
However, after a break, you came back and were able to play the phrase and move on to the next one. Or maybe you get stuck with a problem and you do not know how to work it out. You take a break, take time to refresh, and come back to the problem with a “fresh set of eyes.” The problem seems to work itself out.
Taking a break gives your mind time to refresh and refocus. You relax mentally. You can reset and think clearer when your mind is fresh. The converse side is true as well. Not taking breaks leads to weariness and burnout. This could lead to putting the guitar down and rarely, if ever, coming back to it.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
There are times when I have put down the guitar for a short season. Times when I have not had time to play and practice. I have the longing to pick it up and start playing again. I can remember having a long day, not having time to practice, and thinking, “I sure wish I could play.” Then I fall asleep due to exhaustion. Have you ever had those days?
Sometimes taking a break from something can create a desire to play and practice. “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder” is usually referred to when someone is separated from a loved one. This time away can create a desire to get back to playing and practice. It adds to our drive to accomplish the goals set before us. The benefit is that we have a refreshed determination. A determination to push forward in the study of our instrument.
Exercise Helps Generate Ideas and Understand Concepts
Now, there is a problem. It is a difficult phrase and you have been trying to work the best way to play it. Maybe it is an approach to scales or how to learn chords. But whatever it is, it is not clear. You are getting frustrated. This is starting to sound like one of those choose-your-adventure books. What could you do?
Stop. Take a walk. Take a drive. Take out the papers and the trash. Get away from the problem for a moment and let your brain reset. I have lost count of how many times that has worked for me. Not that I was counting in the first place. Just a moment away helps you think of how to approach the issue.
This also works great when you are composing a piece. Once you have gone as far as you can and hit your wall (as my wife says), walk away from the problem for a little while and clear the cobwebs. Sometimes the solution is right in front of us and all we need to do is take a step back. This also helps when coming up with ideas for a new piece.
Physical Benefits of Taking Breaks
We as guitarists use our hands a lot. It is very important to pay attention to what our hands are telling us. The repetitive motion can cause issues down the line. Giving your hands a break from repetitive motion is essential for the guitarist. Warming up before playing and stretching your fingers and hand help. However, when your hands are hurting, it is a good time to take a break.
I have had times when practicing three to four hours a day started to cause stiffness in my hands. I desire to push through the pain. I want to be the best guitarist I can be. However, that is not being the best guitarist I can be. Taking care of your hands is as important as playing well.
Also, pay attention to your back. Sitting for long hours in an awkward position can also create problems in the lower back. If your back is hurting, that may be a sign you need to take a break and stretch. Also, when sitting, make sure your shoulders and hips are straight. Especially when using a footstool.
If you have learned to ride a bike, you usually do not forget that skill. It is the same with learning an instrument. Short breaks are good from time to time. However, with long breaks, it may become more of a challenge to get back into the swing of things. When it comes to long breaks from the guitar, I am thinking more of months and years. It is not set in stone anywhere, but a one-week break may not hurt. I usually take a week in the summer and one in the winter. They’re not scheduled. However, I do notice the difference when coming back and playing again. It usually takes a day to get back into the swing of things, but after that, there is a freshness to the playing.
One more thing when taking breaks: Make sure you get back to practicing and playing.
One More Thing
Have you signed up for the monthly newsletter? In it, you will get new music updates, practice techniques, and resources, articles on arranging and composing. You will also get articles on music theory and analysis. Plus free sheet music downloads, thoughts on recording music, and videos on a budget. I’ll even throw in whatever my latest diatribe is on the world of classical guitar for free. Just for you. Yes, you. What a bargain.