As a guitarist you want to improve, you want to progress right? But we usually look at that concept from a single angle which is: progress = knowing more things. Then when we start our day or week and look at the things we want to learn it is very tempting to add more and more things, as many as we can. When we work on a song it is very tempting to learn as much as we can in a single day so that we can quickly add it to our repertoire.
Learning it faster = better because we know more, faster than before… Or so we think!
A famous Dutch soccer player always said: “Each advantage has its disadvantage“. To me that translates to: “Wherever we gain something, we loose something at the same time”. (and vice versa) In the case of learning to play the guitar is basically comes down to this:
quality vs quantity
More quality means less quantity and it goes the same the other way around. It feels like some mean trap that awaits us all but it’s not. It just means we have to make a conscious choice when we’re learning things…
Focus on simplifying, not on progress!
I would be lying if I’d say I haven’t made this mistake myself. Even when giving students assignments, I as a teacher have to be careful not to give too much information to work with. Both you as a student, and I as a teacher, probably make the mistake of overloading for the very same reasons.
We’re afraid we haven’t done enough. We tend to think that more information is better. We also fail to come to terms with how well we play certain things. We sometimes ignore the signs that we haven’t mastered anything yet because we want to move on. This is because we’re too focused on progress and not focused enough on what makes us progress in the first place.
We think we only improve when we learn new things. And THAT couldn’t be further from the truth!
How It Works
When the brain gets too much information:
- it won’t remember things as well
- other tasks will be harder (checking quality of play)
The Science Behind it
- a brain develops
- it creates new connections when we practice and learn
- repetition deepens the connections and speeds up the transfer of info through those connections until they become “nerve-highways” for super fast traffic.
- adding too much info means less deepening of the existing connections
- if we’re playing with bad technique because of the overload, the brain will make connections for that (and you don’t want that to happen)
So let me illustrate this for you. Suppose you have to carry a pile of wood from A to B. You could work with small amounts and carry them over, no problem. Or you carry so much that you overexert yourself, halfway you’ll loose many blocks, might need to put them down to catch your breath. In this example you’ll eventually get the blocks to point B. In the case of your brain and guitar playing it means:
- It will take you much more effort
- Most information is lost
- And many things were played miserably as they were too difficult
- In the end, very little good will come of it
Guidelines I Use:
- I only practice that what I can remember by heart: If I can’t fit it into my short term memory it is too much. (So don’t practice constantly with sheet music in front of you. See how many bars you can remember and put the sheet away.)
- I stop adding things when I can’t consciously check if I’m still doing them correctly.
- I take a break when I am starting to feel tired
- I take a break when I can’t concentrate anymore
A break of 5 or 10 minutes will help you and your brain to “come to your senses”. During this break, don’t add more info by watching TV, doing computer games or checking your social media. I know it is hard to be without these things for a whole 5-10 minutes but it will help to get your energy and concentration back up.
Info overload & developing bad habits
- Info overload makes checking if we’re still doing it right harder
- which leads to playing mistakes
- play mistakes often enough and brain will be making connections(shortcuts) for them,
- do them for a long time and you’ll create super highways for bad habits, not good!
Those super highways are such strong connections that data passes through them many times faster than through normal connections. These connections “fire” so quickly it is hard to stop them.
That is why it is so hard to unlearn bad playing habits!