We’ve all been there. You’re practicing your guitar and seem to be completely stuck making the same (or similar) mistakes for days or weeks on end. It’s frustrating!
You think, “Playing this over and over again isn’t working!” and that’s for a reason. It isn’t.
Playing the same thing a bunch of times can be helpful, but only to a point. When your brain gets tired or bored your productivity will plummet and you’ll fall into a slump, making the same mistakes time and time again.
I call this the “Frasier Effect” due to one of my favorite episodes of the 90’s sitcom Frasier. In this particular episode, the main characters Frasier and his bumbling genius brother Niles recognize that neither of them ever mastered the ability to ride a bike. So, during the episode Niles' girlfriend Daphne decides to try and teach them.
Then the ensuing training montage begins:
Frasier’s dilemma is a comical representation of what actually happens to the human mind. We set out on a grand expedition of learning and then suddenly find ourselves circling the drain, stuck in an ever-tighter spiral of confusion and mistakes.
Here is what Frasier is failing to do and how you can avoid his mistakes:
Switch up your practice! Change keeps things fresh. I don’t know about you, (unless you’re one of my private students!) but I have a very short tolerance for repetitive practice. Just this past week, while practicing a challenging song for one of my students I filmed myself in my work. When I started getting tired I thought, “wow, that must’ve been like 30 minutes of practice!” To my chagrin, in fact it had only been 13 minutes.
I promptly went to a different song that I’ve been working on for several months and forced myself to try and play it from memory. From there, I switched back once more to the song which I had first begun for my student and continued working on that song.
I did not get a clean run through the whole piece the entire time I practiced (about an hour). However, I did make noticeable strides toward cleaning up my playing and increasing my speed. I repeat the same practice session regularly.
Lay some bricks. Winston Churchill is famous for two of his hobbies which were painting, and oddly enough, brick laying. Winston had a very agile and active mind, and he discovered that just like any other muscle in the body it needs a break every now and then.
Painting and brick laying allowed him to change his perspective; to focus on the physical rather than the rhetorical (obviously in two separate ways). This was Churchill’s philosophy of rest: do the opposite of your work. If your primary task is using your mind, try finding something that you enjoy which forces you to disengage or engage in a different manner.
When applied to practicing your guitar, try interspersing mindless tasks amidst your hard work. Frasier’s inability to take his mind off of the tree (and later the mailbox) lead him to exhaustion and stagnation.
Also avoid watching TV, reading Social Media, or listening to podcasts during your break time as that will rob your “resting” time of it’s productivity.
Enjoy your work. Don’t forget the purpose of your practice. Every now and then I enjoy watching clips of old concerts. Sometimes it’s just so I can laugh at the ridiculous hair and costumes that they wore, but it can also be for motivation. Watch someone who you are horribly jealous of and measure your response.
Observe the greats and allow your envy to motivate and not discourage you. Watching someone who is better than you and then using that in a productive manner is an essential skill of life. There will always be someone better, and that’s what helps us to grow.
Enjoy your learning by focusing on your system of effective practice rather than your insignificant failures along the way. Need to form better practice habits? Check out my “How To Practice” article here.
In summary, you can defeat the Frasier Effect in three ways: switch up your practice, get real rest, and enjoy the work.
Frasier violates all three of these strategies by constantly doing the same thing over, and over again.
Don’t be Frasier. Use these strategies and see where they take you!
Your guitar learning companion,