Technique = Habit

As a teacher and player, I am always looking at technique from different viewpoints. From one perspective it seems obvious that we should all be trying to improve our technique. Better technique means fewer mistakes, and an easier, more masterful performance.

But improving technique is not as easy as it seems. In truth, our technique is the accumulation of all the good and bad habits we have accrued along our playing journey. So the process of improving technique involves weeding out bad habits or removing less efficient playing habits for better knew ones.

A habit is formed when our brain delegates an action or mental process to the unconscious, so the action performed, is not thought out step by step but executed without conscious effort. Habits allow our brains to perform more efficiently. Once a habit is formed the brain can assign a trigger for that action and then perform that action without any more conscious energy.

In this way, habits are very useful, as they allow us to function thousands of actions without really needing to think about them a great deal. So one might say that playing a piece on the guitar involves triggering hundreds or perhaps thousands of habits we have previously created (or programs).

How are habits created? Through repetition, of course. The neural pathway that is first formed when we create a habit is not very fast. Through repetition, we reinforce that pathway and make it faster.

The first step to improving technique is to become aware of what parts of your technique are lacking, not as efficient as they could be. The triggers for this might be: making lots of mistakes, feeling tired, tension and cramps, physical pain.

Aside from changing technique, we can also refine technique. This process is more subtle and requires slow practice and changing things incrementally. Even so, incremental change still requires methodical repetition.

The more we can do to become aware of what we’re doing, especially physically, the more we can spot and improve things in our playing. Very often just the act of awareness can make a change. Awareness itself can also become a habit. The habit of checking of physicality, and our body, our sound.

What things can you do to help you become better aware of your technique as it really is? By watching your habits you are watching your technique, by improving your practice habits you will improve your technique.