Practicing can be addictive. A dangerous and self-perpetuating addiction.
I can quite easily remain on an exercise for 8 hours and not notice the time go by. I am not entirely sure if it is normal to stay so focused for so long on an exercise that consists of just 6 notes but I am guilty of it and I am sure other guitarists are just as guilty. What is more dangerous is the way the mind tends to close down to all other aspects of practice and for the mind to completely hone in on the exercise on hand.
The mind is a creature of habit and whatever is repeated often tends to become entrenched as an automatic response even if it just a mindless repetition of an exercise that (in all probability) is already embedded in muscle memory.
Obviously – this is an entirely inefficient way to practice and invites burnout and other rather unpleasant results of over practice like for example Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (which doctors said couldn’t be healed – except I defied their verdict as I couldn’t bear the thought of never playing again). So what’s the ideal way to approach practice? Well, as rudimentary as it sounds – the best way I know to avoid these issues is to have a practice schedule outlining no more than 15 minutes on any given area of study/practice. This is key – ORGANIZATION.
Another crucial area of practice is knowing when to take breaks and how to ease off on the focus. Too much practice is counter productive. You need to find a balance between focus and rest. This has been my greatest battle with music. There is also another related area to all this and that is to ‘forget’.
There is an old adage that goes something to the effect ‘remember to forget because we forget to remember’. This is an age old technique that is based on one principle: subconscious learning. In order for someone to truly learn a movement at a deep level – the learning has to be left to drop further down into the subconscious mind where it becomes a habit and thereby becomes effortless to play.
We do this by learning something completely new and return to the exercise after a period of about one to two months. After we return – then push past previous speed limits of that exercise. You will find that you will easily surpass prior speed limits.