When the Classical Guitar Blog first started, I wrote an article about Goal Oriented Guitar Practice. At the time, I was just beginning to develop my own guitar practice philosophy based on experience and observation.
In a sense, I still agree with everything I wrote in that article, but let’s modify it a bit and flesh out some ideas.
Practice Schedules, Time, and Improving
I’m going to tell you a secret that all the internet guitar teachers don’t what you to know: it’s not about the method or the lessons. It’s about the practice. The biggest part of getting better at guitar is consistency. Practice six days/week.
I’m a big advocate of time-only schedules. As in, “Get X hours of practicing done each day.” But, as I covered in micro-practice for big results, sometimes a time restriction can force improvement. To that end, do what works best. I combine time-only (3-4 hours/day) with a bit of specificity (spend .5 hours on technique, spend 1 hour working on Berkeley, etc).
Don’t be afraid of setting time limits, but don’t be confined by them. Above all else you have to evaluate your practice. Is it working? Don’t stick with an ineffective schedule for the sake of the schedule.
Long-term goals are those which lie in the 6 months to a year area. What pieces do you want to be playing by then? Do you have a performance in six months?
Long-term goals help focus mid-term and daily goals in addition to providing overall focus for practicing. Long term goals can be anything, but I would suggest focusing on a performance-based goal. That is, set a recital for a year from now.
It’s not hard to find a church or nursing home that would gladly host a guitar performance. By recital, I don’t mean an hour of music. Though, if you’re at that level go for it! It could be as simple as playing a few pieces for friends or as complex as doing a full formal recital.
Performing gives you a true snap shot of your playing: the stress and pressure and performance anxiety will reveal mistakes and musical/technical inconsistencies that would have never shown up in practice.
Your mid-term goals should be inline with prepping for a long term goal. If that long term goal is a performance, perhaps recording and evaluating yourself every month would be a good mid term goal. If some technical and musical events take time to settle in, a good mid-term goal would be to nail down measure (insert number here) by 1 month from now.
If your long term goal is to play a fluent tremolo at 130BPM, a mid-term goal would be playing the tremolo pattern once or twice at 130 to get the feel for it down.
There are a lot of examples, but the simple explanation is to look at the long-term goal and break into smaller steps. Those steps are mid-term goals
Daily Practice Goals
The real struggle of practicing comes a the daily level.
“What should I practice today?!”
This is where the practice log comes in. The basic idea of practicing is improving. Unfortunately, we can’t fix everything in a day. So we get pretty excited one day — pumped to finish something — but the next day that excitement is gone.
A practice log is a way to sustain that motivation. We think of things while practicing — how to practice or practice techniques — that would never occur to us any other time.
Write that stuff down.
Then the next day, look at it! The excitement and good ideas from the previous day’s practicing will be more likely to carry over into the present.
A practice log should contain three things: (1) time spent, (2) what was worked on, and (3) ideas about how to practice certain sections. Number three are your daily goals, already in writing, for the next day. Easy!
Putting it All Together
The biggest thing about Goal Oriented Guitar Practice is putting it in writing. Set a long term goal and set a time limit on it. Then derive mid-term goals. Daily goals will take care of themselves if you use a practice log.
Feel free to use the comments to write down your goals!