Goal Oriented Guitar Practice (revisited)
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!
My Long-term Goal: I have several concerts in March I’m preparing for.
Mid-term goals include: weekly performance for the guitar class at Austin Peay, and doing some volunteer performing for hospitals, etc. I also have a less formal recital in December at a local church.
thanks for this useful article, i work on this method right now.and my long term goal is performance of classical guitar seminar for 4 month later
Brilliant post, Chris. I started using a practice log in the summer (I got the idea from your blog) and I’ve found it incredibly valuable for structuring my practicing, and improving my playing.
Long term goal: I have an audition for the University of Victoria’s music program (studying with Alexander Dunn) in January. I’m working on preparing pieces for that now.
Mid term: improve my free stroke and rest stroke speed for the faster passages in Capricho Arabe (Narciso style), and work on dynamics within the context of more simple pieces (ex. Sor etude, Barrios prelude, Bach prelude etc.)
Daily: basically the same as my mid term, though what’s on my practice mind right now is bringing out the melody in Baroque pieces like the Scarlatti piece I’m working on right now. My thumb tends to be too heavy, and I have a tough time separating its heaviness from my other fingers.
You can only improve so much every day. The practice pays dividends the next day after you’ve had time to rest and your body has made the adjustments. When working on a piece start with where you’re having difficulty. Spend five minutes on it and then move on to the next spot. It’s way too easy to play through the piece, stumble through the tight sections a coupla times, and then repeat again and again.
When I first started playing guitar my goal was “to at least pick the thing up every day,” and for the first 5 or so years.. there was only about a week I missed.. being forced to go on a family vacation..
In more recent years there’s been a real question of where exactly guitar playing might fit in with my career, enough so that I go months without picking the thing up..
There’s this local little place.. “the chicken bone” where they do karaoke with a live band, and musicians can get up and play… I spent a couple day’s of the previous week trying to de-rust myself., and just to make matters worse I have a bad eczema outbreak on my hands. I got up on stage, pretty drunk by that point, and was like “ok, we’re just going to make this one up as we go along.” …and of course I had a friend video tape it.
I thought it went unspeakably horribly.. which is in part just my inability to easily like anything I do.. and i continued to hate it till I had transcoded the video.. and was watching it full screen.. and then.. well, I started to see qualities in it. Not so bad for being that drunk.. playing with musicians I had never played with.. who knows how comfortable they are with improvising.. and being horribly rusty.
So now I’ve reset my goal of at least picking up my guitar everyday.. and to get on stage at least once for that once a week thing… and I’m at least toying with the idea of possibly putting together an album or something of fairly guitar centric music. Seems like it would just be a shame not to do something like that with all the time I’ve put into it in the past.
Goals have always been a little difficult for my creative process.. The basic thing is just make sure I’m working on it.. and then it’s like.. some kind of self criticism and thinking about where I want to go.. who I want to be.. Long term goals are kinda weird cause its like.. do you want to flush out where you’re already strong or jump into some area where you know you will be horrible for a long time.. make that jump into the darkness.
Mostly I create electronic music where I don’t actually have to perform anything.. I just compose, program, design, mix.. and for that I’m always stretching out into new areas.. how can I produce live? Lets learn to program in MAX, lets learn high end visual effects for the video show and work out hot to integrate that into the music in live performance.
So my practice goal for right now is simply to de-rust… and see if I can’t bring some life back into my playing.. in the sense that compositional ideas are just kind of in bloom on my guitar. I’m looking at Melodyne DNA as a possible method of exploring bizzar harmonic structures that I might not be able to realize other wise. I want to get my playing rock solid.. I’m debating learning some new material.. I’m thinking I’d like to develop something that works around my electronic music which means really developing a kind of improvisation pallet around harmonic minor modalism, and synthetic scales.. and I’m thinking about exploring the blues a little bit… Maybe see if I can’t do something interesting about bringing the blues into harmonic minor modal and synthetic kinda areas.
But I don’t know.. I just know that I must get my playing so that it does not suck!
you should check out john frusciante and josh klinghoffer. also john frusciante and omar from the mars volta. they have mixed the guitar with synths for great mixes and effects. look them up on youtube =) lol
I totally agree with your emphasis on six days a week practice. Even if you don’t feel that you have a direction or are achieving anything, staying guitar playing condition will help you get through the doldrums.
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Very useful article. But are there others out there like me that balk at 3-4 hours practice a day! I work full time and have other commitments too so could never even contemplate spending that amount of time on practice – but I do still want to improve (just at a much slower pace).
Understandable, Christine, but you can still apply goal oriented practice with short total practice times.
Thanks for reading!
True. Will do so. Thanks for that, Christopher.