11 June 2008

How Do You Organize Your Guitar Practice?

Do you use a detailed to do list, or practice list, to organize your guitar learning? It seems that whatever endeavor you take up there are countless gurus advising you to set goals, break them down into sub-goals and make lists of all the tasks to do to achieve them.

I used to do this for my guitar learning. I'd list the goals for the songs I wanted to play, the music styles I hoped to learn. I'd break these down into smaller sub-goals focusing on techniques, skills and knowledge I'd need to play those songs or styles.

Then I'd break those down even further and finally create task lists for my weekly and daily practice. My practice list would include all the things I aimed to practice, for example:

  • 3 minutes finger warm up exercises
  • 5 minutes on a scale exercise
  • 10 minutes on learning a song
  • 10 minutes on soloing practice

But I found this approach ineffective because of several problems.

First up, it is hard to identify reasonable goals when you set out to learn a new skill. It's even harder to figure out what the sub-goals and steps are until you have good knowledge of the thing you want to learn.

My own goals were too ambitious and unfocused. I simply tried to do too much. I'd always have goals to play in at least two or three musical styles that I like.

Secondly, I'd spend lots of time creating and updating the goals and practice lists. This was time that I could have spent practicing instead.

Finally, I became frustrated as I fell behind my practice schedule. If, like me, you fit your guitar practice around the rest of your life it is all too easy to fall behind the ambitious schedule you set yourself.

You can also get tripped up by learning problems. The amount of time you estimate to learn a new skill is rarely accurate. You get way off your schedule when something you planned a couple of weeks for ends up taking you months to learn.

This frustration with your "lack of progress" (as defined by your practice schedule) eventually leads to lack of motivation. If you are not careful it can easily make you want to just give up playing guitar altogether.

Luckily for me, I didn't abandon playing altogether. I did give up that process of making detailed plans, though.

And do you know what? I don't think that my learning really suffered much. I just kept practicing and playing when I could and tried to learn new skills regularly. Little by little, almost without really noticing it, I became a better player.

I'm convinced now that it's not really necessary to worry about planning your guitar practice. I just try to have fun with what I know and learn a little more as I go along. I've more or less accepted that there are many things I may never know, but that's okay, because I can still play songs I enjoy.

What about you? What is your experience with guitar learning? Do you set yourself goals and make detailed plans? Do this work for you? Do you have a learning system to share?

Please take a couple of minutes to share your experience in the comments on this post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks and thanks again for this site--it has been such an encouragement to me.
In response to your last blog...I'm a vocalist, wanting to be able to accompany myself with a portable instrument. I have messed around with guitar since grade-school but never really progressed too far in it. It never occurred to me to schedule or set goals for a practice session, but I wonder if at least having a point of origin would help me.
While I know that learning chords mainly takes time and practice (as well as some sort of super-human ability when it comes to chords like "F"), I'm not sure HOW to pick up strum patterns. I have a good sense of time/tempo, and my voice is strong enough to over-ride my incompetence, but I would like to be good enough to not have to hide behind my stronger gifting. All in all, I could use some direction on how to work, not only on fingerings and chording, but also on some strumming techniques. I practice songs I know as well as new ones I've heard others play, but I don't know enough to be able to take what I hear with the strumming and translate it into my space and time. Frustrating!
So I'm turning it back on you. What do you mean by "have fun"?
Thanks again...

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Kelly,

Your comment is also a great encouragement to me! Many thanks for taking the trouble.

To "have fun" I learn and play songs with the chords and skills I already know. I am easily sucked in to learning more and more technique. Doing that makes me worry about all the things I don't know (that's the perfectionist in me), instead of enjoying what I do know.

Playing guitar is supposed to be fun, with just a few chords you can enjoy playing lots of songs.

I'll post some answers to your strumming questions in the near future. In the meantime one question, have you tried working with a metronome?

Glad to hear the blog has encouraged you, keep up the playing.


Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Gary - my practice times usually comprise of learning songs or rehearsing chords and solos for songs that I'll be performing. I play almost every week at church, so this is my "practice".

In my spare time, is when I just chill out with my guitar and try some new stuff.

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