The Right Approach: To Become a Better Player, Try Writing Down Your Goals

In my last series of columns, "The Art of the Practice," we discussed ways to make practicing more stimulating. I hope it also spurned you to take your playing in some different directions.

This time around, I'd like to talk more about "approach" -- how you view the instrument as well as the music that comes out of it.

A good way to progress in playing and in life is to write down your goals. Something happens when you commit a dream or an idea to paper; it's reinforced, taken out of the realm of the mind and made real in the that of the physical. You can hold it, you can see it.

I'd like to start by asking you a a question: What is your favorite genre of music? C'mon. If you can't narrow it down, pick one in particular that moves you. Got it? OK, now I want you to answer the question "Why?"

"Why," as in, "Why do you like it? What is it about your preferred/chosen genre that keeps you coming back?" Be specific, as specific as you can. Nail it down. Grab a piece of paper and make a list. Me? I'm a rock guy through and through, so here's what I came up with (in no particular order):

  • 01. Heaviness
  • 02. Aggression
  • 03. Dark mood
  • 04. Subject Matter, especially rebellion, kicking ass, fantasy
  • 05. Attitude
  • 06. A sense of relentlessness and forward movement.

Once you've got a list (similar or not) to what I have above, you're going to need to channel your inner-2-year-old and ask "Why" again. What makes it heavy? How does the band achieve a "dark" sound and/or texture? Really drill down as deep as you can to find an answer.

See how we're starting with generalizations and then narrowing it down as much as we can? Such is the path to the truth.

01. Heaviness: Tone, lower tunings, downstrokes, use of fifths, lower open notes ...

05. Attitude: Speed, sloppiness? (not playing too "neat"?)

You could go on and on, of course. The cool thing about this exercise is that by conducting this kind of analysis, I have essentially created a list of things to focus on and practice. Not only that, but by having gone about it this way, you can really zone in on improving/exploring things that will apply directly to your playing. Essentially, you're gonna focus on playing exactly what you want to play by exploring the very mechanics that create the sound.

Brian Wetherby is the guitar player in the rock band Captain Decibel, whose second independent release, The Dream Logic, is now available on iTunes, CD Baby and via the Captain Decibel Facebook page. Check it out! Spending 20 years learning the guitar has resulted in more than just unique riffing. For more information, check him out at, email him at or follow him on Twitter @CapBriDecibel.

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