Rut-Busters for Guitarists, Part 1 of 8: Setting Goals

Welcome to my new series of lessons, "Rut Busters for Guitarists."

These lessons are aimed at breaking through barriers that may be preventing you from improving.

Some of these lessons will simply give you some good food for thought, and some will be more hands-on. Written to help you get past that plateau, these lessons are here to help you mix things up and keep your relationship with the guitar an interesting one.

This first lesson discusses how to get the most out of your practice time by making them goal oriented.

Often, a guitarist’s progress might be stagnant due to a lack of goals and structure when practicing. Musicians tend to fall back on what they know and spend time noodling somewhat aimlessly instead of making goal-orientated progress during their practice sessions. There's nothing inherently wrong with “noodling” and jamming, as this can be a creative place for people to write and compose. However, just spending time with the guitar is much different than having a specific goal-oriented agenda in mind when it comes to practicing and making progress.

I'm often asked by students’ parents, "How long should Billy practice?" They expect a canned answer like, "30 minutes a day, three times a week." While the repetitive nature of some technical aspects of learning guitar could require a bit of time, I find that asking “how long” misses the point.

The more important concept is: When you sit down to practice, you should end up a better guitarist at the end of the session than when you began it.

If your musical goals include improving your sight-reading skills, then maybe reading through a whole page or two of unfamiliar music should be that day's practice goal.

If you're interested in improving your technical abilities, maybe your goal for the day's practice session is to play warm-up patterns or scales that you currently max out at with a certain metronome setting and push yourself to be able to play them at a few beats-per-minute faster.

If you are trying to learn a new song, then your day’s goal might be to learn the intro and verse parts. The next day, it might be the chorus and solo section. Once you've learned the separate components of the song, work to be able to play it from beginning to end.

These examples could take just five minutes or a few hours; it all depends on the goal, your skill level and the amount of time you have available.

Sometimes the reason for those aimless practice sessions is that you are simply overwhelmed with all the different material (scales, songs, chords, arpeggios, improvising and music theory) that seems to endlessly beg for your attention, and you don't know where to even start.

So you fall into your comfort zone and tinker around, noodling ... again. For this, I recommend making a to-do list. Think of just a few important elements of your playing that you feel need improvement. I like to email myself a four- to five-point list of things to practice and improve on for the week. I might not cover all of these goals in the same day, but I can check them off as I do, over the course of the week.

How you manage your schedule is up to you, but by creating this list, you've at least thought about, and now know what you NEED to work on. If email isn't your thing, simply write it down in a notebook. This is a great way to track your progress, check off your achievements, revisit problem areas and create new goals.

Take a look at the accompanying video. I hope it inspires your to organize your practice routines and make them more goal-oriented.

Guitarist Adrian Galysh is a solo artist, and education coordinator for Guitar Center Studios. He's the author of the book Progressive Guitar Warmups and Exercises. For more information, visit him at readers can enjoy a FREE download of Galysh's song "Spring (The Return)" by clicking HERE.

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