If you are reading this, hopefully you are already working with a qualified instructor to reach your goals. If you have not already done so, you should set some short-term goals for yourself. As you continue to work toward achieving these goals, I want you to take into consideration the fact that guitar progress in not linear. Some skills you will pick up very quickly. Others will start off very slow then gradually increase. Some skills may feel like they even slip backwards a little bit.
These things will happen and it is important to prepare yourself for this. Some days you may be faster than others. Other days you may not be able to focus. When you look at any one practice session in isolation it is easy to get discouraged. Okay, so maybe today your improvised scale sounded basic and forced. How did it sound compared to last week? Last month? Musical ability takes patience and the ability to play “the long game.” So today I want to talk to you about a great tool to keep improving and keeping your morale up:
Progress moves incrementally. Sometimes those increments seem to be microscopic. This can be frustrating for those that want immediate results. Understand that you ARE getting better even though it may not be as fast as you’d like. This is why taking measurements is so important. These measurements are things like:
1. Reps: How many repetitions can you do without mistakes?
How many reps can you do in 2 minutes?
2. Quantity: How many scales can you play now (the same scale in 3 different positions counts as 3)? How many chords can you play now?
3. Confidence Level: This one is a bit more abstract, but still measurable. Confidence levels are basically how comfortable you feel doing a certain thing on a scale of 1-10: 1 being “I’m scared to death and would prefer to light it on fire and run” and 10 being “I could play that for anyone, anywhere, blindfolded.” This number will change day to day depending on how well our practice sessions go, so take a measurement every practice then average it out for the week.
4. Metronome markings: How fast was it this week vs last week. Using a metronome vastly improves your internal sense of timing but it is also a great tool for tracking progress. Towards the end of your practice session, play the thing you were working on along with a metronome. Write down the fastest tempo you played WITHOUT ANY MISTAKES.
5. Recordings: Having audio recordings is a great tool to measure success. Video recordings are even better and just as easy. Is the first video you make awkward? Usually. But you know what is more awkward? Continuing to make the same mistakes on guitar. You can use an audio recording to track all sorts of things like:
*Smooth and connected notes – eliminating the pauses
*Inconsistent articulation (heavy picking vs light picking)
*Advanced phrasing concepts
If you can hear these things in your recording, others can hear it in your playing. Keep a tally of how often these issues occur. Aim to lower that number!
You can also use video recordings to notice technique issues that usually go unnoticed:
*Where is your thumb?
*Is your wrist bent/kinked in the wrong direction?
*Are your shoulders tight?
*Is your jaw clenched?
*Do you make weird faces or drool when you play?
The idea here is that you start measuring things and become aware of victories where they exist. By getting recordings of your practices, you will gain a deeper insight into the causes of your problems. Regardless of which methods you choose, starting taking measurements today and compare them to the measurements you get next month!
About the author:
Eric Dieter is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher in Lancaster, PA. He has appeared on dozens of international albums as a session guitar player and tours with the synth-pop band Hudson K and prog-rock band Hiding Scarlet. Eric has studied guitar at Millersville University and Berklee College of Music. Additionally, he holds a degree in psychology and certifications in behavioral health and hypnosis, making him uniquely qualified to train the minds of young musicians. Contact Eric if you are looking for guitar lessons in Lancaster, PA.