First off, why goals?
Goals are what measure our progress. We all go through the time when we measure our guitar playing on how impressed people are with it. But hopefully we move beyond that and realize that the more important measure of our musicianship is how well we express ourselves through our relationship with the music and rhythms we develop in life.
Goals are concrete (theoretically)
Goals tell us what we need to work on
Goals give us a temporary end in site
Goals relieve frustration and disorganization
Goals reveals to us our successes most importantly
Start out with observations about your current playing and your current attitude and write them down. You can use paper and pencil, type them up or whatever. I personally live by The Journal. I keep all of my notes, goals and objectives in it. I spend a lot of time logging my guitar practices and keeping tabs on what material I’ve been covering in my practice sessions. Beyond that I use it for just about everything else too. I love it. But for guitar purposes it really suits me to log and journal on the computer. Plus it gives me a lot of other features that help with personal life and guitar playing.
We all have guitar heroes. We all want to play better and learn more. We all seem to find ourselves in a rut every now and then. So … what do we do? Well, I used to just get frustrated, irritated and I hated everything and everyone after “practicing” for an hour or two and feeling like I accomplished nothing. I realized that I was just simply noodling around on the guitar and not really practicing anything. At least anything that I didn’t already know how to play. Don’t continually practice stuff you know how to play. Not only that, I wasn’t even focusing at all.
I started making some general statements about where I wanted to be with the guitar. Here’s what I knew I wanted.
“I want to play like Alex Degrassi.”
“I want to solo like Phil Keaggy.”
“I want have the same feeling in my songs as Nightnoise.”
“I want to be able to hit notes like Pierre Bensusan.”
“I want to jam out like Tommy Emmanuel.”
But that didn’t tell me anything. So I figured I need to ask myself some questions. You have to ask the right questions before you can make progress. These are the things I wanted to be able to do. So I ask myself and recorded these in my Journal.
What is it that these guys do that I’d like in my style? What are the techniques that I can incorporate into my practice that will enhance my playing like the guys I want to play like?”
NOT why can I not play that? NOT why is this guy a guitar genius and why am I Pheobe from Friends? Now I needed to make some detailed observations. Take a look at the next section to see what I noticed about each of the musicians.
Narrowing Guitar Goals
Make Useful Observations About Others’ Playing and put it in you Journal.
Here’s an example of what I did when I thought of techniques or styles I wanted to incorporate into my playing.
In the last article I listed my guitar heroes and what I’d like to do that they can do. Now I’m going to be more specific and make useful observations about their playing. These are the things that I want of theirs.
Alex DeGrassi: He is able to use arpeggios in his playing like no other, every note leads to something that enhances the melody.
Phil Keaggy: Great riffs, his phrasing is articulate and original.
Nightnoise: Their combination of elements of music just speaks volumes. The emotion they can evoke in a melody is what I’m looking for here.
Pierre Bensusan: His knowledge of intervals and the relationship between notes he plays is astounding. So is his technical ability. His music sounds like a conversation between musical notes.
Tommy Emmanuel: Dynamics and attack!!
Doyle Dykes: Doyle Dykes can arrange songs like no other. His pieces and very defined movement and they resolve great.
Alright, now that I know what I need to focus on, I need to write out my goals. And now that we know that the process is paramount, we need to focus on not only what we practice, but how we practice. I’m going to write my weaknesses first though (in light of what I’ve already written) in order of importance. You use the worksheet on the next page for you if you want to do the same.
1) Elements of music
Because music is a relationship and the interaction of these things determines the quality of music you compose I really need to explore the elements of music. (NightNoise) I don’t have a good command of these, maybe my weakest. I’m including the structure of song with this.
2) The fretboard and intervals.
Without knowledge of the fretboard, I have no freedom. I need to memorize the notes and gain muscle memory of their location. (Pierre Bensusan)
Right hand attacks. These I can probably consider as part of elements of music but we’ll see. (Emmanuel) My melodies tend to be static and monotonous so I need to study as many ways to make my music dynamic as possible.
4) Scales and phrasing.
These are the building blocks of chords and progressions. I should really learn the theory behind scales as well. Can only help. (Keaggy) All of my solos sound like major scale exercises. Blah!
5) I play way too many grace notes that don’t lend themselves to moving the music.
They’re just there. Which I think is a common problem among fingerstylists. I want not to play notes just to make my music sound more complicated. I want them to direct the emotion and mood of the piece. Degrassi is the man at this.
Write your goals out
Based on what I have so far, I’m going to write out specifically in my Journal what I want to change in my practice to try to reach the point where I want to be. Many times you’ll hear that with goals you should make them measurable and concrete. Well, in a sense I’ll do that. But each person measures success in their own way. So I prefer to focus on changing my practice so that for one, the goals don’t seem so far away. Also because I’m focusing on the process, it makes it easier to adapt and redefine my goals based on any changes in my style.
1) When I practice I’ll dedicate one section to studying the elements of music, their relationship to one another, and the emotional effect of each of these relationships.
2) When I practice I’ll dedicate one section to studying intervals and the emotional response to them as well. I also will train my ear to identify the intervals forward and backward.
3) When I practice, at all times I will try to keep focus on relaxing (right hand in particular) and I’ll study right hand technique and it’s effect on the elements of music. (We’ll get into this in the technique section more)
4) When I practice, I’ll dedicate one section of study on practicing and creating different phrases for different scales tying them into my interval study and dynamics study.
5) I will create an entire piece with arpeggios strung together and use dynamics and elements to identify the melody. Now all I need to do is create my practice schedule. To be perfectly honest, though, I’ll use this as general guideline depending on what’s going on in my life. All of these lessons and schedules are provided to be aids in your pursuit. There’s no definitive guide. Hopefully, you can get something out of these.
On the next pages I’ll give you some sample schedules to use but here’s mine:
Warm up: 10 minutes
Elements study: 15 minutes or 20%
Interval and ear: 15 minutes or 20%
Right hand technique: 15 minutes or 20%
Scale studies: 15 minutes or 20%
Arpeggio / composition: 15 minutes or 20%
Unstructured play time: whatever time I have
Warm down: 5 minutes
Hope this helps some …
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