Mistake #2: Not Having Clear Outcomes

It is difficult with an artistic pursuit to have clear outcomes. After all, music has infinite possibilities, which means infinite directions that you could go in in each practice session.

The problem when you are trying to learn a skill though is by walking in many different directions at once, do you think that you reach your destination?

Or perhaps the outcomes one desires are too fuzzy, like ‘I want to get better at guitar’. Often when I ask students how they are going to get better at a tune, they just say ‘practice it more’. This is too vague an understanding and will reflect in the results they get or, should I say, don’t get.

There is a technique that I use that really helps set clear outcomes in practice sessions. I call this ‘fortnightly outcome goals”.

The Solution: Fortnightly Outcome Goals

At the start of every 2 weeks of practice, I write down in my dedicated practice diary the 3 or 4 things that I want to accomplish in my practice sessions over the next 2 weeks. This would look something like:

Goals for 28/8 – 11/9:

  • Able to play transcription of Lenny Breau’s solo on Green Dolphin Street without any errors at 110 beats per minute
  • Able to play a 2 octave Db Major scale  at 130 beats per minute.
  • Able to improvise with the 2 Joe Pass licks I learnt on the tune ‘Angel Eyes’.

These statements are clear goals of what I want to achieve for the next 2 weeks. Notice how there is little ambiguity here. Each statement needs to have some sort of benchmark that would designate the goal complete.

The rule is: You are not allowed to add anything else to this list until the next 2 weeks is up.

You then write what you need to do in order to reach each of these goals. For example, let’s take the first goal on the list:

Goal #1: Lenny Breau’s Green Dolphin St solo, 110bpm:

Tasks To Complete Goal #1:

  • Gradually increase speed of the whole section until reaching 110 beats per minute
  • Revise voicings in b43
  • Work on accuracy in bars 23 and 27
  • Work on the altered scale licks in bar 67

Now that I have my goals for the next 2 weeks and the tasks needed to attain these goals, I then devise a routine that will allow time to work on them.

If I only have a 30 minute session though, it is unlikely I will have enough time to work on all the tasks for all of my goals. So it’s time to prioritise the above list:

Tasks To Complete Goal #1 (Prioritised):

  • Work on the altered scale licks in bar 67
  • Work on accuracy in bars 23 and 27
  • Revise voicings in b43
  • Gradually increase speed of the whole section until reaching 110 beats per minute

I then choose the top one from the list and then work it into my practice routine. As mentioned in the Part 1, here are how my practice sessions are structured:

Structure for a 30 minute practice session:

  • Warm up: 5 mins
  • Main Project: 20 mins
  • Review Previous Tunes: 5 minutes

So if I take the first task off the top of my prioritised list, my initial first few practice sessions for the 2 week block would look something like this: Practice session 28/8:

  • Warm Up: a scale or two – 5 mins
  • Main Project – Work on the altered scale licks in bar 67: 20 mins
  • Review – Take the A Train – 5 minutes

Your Assignment:

Next time you practice have a think about your session and what it comprises. Have you got clear goals? Have you got clear tasks listed to meet these goals? Have you prioritised these tasks? Are you actioning them in the Main Project time of your practice session?

In the next chapter we will address a topic that makes most guitarists cringe.

Can you guess what it is? I’ll see you in the next installment…



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