You must decide where you want to go before you can go there!
This first lesson in my Efficient Practice series is all about setting goals. It's not just about the big picture... sure it's important to work out where you might like to end up in your guitar playing life, but you should also make goals within goals, the aims of your practice sessions and each exercise within it!
The Big Picture
Deciding where you want to go is one of the most important decisions you need to make and the clearer you can make it the better. Show me where you want to go and I can help you get there! But someone that comes and says "make me better" is the hardest student to teach because there are so many things to work on. If you are teaching yourself, don't be that difficult student to yourself either!
So be clear about what you want to learn. Write it down. Then think about the skills and knowledge you need to acquire in order to get there. It's one of the best things to see a good teacher about, someone that understands the various paths available - they can show you the right path to get you where you want to go without taking too many long difficult paths! They might even know some cool short cuts!
A common mistake made by inexperienced teachers (and one that I made many many times when I started teaching) is to teach what you are into. I have heard many stories about beginners going for lessons and being taught the mixobrainfryinggreekword scale when they should have been learning how to strum. Beware a teacher that does not try and understand where YOU want to go and what YOU need to do to get there.
Having solid goals will help you AND your teacher (if you have one)
1. To be able to play some easy songs with my mates at a BBQ.
2. To play regular gigs with a rock band.
3. To make a living from playing guitar.
4. To be the greatest guitar player to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Now of course each of these require a completely different paths, different skills and not every person could or would want to make each of those journeys.
Many journeys will have very similar paths and there are many skills similar in many styles - you would want to learn your minor pentatonic scales no matter if you wanted to play blues, rock, jazz or country, but would not really be a necessity to a classical guitar player!
This is why this part is so important - and only YOU can make these decisions.
You'll never get there if you're not sure where you are going!
The Little Picture
If you are not clear about the purpose of practicing a certain exercise you should not do it. Easy.
If someone, anyone, tells you to practice a certain thing, you should question it. Only when you have a satisfactory answer should you start working on it. A reputable teacher should explain the why as well as the how! In this online world where anyone can be an expect you really should assume everything is wrong until it is logically explained. Some of the cowboys teaching out there are not fit for busking let alone advising people to play scales with a certain fingering...
This includes me by the way - if you don't think I have explained the reason for practicing or playing a certain way well enough then hassle me (on the forum pls) to explain it further.
Once you have decided that you will practice something and it will help you get to your big goal it can help to decide what it is that will define the completion of the goal, or if it's ongoing.
For example - you might want to focus on learning some jazz chords, and you might define completion as knowing instantly the 10 Basic Jazz Shapes. Then you might make using them the next goal... Of you might want to get your scale picking up to 16th notes at 150 in position 1. And once it's there you might decide to try and get all five positions to that speed. Get it?
Sure some things don't have a goal like that - and some things just need practice - it all depends on the exercise and I'm sure you will know which is which when you think about it.
It's also a great feeling to realise that you have achieved your goal and can help keep you motivated - which for many online learners is one of the hardest things to do!
The more you know, the more things you realise you don't know. Socrates told a story once and described knowledge as standing in a circle- inside the circle being things you know and the outside of the circle (circumference) being the things you don't know. Of course as your circle gets bigger (you learn more stuff) the circumference gets a lot bigger too and you realise how many more possible things there are to learn and places to go.
Once you get into the habit of forming and achieving goals you will probably find that it spreads into your whole life, and I think it's a great thing. I meet many people that feel they never get anywhere in their life, mostly because they never set out in a particular direction. Then the problem comes in deciding which direction YOU want to go in. Only YOU can decide that and it's often the hardest part of the whole thing!
It really is a lot simpler to get what you want if you know what it is - the other option is just bumbling around until you stumble on it!
You will become better just for having given this some thought! So do it now - grab a pen and write down things you want to do - see if you can define a big goal. Work out the things you would need to be able to do to get there - then work out what things to practice to get your journey underway.
Just try it - everything takes practice - even working out what to practice ;)
And don't forget to have fun!