Updated: Sep 22, 2021
Avoiding the guitarist's most common pitfall
It's a simple question, "How's your progress at guitar?". We all like to believe that we are getting better, assuming that is, we are putting in the time to do so. Unfortunately our beliefs do not always tally with the facts of the matter, as human perception can be horribly flawed.
An easy way for me to see this is by asking rank beginner students at the start of their second lesson how they've got on with what we looked at in their first. Many are convinced that they've failed to improve when they actually have made great strides forward. Almost as many are convinced that they have improved when they most certainly have not! Few have any true idea of how they really have progressed.
My recommendation to these beginners is always the same as it is to students of any level. Measure your progress! This way you will be dealing with hard facts rather than your own possibly, if not probably, unreliable perception of the results of your practice.
What works for them, will work for you too!
As this applies to the beginner, I believe it applies more so to the intermediate, and more so again to the advanced student. The bigger the challenge at hand (and the deeper we go, the tougher the problems usually become), the more important it becomes to have a method for monitoring our progress. Early on, big jumps in improvement can be obvious on almost a daily basis, but further down the line progress, without monitoring, becomes much more intangible, and we can often be reduced to having to hope that the time we invest in practice is paying off!
Replacing hope with expectation, and results!
We can find a way to measure just about anything on guitar. When we can measure it, we can see if it's improving or otherwise. Either way we learn something! If things are not being bettered by the way we are practising them, we learn that our current approach is ineffective and are pushed quickly to find a better method.
The alternative (and I speak with personal experience of many thousands of hours of thoroughly ineffective practice) can be as futile as simply throwing our practice time away.
I began my own measuring regime after many years of unfruitful practice, and suddenly my whole outlook changed, for the better! The first "benchmark" I wrote out was that discussed in my blog post How Good is your Technique?, a simple four note pattern that anyone can quickly learn and measure, and then improve! The sheet recording that information became the first in my "practice folder" which now comprises over 100 sheets in total and over 400 individual measurements. In the video below I am seen and heard flicking through and discussing it.
I don't use my practice folder every day, and please don't think the suggestion is that I work my way through the whole thing on a regular basis; "Ain't nobody got time for that!". All it means is that I have a rock solid record to refer to of where I am with certain patterns and skills. Occasionally I'll zoom in on something that seems to be stuck and focus on that for a while. If I come across a new problem, a few minutes is enough to add it to the collection and begin a new line of enquiry.
Stop shooting in the dark, move into the light!
Gaining access to this information offers you a real power to understand which you won't otherwise have. Anyone can start their own practice folder in minutes, all it takes is a pen, some paper and a metronome or similar. Pick what you want to work on (smaller building blocks can be the most beneficial), write it out, and jot down your top speed and the date. Easy! You will thank yourself somewhere down the line.
For some ready made progress sheets, you can grab a copy of my free download "BPM!" available to all my subscribers. It contains tabs and measuring boxes for all the challenges presented on this blog, and much more!
Practising what I preach ... literally!
For anyone keen to see my personal progress over the past ten years, I've made available a downloadable PDF of all 113 pages of my practice folder here. This includes a couple of very long time personal challenges that were finally conquered (after over 30 years), things that I just was not able to physically do until recently.
Over time I'll add further collections of some of the benchmarks I've found very helpful for both myself and students. After 32 years of looking, I've never found a better approach!
What they never told you about changing chords on guitar
Revitalise your practice with this 4 note speed test