Another New Year, Another New You?
Guitar Noises #23: January 5, 2022
If you’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past you already know that resolutions don't work. Simply setting goals does not guarantee you will achieve them. A year of goals means a year of successes and failures.
No one is perfect all the time. Tiny daily actions, or inactions, add up over time. Setting small but realistic goals is the key to making progress as a guitarist. The more specific your goal the greater your chances of achieving it.
By sticking to your goals you will eventually arrive at your destination, even if it means sometimes arriving late. That’s okay though, you wouldn’t jump out of an airplane just because it was late.
If you can take the good with the bad, and accept there’s an up for every down, you’re in good shape for reaching your goals at any time of year.
Do Things in Threes
I like doing things in threes. A beginning, middle and an end is a pretty good formula for anything. When trying to choose some guitar goals here are three things that will help.
Set a routine.
Write things down.
Keep the guitar out.
Keeping a guitar in its case is like keeping the good dishes in a china cabinet. If your guitar is always on a well-located stand it’s almost certain you will pick it up and play more often. Start treating your guitar like it’s your coffee mug or your favorite bowl for cereal. If you store it away like a precious heirloom you might be better off with a framed picture of a guitar instead.
Get into the habit of writing down the things you want to do today. Having it in writing increases your chances of actually doing it. Use a small notebook to create a daily list of no more than 5 things you want to do on guitar today. Anything more than 5 is too many. If you’re new to this just put three things on the list. That’s your beginning, middle and end. If you have more ideas and goals than that, use a separate page to draw ideas from on other days.
As you work through things day after day, the list should start to look like a practice routine. Begin your list with a warm up. Put the hard stuff in the middle. That’s the stuff you’ll only see progress on over time. Towards the end is where you review things you already know. You can play stuff from your repertoire and start to drift out of serious practice and into the fun zone of just playing for kicks. Your practice is winding down, but your day’s goals are achieved.
A lot of what you work on will be up to you. But I’ll suggest a couple of warm up routines to get you started.
I’ve written about the importance of warming up. It prepares you physically and mentally for what comes next. I’d recommend finding exercises you can do every day. You don’t want to be swapping out your warm up routine for something new every few weeks. You’re laying the groundwork for a routine that has lasting effects and adds benefit at whatever ever level you reach. A warm up routine that helps with strength, dexterity, technique and mindfulness is something you won’t grow out of.
A good set of warm up exercises to do every day is Tomo Fujita’s chromatic scale exercises. There are five different exercises that aren’t especially hard, but they aren’t easy to do properly either. Done correctly you’re not just running through scales, there’s a lot to pay attention to. You’ll have to focus on your thumb position, palm muting, getting a clean sound, sustaining notes, keeping your fingers close to the strings. It’s not easy to do it all simultaneously, but as you work on it every day, you can be mindful of something different each time. If you are warming up without paying attention or concentrating you aren’t getting as much benefit from it as you could. The best warm ups are both a mental and physical process.
If you’re looking for deeper explanations of those exercises, they are taught in even more detail in Tomo’s paid Guitar Wisdom course. Check out my review from last month - there’s no affiliate commissions for clicking through. These chromatic exercises are also in Tomo’s out of print DVD/book Accelerate Your Guitar Playing.
There are plenty of other chromatic exercises you can try. Another good one is by Carl Brown at Guitar Lessons 365. There’s more variety and less detail here, but they are good exercises, especially if building speed is your goal.
As you set goals for the future, remember to prioritize what you're doing on each day.
“Take care of the days and the years will take care of themselves”
- Maria Edgeworth