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How To Practice Effectively Part Two

Stephen Lindsay (442) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1



HOW TO PRATICE GUITAR EFFECTIVELY

PART TWO THE PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLANNING TOOLKIT

What is Personal Development Planning?

Personal development is an ongoing process that sometimes happens whether you like it or not. The fastest rate of personal development that we see as humans is of course in children who develop physically, emotionally and psychologically at an accelerated rate.

When we reach adulthood it is implied that our development is complete when we talk about having reached maturity. However whenever we are engaged in a process of reviewing or appraising an aspect of our knowledge, skills or values then we are involved in personal development.

Personal development planning takes these ideas and uses tools that helps you to actively plan an area of your development. For some people this could be acquiring new skills such as learning a foreign language, or career planning. For the purposes of this paper we are aiming at those who are engaged in the process of developing their guitar playing. Whether you have thought of it or not, this is personal development in the broadest sense. You are learning new knowledge, acquiring new skills and possibly, enhancing your emotional well being because with new knowledge and skills comes increased self-confidence and self-esteem.

Lets Start with SMART

In the last paper (WholeNote Article No. 3715), I introduced the concept of SMART Objectives. Put simply this is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Limited. In setting out the objectives that we want to achieve, we need to ensure that they correspond with these five criteria as this will enable us not only to state clearly what our goals are, but also to gear our practice routine to achieving them.

So far so good? Lets get practical then. Lets say you wish to work on improving your guitar solos. Now, and here is the honesty bit, you need to take a long hard look at what it is you want to be able to do, but at this moment cant. For the sake of this paper lets say you want to be able to let rip a bit and move somewhere approaching the kinds of playing you hear by your own favourite guitar gods. Be it Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola etc (my own personal favourite is Robben Ford, check him out!), the approach is the same. What is it that they do that you want to be able to donow dont say "everything", remember they started off just like us! If you read my last article then you will realise that this is an aim and not an objective. We need to take a closer look at what objectives we are going to set.

Now there are lots of directions in which you can take this. The biggest mistake is to set your sights too high and try to achieve too much too soon. Go for something small that will in itself bring about sufficient incremental improvement to move you closer towards your goal. Heres an example of the directions you can take it in. Your problem might be one of technique, in which case you might want to do some work on your left hand, e.g. hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides etc. You might want to work on your right hand to increase the clarity and tempo of your tremolo picking. On the other hand it may be that you are not sure what notes you should be playing to get that sound in which case your weak spot might be in the area of scales knowledge. OK so lets be doubly smart (as in clever!) and tackle a couple of areas at once.

Lets say that you need to work on your scales knowledge and your alternate picking technique. We can devise SMART Objectives that will both isolate each area and combine them to integrate your learning with the use of the instrument. Lets have a go.

Target 4 weeks from today

Aim 1 Develop Alternate Picking

Objective 1 Warm-ups, up/down neck in fours, 140 b.p.m.

Objective 2 Melodic pattern ascending / descending minor pentatonic box shapes, 140 b.p.m.

Aim 2 Increase knowledge of scales

Objective 1 Learn 7 patterns of Lydian mode (3 notes per string)

Objective 2 Improvise over backing track for 15 minutes each session using Lydian mode

Objective 3 Melodic pattern ascending / descending Lydian mode patterns, 140 b.p.m.

Lets compare this with the SMART criteria:

Specific You have identified exercises that directly lead you to the goal

Measurable Each objective has a numerical measure be it b.p.m. (beats per minute) or gradual acquisition of knowledge. The end target for all objectives is four weeks from today.

Achievable This is more subjective and will depend upon the initial starting point. However if the guitarist was sitting at a starting point of say 120 b.p.m. then this should be achievable.

Realistic Provided the practice gets put in then yes. However if you are trying to squeeze this in between your football team, drinking buddies, boxing club, chess club, scrabble club and arts societyget the picture?

Time-limited Its important you draw a line around these objectives, in this case it is four weeks. After this time you review your progress and if you have reached your goals you set new improved objectives that continues to lead you towards that all important solo from Crossroads.

Development Planning Tools Make it simple

Lets start by mapping out our objectives on a master sheet so we can have an overview of where we want to go.

Objective

Warm-ups, up/down neck in fours

120

125

130

135

140

Melodic pattern ascending / descending minor pentatonic box shapes

120

125

130

135

140

Learn 7 patterns of Lydian mode

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Improvise over backing track

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day4

Day5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

Day 11

Day 12

Day 13

Day 14

Day 15

Day 16

Day 17

Day 18

Day 19

Day 20

Day 21

Melodic pattern ascending / descending Lydian mode

120

125

130

135

140

As you can see we have now translated each objective onto this chart and we are going to use this chart to log our progress with each improvement. So when we move our picking from 120 to 125 we mark a cross or tick that box. For each day that we do our improvisation we mark those boxes and so on.

However we can also use a practice log to help structure our practice routine for any given session.

Lets see that table again.

Objective

Warm-ups, up/down neck in fours

120

Melodic pattern ascending / descending minor pentatonic box shapes

120

Learn 7 patterns of Lydian mode

1

Improvise over backing track

Date

Date

Date

Date

Date

Date

Date

Melodic pattern ascending / descending Lydian mode

120

Where have all the targets gone? Well you havent achieved any yet have you? This is your practice log and you will use it each time you practice. Heres how it works. If we take the first objective you can see that your target is 120 b.p.m. or your baseline performance. This is your warm-up exercise and speed. If you achieve it tick the box below 120. If not start it a slightly slower rate and do the warm-up at that. Lets say 80. Then increase in increments until you have achieved it. Thats you warmed up for the next exercise, using minor pentatonics. We are going to say ensure that you can ascend and descend a box shape a number of times. How many you want to do is up to you and depends also on how much time you have. Lets go for twenty repetitions. Start with a down stroke. OK so you ascend the scale in fours across the strings and then go come back again. Then change to an up stroke and ascend and descend. Each time you do so cleanly and clearly award yourself 1 point. If you fail to do so you dont get that point. Each time you score a point mark a small line in the box under "120" so that you dont lose count. When you have reached 20 then you have achieved that target and can go onto the next target of 125.

It is worth photocopying these sheets as "blanks" and putting in the information you require each time you practice. It only takes a couple of minutes. For each practice session you will start with a new sheet (or you can use one sheet per week its up to you) and put in the next incremental target you are aiming for. Each sheet will then represent a "snapshot" of your progress towards your goals. When, and only when you have achieved one of your overall targets, you go your master sheet and tick off those that you have achieved.

Now you can see that you need to allocate part of your practice session to each objective. This is called time management and will be the subject of a separate article.

Review Review Review

At the end of your time period (in this example its four weeks), you use your master sheet to review the progress you have made towards your goals.

Lets suppose that you fell quite short of the 140 b.p.m. required for the ascending and descending scales and managed to achieve 125. This suggests that perhaps you set your heights too high (or maybe that you didnt practice enough, your sheets will show that if you are being honest!). These tools then allow you to refine your schedule for the next period, so maybe to want to revise that target to 130 or 135.

What Next?

This paper shows one way to get the most out of your practice routine. It will by no means suit everyone. Did your school teacher ever stop to ask you how best you learn? If so you were very lucky but if your experience of school was like mine then I guess the way you learned was the way the teacher decided to teach you. In my next paper we are going to move from a one method fits all approach to look at "learning styles" and we will help you to work out what your own learning style is. Till then keep practising, and more importantly, enjoy.

Steve Lindsay

18th December 2001