Practice Guitar With a Purpose: Set Guitar-Playing Goals

Why do you want to play guitar? What do you want to get out of your guitar playing? Why practice? — to master a new tune? to learn to sight-read? to get faster? to pass the audition?

Even if you don’t realize it we all practice to achieve some guitar-playing goal.

To get the most out of a practice session you should have a clear purpose in mind. I’ve wasted a lot of practice time noodling around and going off track. Not anymore. Now I set goals, and practice with purpose.

Having goals helps me…

  • Focus during practice sessions
  • Define an achievable course of action
  • Dream big dreams
  • Set practice priorities
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment when I complete a goal

How Setting Guitar-Playing Goals Works

Given my age, my playing level, my available guitar time, I realize I won’t be playing guitar in any arenas. So, here are my current guitar-playing goals:

  • To play 30-minutes worth of solo jazz guitar, chord-melody style.
  • To get good enough to play rhythm guitar (or comp) in an amateur jazz a combo.
  • To be able to play blues guitar in a small-town, bar band.
  • To be able to join a jam session, playing rhythm guitar, in virtually any style.

Before I established my goals, I was unfocused and all over the place. One month I’d be practicing acoustic blues guitar. After attending a Los Straitjackets show, I’d buy a book on surf guitar and start practicing that style. I wasn’t making much progress with the guitar.

Having guitar-playing goals gives you focus.

Given my guitar-playing goals, I’ve set up the following action plans.

Play 30-minutes of Solo Jazz Guitar

This is my main goal. To that end, I take private lessons. My teacher, an excellent jazz guitarist, is teaching me the chord-melody style of guitar playing.

Ultimately, I’d like to be able to have several hours worth of solo repertoire. But 30-minutes is a good first step.

Guitar-playing goals set you on an achievable course of action.

Learn To Play Jazz Rhythm Guitar

Since I use most of my private-lesson time on solo guitar playing, I’ve been working through the book Mickey Baker’s Complete Course in Jazz Guitar. Once through this book, I should be proficient enough to play rhythm guitar in an amateur jazz combo. Or, at minimum, with Band-in-a-Box (BIAB).

Mickey Baker's Complete Course in Jazz Guitar

This book is set up with 52 weekly lessons to get you through the course in one year. But, I need at least two or three weeks per lesson. And that’s okay. This is a secondary goal to solo-guitar playing. Guitar-playing goals help you to set priorities.

Play Blues Guitar in a Bar Band

Playing guitar in public is my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. I’ve enjoyed my amateur guitar playing for decades. I’m content to play guitar at home or among friends. But, the thought of being on the smallest stage, in a dive bar — ripping into “The Sky is Crying” really gets my mojo working.

Guitar-playing goals let you dream big. (The term “big” being relative.)

To that end, I’ve turned to the book/CD Blues You Can Use. I really enjoy working through this book and playing along with the book’s CD tracks. I’ve also been learning and practicing some of the pentatonic blues scales with Band in a Box.

Blues You Can Use

Play Guitar at Friendly Jam Sessions

I’m about ready to declare this goal achieved. My jazz lessons, and working through the jazz and blues books have given me a solid vocabulary of chords. I practice for this goal by picking out some new tunes, getting the chord progressions and entering them into Band in a Box. I figure out my chord fingerings, start up BIAB, and play along.

I’m finding that I can play most of the tunes up to tempo with very little effort. So playing along with BIAB is becoming more like “just playing,” and not “practicing.” Soon, I can move this off of my Goals list and replace it with a new goal, or allocate the practice time to something else.

Guitar-playing goals have a finish line and let you accomplish something.

Guitar Playing is Not Guitar Practice

I find it important to separate the activity of “guitar practice” and “guitar playing.” And the difference is not that practice is work, and playing is fun. When I practice, I have fun. But when I practice, I have a purpose.Guitar playing is just jamming with friends or BIAB. Sure, I may be improving technique, but who cares? My sole purpose for playing guitar is to have fun. And having fun with the guitar may just be my main guitar-playing goal.

Next Post: Optimize Your Guitar-Practice Time — Use a Digital Timer

Return To: The Guitarist’s Guide to Purposeful Practice Main Page.

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