Merriam-Webster offers us one definition of progress as “to develop to a higher, better or more advanced stage.”
But exactly HOW can you tell if you are developing to a more advanced stage in your guitar playing? Is this even important?
Seeing Progress is Important
Being able to recognize your progress is an important motivator. Seeing that you are making progress makes the difference between sticking it out and giving up when you get bored. Everyone gets stuck in a rut in the short term but over a long period of time, you WILL improve.
Especially when you feel bored with your playing and you feel as if you are stuck in a rut, being able to look back at how far you’ve come will keep you inspired to continue with your musical journey.
How to Track Your Progress
We recommend this simple three-step method to our students:
Set a goal.
Decide on the way you will track your progress.
Make time to observe, reflect, and commend yourself on how far you have come.
Let me give you a specific example.
Being able to transition between notes and chords more quickly is a great goal. Let’s say I’m working on a two-octave G Major scale.
I’ve decided that to track my progress, I’m going to record myself playing this scale every month.
In my first video, above, I’m able to play smoothly and accurately at 80 bpm.
One month later, I record myself playing this scale again:
Here, I’m able to play smoothly and accurately at 90 bpm.
Yay! Very clear and easy to hear my progress.
Ready to try this for yourself?
1. Set your goal.
There are many different categories for your goals:
Maybe your goals for improvement are around scales, arpeggios, alternate picking, downstrokes, hammer-ons, or pull-offs. These skills are great places to start as they show up in lots of different styles of music and songs. What scale is the basis for your favorite song? Start there!
We don’t think you need to learn music to play guitar (read more about that here) but you absolutely need to learn rhythm.
A great goal is to choose a strum pattern and then aim to improve your speed, accuracy, and consistency. You could choose something simple like an eighth note strum pattern. Or try a more difficult pattern using syncopated sixteenth notes.
While the previous categories of goals are more about accuracy the precision, phrasing is the key to making what you are playing more expressive and more interesting for the listener. Having a goal around improving your phrasing includes adding accents, pauses, and dynamics.
Listen to the difference between playing expressively with phrasing and just playing the same thing just for accuracy.
When you improvise, you make things up on the fly but there is still a structure that contains your improvisations. For example, if you are improvising over a chord progression, practice staying within a specific scale. Track how often you can do that without falling out of the scale or hitting a wrong note.
A Specific Riff
There are a million cool and iconic riffs that are worth practicing. A great example this is Black Dog by Led Zepplin.
Choose the riff you want to learn and have at it!
2. Tracking your progress.
Tracking your progress is easier with some of these categories than others, especially when your goals are around speed or accuracy. Even if you are tracking something less tangible like your expressiveness with phrasing, we recommend that you record yourself playing at regular intervals.
Your recording doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even have to be a video. You can use the voice memos on your phone or smart device.
When you are recording yourself, make sure you include the date in the audio or on the file label so that you can listen back later and appreciate your progress over time.
3. Reflect on and celebrate your successes.
You might be tempted to skip this step but it’s an important one! Look back to where you started with your instrument. You didn’t even know how to hold your guitar or how to place your finger on the keyboard!
It’s easy to lose sight of how far you have come when you are in the middle of learning, especially when you are tackling something challenging. If you listen back to the recordings of your playing you'll definitely hear your progress. Acknowledge how far you've come and give yourself a pat on the back for your improvement over time.
Everyone benefits from encouragement. Our supportive community of musicians will help you notice and celebrate your successes. A YouTube video definitely can’t do that. Contact us and meet some members of our community.
We can help!
Supporting guitar players and piano players with these things is what we do every single day. Schedule a free introductory lesson and you can experience for yourself! We'll tell you more about our method, our supportive community of musicians, and get to know more about your musical interests and influences. From age 9 to 99, from beginners to seasoned pros, we've got something for everyone here at Bones Jones Music and we'd love for you to be a part of it!