Musical Goals

I'll first review my 2019 goals, then cover goals for 2020, before finally give an overview of my current practice routine.

2019 goals vs reality

I ticked fewer than half the boxes on my list of 2019 goals:

  1. [ ] Jam with other people at least six times
  2. [X] Start and complete Justin's "Green" grade
  3. [ ] Record myself playing once a month to track progress
  4. [ ] Learn 10 new songs
  5. [ ] Stretch goal: complete Justin's "Blue" grade
  6. [X] Stretch goal/treat: start building a pedal board

I found the recording really distracting, and quickly got frustrated that the transcribing of the songs took too much time away from the guitar. This was the most visible (and painful) failure.

That said, I am really happy with my progress overall. It just wasn't on the arbitrary goals I've set myself at the start of the year! For example, I established good practice habits by:

  • Keeping a practice journal, which has helped me track progress and focus my practice effort
  • Buying Justin Sandercoe's Rhythm Reading and working hard on that for 7 months, as I struggled keeping and working out rhythms
  • Started learning to read music, using Frederick Noad's Solo Guitar Playing
  • Working on ear training, and basics like learning the names of notes on the fret board

The ear training has really paid off. I have noticed that it's much easier now to work out songs by ear. Sometimes it falls into place without me even trying!

Likewise, the rhythm practice has paid off handsomely. A couple years ago I couldn't even play to a metronome. Now my rhythm doesn't completely derail in the absence of a metronome.

I ticked the "start building a pedal board", as I bought my first effects pedal: a Tube Screamer mini. This to make it easier to practice soloing over a chord progression. It sounds soo good with my Yamaha THR 10 amp. I love it!

I also bought a travel guitar, aiming to take it places and jam with other people. Unfortunately it didn't spark joy, so I traded it in (along with my son's unused drum kit) for a Faith Earth Legacy acoustic. It is amazing, and is my primary guitar now.

My goals for 2020

I'm currently reading Atomic Habits, and one of the first things covered is that outcome-oriented goals are a poor idea. If you instead change how you identify, the good habits should come more naturally. I think I have had some success with this already: at some point I started identifying as a guitarist, rather than someone who wants to learn to play guitar. Perhaps that's why practising an hour every day hasn't felt like a slog at all—I've really enjoyed it and look forward to it every day.

So, goals for 2020 are going to be process oriented rather than goal oriented:

Continue keeping a practice journal
Rather than the dead-tree book I used last year I'm going to use Justin's practice assistant app, free from his website for registered users. I like that it has built-in timers, metronome, and keeps track of stats so I can track improvements & practice time.
Aim for at least 1 hour of dedicated practice a day
I don't own a guitar I'm happy to take travelling, and I don't travel enough that I can justify getting one, so I'm going to qualify this with unless I'm travelling.
Regularly record myself playing and listen critically
The goal here is to determine where I need to focus my practice. Producing high quality or long-lived recordings is not part of this goal: using my phone's voice recorder app is fine.
Adapt my practice schedule to keep it fun and relevant
Being a guitarist is who I am now, but there's no point in keeping to a practice schedule if I don't get enjoyment from it.
Seek out opportunities to make music with other people
This could mean playing simple songs with someone else singing, playing known songs with other people on instruments, or all-out jamming. I've really enjoyed playing with others when I've had the opportunity, and it's motivated me to learn more songs.
Try to work songwriting into my regular practice
I have been noodling around with some chord progressions slowly coalescing into a song for months, if not a year. I've not gone about it in a structured way, however: it's mainly been taking shape during my "play" sessions, rather than my "practice" ones.

So, these are my musical goals for the year. I'm hoping that if I keep working on the basics, and building good practice habits, I'll eventually reap compound interest and become a good musician. In the words of Benjamin Franklin:

Watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

A snapshot of my practice schedule

To round off this post, let me share a snapshot of my current practice schedule, and how I go about it1. I usually do the first three while pottering around in the kitchen & making coffee, before getting my guitar out for the rest.

Mins Exercise Metronome
3 Find the Note exercise in Justin's Guitar Note Trainer app  
3 Name the Note exercise in Justin's Guitar Note Trainer app  
5 Aural Interval Training with Justin's Ear Trainer app  
5 "Old Faithful" strumming & changing chords mid-bar 84 bpm
10 Rhythm Reading: playing major scale in G to exercise 4.3 66 bpm
10 Solo Guitar Playing 54 bpm
5 Picking the intro to Behind Blue Eyes 80 bpm
5 Triad Arpeggios in A Major 96 bpm
5 Picking the verse of Behind Blue Eyes 40 bpm
10 Playing the verse of Nothing Else Matters with a pick 76 bpm

The "Old Faithful" strumming exercise acts partly as a warm-up, before I tackle the most mentally challenging parts: rhythm reading and note reading.

Some days I get through the full routine before the rest of my family wakes up. Occasionally I get distracted and manage nothing. Most days, however, I manage a good chunk of my practice routine in the morning.


Atomic Habits points to research that shows that people who are asked to detail how they're going to change their habits are more likely to do so.

Posted 15 February 2020 Copyright © Stig Brautaset