Everyone has a level of guitar playing they wish to achieve before the day their number is up, and they kick the bucket. Whether the goal it is to seductively serenade that girl you pass by in the hallway each day, that you just can't speak to through typical human communication but she would be putty in your hands if you sang her favorite pop song, or you want to step forth onto a dimly lit stage and rock entire continents every night, your fingers running across the fret board in a blaze of glory. We all have goals and dreams with our playing, and the biggest detrimental factor would be to not know where you want the guitar to take you. Learning to play the guitar is a wonderful journey, and but all voyages need to have a destination.
The first thing you need to do as a guitar player, regardless of skill level is to sit down and analyze where you really are as a player. Do you really know the basic chords, or can you only play the one or two progressions you learned a few months ago before you set the guitar down to try your hand at baseball, the piano, or any other of life's various distractions. Perhaps, you are finally feeling confidant with that sweep picking arpeggios in the new shred piece your band is learning. Where ever you are in your playing, you need to have a firm grasp upon the reality of your skill levels. Just as if you were taking a road trip, you need to know where you are on the map.
You then need to look at your destination. Where do you want to end up in the long term? However crazy it may be, I don't care if you want the peak of your guitar playing to be performing solo arrangements of classical pieces at weddings, or to be worshiped by the guitar legends which came before you. This is where you dream about where you really want to be, what would really make you euphoric and fulfilled as a guitar player.
You now need to take some time and see if your ultimate guitar goal matches up with your capability. I hold firm to the idea that anyone can accomplish anything they want with the proper guidance, time investment, and knowledge. You need to decide if you really can afford the eight hour practice marathons that will take you to your goal, or if you can only spare an hour or two each day. Few people have the dedicated focus or desire to be good at the guitar only. Everyone has other responsibilities and unrelated goals that they must attend to each day. These distractions vary from person to person and relate to everything from work, to children, to another passionate hobby. You have to take time and decide if this goal is truly achievable. You only need to concern yourself with whether you can accomplish it or not. The time that it takes should not be a determining factor unless your goal has a clearly defined endpoint where it would be futile to achieve. You can't be the next teenage guitar star if you're seventy.
Now that we know where you are starting from, and where you want to finish we can begin planning how to get you to the guitar playing ability you seek for. You need to locate and plan to acquire the skills necessary to achieve your long term goal. It is worthless for you to work on shredding through the pentatonic if all you want to do is play the chords of the latest pop single to your girlfriend. In this case you would recognize you would need to work on your barre and open chord shapes, as well as work upon your singing abilities. Every skill you spend time on trying to acquire must relate and bring you closer to your long term goal. Turn these tasks into the short term goals that will guide you to your ultimate guitar playing ability.
Now that we have a list of the skills we need to acquire. You're going to want to arrange them in a logical order that builds upon itself. There is no point trying to shred a scale passage cleanly, if you've never worked on your right hand technique and can only do down strokes. You have to start simply, and learn an ability that you can build on to get to the higher levels of technique. You just have to remember the phrase baby steps in this process.
It's amazing the progress you can achieve when you organize yourself and know where you want to be, but you have to take some time to plan how you will get there to be effective. It's going to take you much longer to be a shredder if you just ramble about the blues scale for your entire practice session each day. Set clearly defined goals, and work towards them. You need one goal as an Ultimate Picture of where you want to be, but then you need to set smaller goals that will lead you to the grand prize. You need to logically plan out your practice session so you're not spending all your time working out of your difficulty level, or working on skills that you already have down cold, if you want progress.
In the coming articles we will break this process down even further, providing logical concrete examples of how you can apply this concept and improve your skills. In the end it's the efficient practice time you put in that progresses you as a player.