Almost every guitar teacher talks about the importance of having goals. Having a target to shoot for gives you direction and enables you to form a crystal-clear picture of what you want out of your guitar playing. Whether you want to play the chords to a few simple pop songs to sing along with, jam with friends at local open mics, or start a rock band and be a professional musician, setting clear and realistic goals will help you to achieve your aims.
Why You Need Goals
Goal setting is where we take the vague, soft impressions of what we want in our minds and define them to make them more specific. By doing this we can define exactly what we want, therefore improving our chances of getting it.
Once you've set some guitar goals (which I'll show you how to do in a minute) the next step is to break down the goal and form a plan to get it. Later in this article you'll learn how to analyse people who've already achieved goals similar to yours and find out how they achieved the goal - then you'll be able to copy their method to get what you want.
For some goals the steps you need to take will be more obvious than others. For instance, if you just want to play a few pop songs, then getting a teacher and learning some basic chords will cover most of your needs. However, if you want to become a world-class shred guitarist and start a successful metal band then there'll be loads more steps you need to take - this is where analysing other successful people is required.
If you really want to make the most of your guitar playing, then goals are vital - you'll achieve far more (and have far more fun) if you have realistic, exciting goals to shoot for.
How to Set Great Goals
The first step in goal setting is deciding what you really want! This is great fun.
Imagine if you could have anything on guitar. Be the best guitarist you know. Play all of your favourite songs. Shred as fast as your favourite player. Even be a professional touring guitar player in a great rock band, living off your music and seeing the world while you play! The point here is to choose something that really excites you - even if it currently seems unrealistic. Choose a goal that really makes you think "Wow! I'd love that!" This is key to achieving your goal.
The more the goal excites you, the more likely you are to succeed at it - even if it seems like it's too big for you to achieve. This means that bigger goals are actually easier to achieve than smaller ones - even though that might seem paradoxical. They excite you more which means you'll put in far more effort, and actually end up getting further than if you aimed for something smaller.
Let me illustrate this with an example. Say you want to play fast alternate picking licks. If you aimed for 140bpm as your target tempo, you might put in a bit of effort to get to that tempo - and you might reach it. If you don't reach it after a little while, you'll probably lose motivation (after all, 140bpm isn't that exciting - pro players often play much faster) and stop practicing before you achieve your aim.
Now instead, let's say you aimed for 240bpm - even faster than some professional shred guitar players! You'd be far more motivated and put in loads more effort. 240bpm is really exciting to shoot for, so you'll spend loads more time practicing and progress much faster. In fact, you'll most likely fly right through that previous 140bpm goal and way past it. You may not reach 240bpm, but you'll get much, much further than when you aimed for a measly 140bpm.
Can you now see why this works? You may not actually reach your ultimate, super-large goal, but by aiming for it and giving it your all you'll get more progress than you would if you aimed for something smaller. Let's say you aim for 140bpm and reach it - then you will have achieved your goal. Instead, let's say you aimed for 240bpm and only reached 200bpm. You've technically "failed" but you've actually achieved more - pretty good, isn't it? By aiming for something bigger you'll achieve more, even if you don't achieve 100% of your goal.
This doesn't mean that you can't achieve all of the bigger goal - there's a big chance that you really can reach that full 240bpm, but it's nice to know that there's an "insurance policy" built into bigger goals. Even if you don't get all the way, you'll still achieve something admirable.
Next, let's look at how to make your goal more effective. To do this, we're going to use the SMART method. This means making the goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-constrained. Choose something that is really exciting, and then visualise it. Make it seem real in your imagination. Where are you when you've achieved your goal? On a big stage? In a recording studio? In your living room with a few friends playing some pop songs with them? (Not everyone wants to go big, after all, so there's no shame in going for things that are more modest if guitar playing is just an occasional thing for you). What are you doing? Who are you with? Get a really vivid image of your goal in your head.
Then, when you're really excited and you've got a really clear image of what you want, make it specific. Make it something that can actually be measured; I'll give you an example. Let's say you want to be in a big rock band. That's an ineffective goal by itself because it isn't specific enough - you can't measure when that's been achieved. How about saying that when you've played on stage with a band in front of a crowd 10,000 or more people, you'll count your goal as achieved. That's far better because now we've got something to measure; a marker to shoot for. We can also use this to measure how close we are to achieving our goal - we can mark off mini-goals such as "played in front of 500 people" and "played in front of 1,000." After all 10,000 is a lot and it might be difficult to decide on the first step towards doing that, but if you start with "I'm going to play in front of 100" that's something that anybody can form a plan for. Then, if you can do that, 120 is pretty easy too - get some of your fans to invite friends, or put up more posters in a new area. Then 150 - then just keep building it up. It's simple when you think about it. And the best part is, the more progress you make, the more momentum you have so the easier it is to get even further. It's easier to go from 5,000 to 5,100 than it is to go from 0 to 100, because you already have experience in getting people to gigs, and your current fans can invite people along. After that first step it just gets easier and easier, so by making things measurable we can form an ideal first "sub-goal" which is a great stepping stone to the full thing.
You'll notice that in the process of making the goal specific we also made it measurable (10, 000 people). A few other examples of making goals specific and measurable are shown below:
1) "Be a fast shredder" - play 3 different alternate picking licks, 3 sweep picking licks and 3 tapping licks at 12 notes per second or faster. Then you can decide on your licks, break them down and go for it!
2) "Be able to play to pop songs so I can accompany myself when I'm singing" - learn the guitar chords to 5 or more of your favourite pop songs.
Another thing that you may have picked up on is the wording of the goal - we always say "or faster", "or more", "or bigger", and so on. This is because it acknowledges that our goal is not the absolute limit (there is always more) so it seems more achievable and we are more motivated to achieve it. It might seem silly, but small differences in wording are picked up by the subconscious and affect your state of mind (and therefore your actions, which then affect your results).
Next, then, we want to make our goal achievable and realistic. This is all about breaking it down into little bite-sized steps that you can do pretty quickly - then, the steps will add up and before you know it you will have achieved your aim. Remember that just because your goal seems intimidating at the moment, it doesn't mean that you can't do it - if anyone else (literally any other human being) has done what you want to do, then you can also do it! You just have to think big and go for it.
I'll give a full method for forming a "goal plan" in a moment, but for now I'll give you an example of how intimidating aims that seem impossible at the moment can actually be broken down into easy steps and achieved by anyone. Let's go back to the shred goals for a moment, and say that you wanted to learn a particular Yngwie Malmsteen lick at full speed. Your first thought might be "woah, he plays that really fast! I don't think I could ever do that." But how about this: measure your current maximum relaxed and controlled speed at that particular lick using a metronome, and write down the tempo. For this example, let's say that you managed to play it at 80bpm. Then, practice it for a little while (remembering to stay relaxed and remembering to play it perfectly), and after a bit of playing around with it you could probably increase your speed to 81bpm, right? After all, it's only 1bpm higher, so it's hardly even noticeable. Then, if you can play at 81bpm, you could practice some more and reach 82. Then 83. Then, 84 - then 85, and so on. Just by focusing on getting to that next bpm (a small, easily achievable goal for anyone) you can build up as high as you like.
You might think that once you reach a certain tempo it'll become harder and harder to get faster and you'll hit a "wall" - but this isn't true. If your practicing is good quality and focused, then you can keep getting higher and higher - reach 150bpm, and 151bpm isn't far out of reach. This simple example shows how breaking down any goal can make it achievable and realistic for you - no matter how intimidating the goal may initially seem.
Now that you've got an idea of how to make your goal more achievable and realistic, we'll move on to the final part of the "SMART" method - adding a time constraint. To do this we need to decide on how much time we're going to give ourselves to achieve our goal. This is very dependent on how much time you have available to spend on it - three hours a day is going to move you further than thirty minutes, so if you spend more time each day then you'll need fewer days to achieve your aim.
In deciding on your time constraint, it's very useful to look at the individual steps that you'll need to do in order to complete your ultimate aim. If you've broken down the goal properly then it shouldn't be that difficult to estimate how much time each individual goal should take - you can then add up the individual goals to end up with a total time that it should take you.
One final tip on this: it's generally better to choose shorter time constraints than longer ones, due to the fact that they pressure you to achieve more in a shorter time. This ties in to the "going for big stuff" concept earlier; the more you aim to achieve in a certain time frame, the more motivated you'll be and the faster you'll get better.
Finally, you need to write your goal (and all of your sub-goals) down somewhere that you can read it every day. Write it down! Do it now. This is more important than most people realise - it turns your goal from just a thought into something tangible and real that you can commit to.
Read your goal each day in the morning and again before you go to bed. This simple trick will keep you incredibly focused on your aim and will help to keep your motivation and dedication high, even when things seem difficult.
This is an example of how you could phrase your goal effectively:
"I want to have formed my own four-piece rock band and have played at five different venues by the 1st October 2017 - or something even better"
Then below you could write down the individual steps, like "I want to find all three other members of the band (a drummer, bass player and vocalist) and have had a first rehearsal by the 1st of February 2017" and so on. Then you can read each step every morning and you'll know exactly what you need to do on that day to work towards your aims - "today I'm looking for band members" and so on.
You see that now you have a full SMART goal written down that you can achieve - it's specific (we know when we will have achieved it), measurable (we can measure how close to achieving it we are), achievable (we know that we can achieve it), realistic (we have broken it down into real, manageable steps) and time constrained (we have a target date by which to achieve the goal).
Breaking Your Goal Down
As the final part of this article I’ll give you some extra tips about how to break down your goal.
First, let's start by imagining that you've achieved your goal. Imagine that you've already completed your aim by your goal date. Make your imagination as realistic as possible. Then, think to yourself "I'm so glad I did _____ - that was the thing that helped me to achieve my goal!" What is the thing in the blank? Doing this helps you to find out steps towards your goal that you otherwise might not have thought about.
Next, look at people who have already achieved something you want to do. They could be famous people, or people who you know personally. Find out from interviews, other resources or by simply speaking to them what they did to achieve their goal - what steps did they take? Then, copy these steps, or adapt them to your own needs if your goal is slightly different to theirs. Find out what skills they have too - note down any of their goal-related skills that you don't currently have (for example, they might be a great negotiator or leader). Then, find ways to acquire these skills so that your goal becomes more realistic. If you develop the skill set of someone who has already achieved your goal, and you follow the steps that they took to achieve it - there's nothing stopping you from getting what you want!
Follow the steps in this article and you'll have a full method set out to achieve what you want. You can take your guitar playing as far as you like - so set a big goal and go for it!
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