Saturday, April 20, 2019

Dear Future Me: Let's Talk About Practicing Guitar

Dear future me,

Hey there. It's you from the past, and I just wanted to say that I'm really happy with the way I've been practicing lately and I thought you might appreciate it if I wrote down a little bit about my modus operandi right now. Hopefully in the future I'll have an even better system, but this is what I've discovered so far.

First things first, you've got to decide what to practice. I spent about a week writing down everything I practiced, and then compiled all of the categories into a big ol' online spreadsheet. I tried checking these categories off every day directly in the spreadsheet, but it just wasn't tangible enough for me. The solution: a printable practice sheet.

This sheet has gone through many revisions, but I've eventually settled on these general categories, which I try to hit every day:

  • Warmup Exercises: Things to get my fingers warmed up. Right now, that means Giuliani arpeggio studies, mostly. Chromatic scales also work really well here for me.
  • Scales & Arpeggios: Let's be honest, it's more scales than arpeggios. At the moment, I'm working on open position scales in any key (picked at random with a d12), and the modes of the major scale in thirds.
  • Music Reading: Sometimes this means picking out a lead sheet I haven't seen before, and sometimes it means playing through a few pages of my Ottman sight singing book. Right now I'm just focusing on treble clef, but I plan to take a stab at bass clef, alto clef, and sight transposition this summer.
  • Repertoire: The stuff I'm actually supposed to be practicing the most, but it can get boring quickly. If I'm ever going to use a timer to keep myself honest, it's this section.
  • Improvisation: When I'm taking this section seriously, it means targeting chord tones and playing arpeggios over the changes. When I'm busy, though, I pull up a backing track for a standard I like, give it a playthrough, and move on.
  • Just Play Music: This is just a reminder to have fun, and do something musically fulfilling. On days when I play in an ensemble, that usually fills this space.
  • My list of 50 random things to practice
  • 50 Random Things: On the back of my practice sheet, I have a list of 50 random things that I'd like to practice but don't consider worth doing every day. So instead, I pick one at random every day. This keeps things fresh and interesting. Some of these random things are extremely hard, and others are extremely easy.
  • Practice Quality: A little place for self-assessment on a scale from 1-5. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this information but I might think of something in the future.
Underneath the table, I have space to write down my goals and any assignments I might have for the week. I'm not really using all that space, though, so I definitely have room to add something else above or below it- I just don't know what yet.

Having a physical, printed out practice sheet contributes quite a bit to my motivation to practice. I feel like I'm taking ownership of my practice time because I designed my routine myself, and nothing is more satisfying than filling out a piece of paper with beautiful black ink. Just seeing my practice tracker sitting on my music stand makes me want to practice.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to print next week's practice sheet and archive the old one.