Thursday, December 6, 2007

Guitar Practice: Quantitative Methods to Measure Progress

Learning the guitar has all the attraction of great hobbies: mental and physical challenges plus gadgets. The mental and physical challenges can sometimes create frustration so it is important that you adopt some approaches to measure progress and avoid frustration.

In reality, you make progress with each practice in spite of what you may think; you just need to measure it for self-reinforcement. Keeping a practice log is one way to do it.

A friend of mine shared with me that you do not define progress in how many years you have played guitar but how many hours. I include work on scales, licks, learning a new song, and playing for fun in each practice. A practice log for me is simply recording the results in hours. Some of the key metrics for me:

Time duration spent on scales, licks, songs, and fun
Metronome speed for scales and licks (always trying to increase)
Brief notes on the licks, song, and fun (what was I working on)

I just use a spreadsheet to record the data. Over time, you can graph the key metrics and gain insight into your progress and areas where you need to focus more attention. For example, if you see over time that your speed on scales has gone up 10 beats per minute, you can gauge how much practice time you had to invest to get there and decide how much to invest going forward. The key focus of us aging wannabe rockers is to maximize return on investment. Just seeing that your speed has gone up becomes a visible indicator of progress that you may not register on a day-to-day basis.

The qualitative aspect to your playing is where the rubber meets the road and relies on the technical elements you measure with your practice log as well as your ear training and development of tone. I will cover how to measure that in my next post.

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