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Focus, Discipline, Progress

In this 3rd installment of my practice series, I would like to give you a formula for improvement that has worked wonders for me and my most dedicated students. It is so important that on the front window of Guitar for Life Studio I have this written in big letters: Focus, Discipline, Progress. Let’s walk through what these actions really mean to us as guitar players and how we can implement these simple words into our day to day practice schedule.

Before we sit down to practice, there should be a purpose to what we are going to practice. Goal setting is very important in any endeavor. As a musician, if we are without goals, we end up being a ship without a sail at sea. We wander aimlessly, hoping to arrive somewhere at some time being better than when we started. Very rarely is this successful, so it is imperative that we set our goal. That is unequivocally the first step. For the sake of this article, we will use one of my goals for 2010 as an example. In 2010, my goal is to learn the entire fretboard, every note, and how these notes fit in with each other. Basically, I want to have the Theory behind the guitar cemented as second nature in my head and be able to pull that knowledge to my fingers. This should be every guitarist’s goal. So, that being stated, how do we go about using our Focus, Discipline, Progress mantra to achieve this overwhelming goal?

We start with deciding what we need to study in order to reach this goal. FOCUS encompasses this first step. Write down what we need to begin. I started with a theory book. This led to scale memorizations, chord building, and the Circle of Fifths. These three things need to be focused on in order to learn where each note fits in with the other notes. Using focus, I realize that for this goal, I do not need an exercise book or a song book. When I sit down to practice, I focus on what I am there to do. I need to take each key and write it out, focusing on the key signature and the intervals between each note. Then I take the major scale (Ionian) and harmonize it, creating the chords that are in each key. That shows me how these notes work together. I focus my efforts on learning the scales independently from the guitar, causing me to only concentrate on the notes. Once this is done for each of the 12 keys in the Circle of Fifths, then I pick up my trusty 6 string friend and play through, slowly, the different notes for each scale. I am not focusing on technique or speed, but the sound of the notes. Once I finish the major scale, then I run through the chords that I have harmonized. I do this with arpeggios and I do not use a book. I force myself to focus on the intervals, learn the notes on the fretboard, and in turn, have kept on point and have had a great practice session. We worked our mind along with our fingers and FOCUS is what keeps us moving toward our goal successfully.

So, we have set a goal and found a way to orchestrate a successful practice session. Do you now know every note on the fretboard? Even if the above exercise took you 5 hours, I highly doubt that you can now fluently flow around your fretboard in Eb Major based on this one session. We need to do this same thing for an extended period of time. The ability to do this boils down to DISCIPLINE. I know that by the end of the first week of doing this daily I made up every excuse I could muster up, including having to do the dishes, to delay the next session. It took every ounce of discipline that I had in me to continue on towards my goal. With how fast the world moves and with all of the different pressures that we face from every angle, we need to discipline ourselves to sacrifice some things in order to achieve other things. Depending on your age and your playing ability, there are many things that you need to focus on (there is that word again!) daily. We have work, school, families, and other commitments that need our attention. In order to succeed and attain any set goal, you have to discipline yourself to attend to your goal daily. For me, I made the commitment to incorporate this fretboard theory exercise 3 times a week. I knocked that down from daily. I have disciplined myself to complete this no matter what on the days that I have set aside to do them. I missed a concert already and have missed a handful of dinners. That is the price that I have paid so far in pursuit of this very basic goal.

So, what has the result been of our Focus and our Discipline? This is actually the really fun and rewarding piece of our practice puzzle. Progress means a couple of things, and I like to use both of the meanings. Progress means to move ahead, like moving to the next step. It can also mean or indicate noted improvement. For example: “Have you made any progress on learning the notes of Eb Major?” This asks whether you have made any improvement. Another example: “In order to progress to the next step, you need to…”. This means to move forward. Progress for us guitar players means both. We want to see improvement and we want to move forward to more difficult and challenging concepts. In every practice session we should work towards Progress. For the fretboard knowledge goal, I set aside a portion of time towards the end of the practice session to improvise over a chord progression in a key that I am NOT familiar with. It is extremely difficult, but it forces you to FOCUS and DISCIPLINE yourself to get through it, and definitely gets easier after a few sessions. You can see real PROGRESS!! By forcing yourself to progress to the next level through application, you can see progress in your playing!

You can use this formula for multiple goals at the same time. You should apply it to everything that you do. Here it is in a nutshell: If you focus on what you want to accomplish, that helps you break down what you need to do to get there. Then you discipline yourself to the time and effort needed to get those things accomplished. While you are focusing and disciplining yourself to reach your goal, you force yourself to progress to harder and more complex ideas without even realizing how much you learned and attained in the process.

If you have any questions, go to your teacher or find a great teacher. If you do not know how, send me an email at guitar4lifestudio@yahoo.com. I will help you find a teacher or help you myself! As always, have fun and KEEP PICKING PEOPLE!!

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