December 10, 2010

Measuring progress

Tracking progress is a popular topic on guitar blogs I read. With all the day-to-day ups and downs, the best advice is to measure progress over the long term. Set some goals and work on them.

Keep revisiting something easy

Something you can do that is really fun and rewarding is to revisit your easiest repertoire. It's tempting, and OK, to leave the stuff behind as you progress. It'd be great to fully master every little bit of music before you move on, but there are so many facets of even the simplest music that you'd probably get overloaded or bored if you tried to do it all at once.

But hold on to that music. Pick something easy (preferably something you learned early on) pull out the music and play it a few times every 6 months or so. Even better, record it every six months and listen to your earlier recordings after you record it again. Compare them, see what has improved and what hasn't.

Notice how your phrasing has changed, notice how you start to make choices about things that you never even noticed before.  If you recorded it, notice how your tone and timing improve.

Use it as a pick-me-up

Sometimes when I'm having rough day, I like to pull out something really familiar, like some simple Sor studies, and play them for a while. It helps me let go of my frustration and remind me of how good I'm able to sound. Then when I go back to my current music, I feel refreshed. It's a way of recalibrating.

That reminds me of something jazz bassist Sean Malone once said to me (or maybe I read it in an interview? I forget) to always start off practicing with something really easy that you can nail every time. It will set the tone for the rest of your practice.


PS: I've rereleased another old recording of mine, November. It's an ambient electric guitar looping album I recorded about 10 years ago. If any of those words sound interesting to you, give it a listen :)


  1. Good ideas. Reminds me of the never-ending self-evaluations we have to do as academics. As professional musicians, constant self-evaluation is a part of what we do, and we don't need any bureaucrats to tell us to do it. How else can we advance if we're not constantly evaluating our progress?

    BTW, got you linked up on my blogroll!

  2. So Philip, how do you track your progress?

    The virtuosos I have known sound amazing to me no matter what they do. I'm not at that point yet, so it's pretty easy for me to hear how much better I sound now than I did a year ago. When you get to the virtuoso level, does it get easier or harder? Or does the level of detail you examine just get finer?

    PS: Thanks for the link! That really means a lot to me!

  3. I don't consciously track my progress. That sounds too much like work to me. I like to let the self-evaluation process occur naturally, as part of the general process of advancing towards my goals. I try not to think about hard or easy too. To me it's more a matter of making things work the best you can.