The One Thing That Will Really Help Your Guitar Practice That You Are Most Likely Not Doing
When I go to the gym to work out, I always pay close attention to how other people train. It´s an interesting study in how we generally go after things we say we want.
First of all: Why do we train? We want to affect SOME change in our body, right? Whether we want to be more muscular, have less fat or better endurance, it does not really matter – we want some form of improvement, otherwise we would not be there. How do we achieve this improvement? Simply by forcing the body to adapt to higher and higher demands by increased workload over time.
Most people I see train in the gym go about it in a pretty haphazard way. They perform their sets and reps on auto-pilot and eagerly anticipate the break between sets to re-check their smartphone for new messages, totally distracted and I see rarely anyone actually tracking what they do. The thing that really puzzles me is this: How can we know that we improve when we are not tracking what we do at each workout? How can I know what performance I need to beat to push my body further than last time? If we don´t time our break times, jot down the number of sets and reps that we perform, if we don´t keep track of the weight that we have used the last time for that specific exercise – how can we evaluate our training? It´s simple – we can´t! So we perform our workouts on auto-pilot and fly by the seat of our pants from each workout to the next, not knowing if we are actually making progress or not and not being able to evaluate our training.
I always have a notebook with me when I train, because I often even forget which body part I trained last. If I didn´t keep track of my workouts I´d be guessing all the time!
So I write down the date, the body parts I train on a given day, the exercises I do, break times, reps and sets. I also write down what weights and reps I need to beat for each exercise to be able to know what to push for to surpass my personal best. This enables me to train with the mindset to get better each workout and prevents me from mindlessly going through the motions and thus basically wasting my time. I recently talked to a guy in the gym who actually was also carrying a notebook and I complimented him by saying that he is quite a rare sight. He told me that he was recently made fun of by another guy in the gym who had asked him if he was in school or in the gym to train. The guy with the notebook didn´t know what to reply.
My immediate response was: For both of course! We want to train and we also to learn about our body! We want to learn what works and what does not and this is why we track! I learned so much about how my body works by reading, experimenting, tracking and evaluating and I learned a lot of stuff that works for me that should not work according to sports science. Who´s right? Some theory or my progress? Well, I stick to what I find out in practice.
Why I am writing about this in an article about guitar playing? Because the exact same applies to our guitar practice. If we don´t track our progress with different exercises – how can we know what to surpass in the next training session? How can we know what to push for? We don´t and so we guess and don´t make as much progress as we actually could or hardly any progress at all. For a long time I totally neglected tracking my guitar playing and it cost me dearly. The reason for this was simple: total overwhelm! There are so many things to track in guitar playing…I was just paralyzed.
I´m not going into the details of tracking here, because this article is much to short to cover it all – for now I want to encourage you to start tracking in two ways: 1. Track by writing down the maxiumum speed for the items you are working on, such as scales, arpeggios etc. 2. Track intangible elements like phrasing by making frequent recordings of yourself and then taking the time to listen for improvements after having worked on an item for a while.
That´s it. Get started by creating an Excel sheet to track your speed of the exercises you are working on and track the intangible elements by creating a file in your recording software to record and compare your vibrato, bends and other phrasing elements over time. If you only do these two things, you will progress a lot faster.
About the author: Derk Stiepelmann is a guitar instructor and founder of Songwriter´s Shed, a guitar school that offers guitar lessons in Dortmund, Germany. You can visit his site by clicking on the highlighted link.