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Making the Least of Resolutions

So, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?

Since today is just January 2, hopefully the answer will be “great so far!” or “haven’t started yet because yesterday was a holiday!” Depending on which answer is yours, you have either managed to get through one day while keeping your resolution or are about to start the first day of a “new” you.

Typically, we guitarists make grand resolutions – I’m going to practice for an hour every day, learn seven thousand new songs this year, play in front of an audience – and, again typically, we usually start out well. For a day or so.

What I’d like to suggest to you is that you take a time-tested practice technique and adapt it to your resolutions and guitar-playing goals for the upcoming year. When you’re learning a song or practicing a new technique, you’re smart enough to know that simply diving in and playing from start to finish isn’t always a great way to practice. Sometimes you might have to focus your energy on a single, small passage of music, maybe even a single measure, in order to work through the difficulties it may pose. Once you’ve done that to satisfaction, then you start integrating this small bit of music into the rest of the piece.

Why not do the same thing with your guitar oriented resolutions? Too many times it’s not that our resolutions aren’t attainable, it’s that we’re making it impossible for us to keep them by starting out with impossible dreams. And then, of course, we usually get frustrated and give up. A good resolution, whether it’s to practice more or to lose weight or to quit smoking, can’t happen overnight. It’s a life change and it’s going to take a lifetime for it to become habit.

So, just as with practice, break the problem into smaller, manageable pieces. Instead of resolving to practice an hour every day, simply practice for some reasonable period of time today. Just today. That’s a resolution you can easily manage.

Then tomorrow, make a similar resolution. Tweak it a bit by setting a specific time allotment or working on a specific technique or piece of music or whatever you’d like. The more specific you can be in your resolution, the better you can measure what you’re accomplishing:   “Today I resolve to practice my C major pentatonic scale in Root 6 position for twenty minutes.” Then the next day you might tweak it more and resolve to do a half-hour’s worth of jamming that C major scale to a backing track.

The advantage of a day-by-day resolution is that you can take shortfalls into account. Suppose you know you’re not going to be able to get thirty minutes of practice today? Well, then resolve something that you can achieve in the time you have. “Today I resolve to remember forever that an E minor chord is made up of the notes E, G and B.” Or learn where one single note, say the note of the open high E (first) string is on the clef of music notation. Congratulations! Instead of whining about how you weren’t able to make your resolution you managed to learn something that’s going to be useful to you forever in terms of your guitar playing and musicianship.

There’s no end to the things that you can accomplish if you actively avoid setting yourself up for a fall. Make a daily resolution. Keep a log of them! And be sure to check out all the incredibly helpful articles we have here at Guitar Noise concerning how to practice – whether you’re looking for ideas on exactly what to practice or trying to find ways to become more efficient at what you practice or even how to go about practicing when you don’t have your guitar at hand, we can help you out so that by the time next year rolls around you will have accomplished 364 goals instead of one.

That’s a great way to start a new year, no?