The Amazing Power of 1% Improvements

How do you get better at classical guitar?

How can you know what you’re practicing is working?

How can you be sure you’re practicing the right things at the right time?

These puzzling questions can plague us. On one hand, we’re aware of great musical possibilities. On the other, we may be blind to our own incremental improvements.

So how can we connect the long vision with the daily routine? How can we mind both the trees AND the forest?

Classical Guitar is an Ongoing Endeavor

Classical guitar is a lifetime study. It’s fit for any and all stages of life.

It’s not just for young men or old boys, young women or old gals.

Studying music has no endpoint. We wake up to it each day afresh.

As with any craft, we continue to learn and grow. In this way, we face our limitations. We move through ranges of emotions. Our enthusiasm builds and wanes in never-ending cycles.

And there are always new concepts, techniques and pieces to explore.

The Many Facets of Classical Guitar

One of the blessings and curses of classical guitar is that there are so many areas in which to improve.

We have right hand technique, left hand technique, phrasing, speed, tone, and the list goes on.

We can become frustrated if we excel in one area and feel inadequate in another.

The Trap of Unrealistic Expectations

There’s another saying that we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.

If we’re not careful, we may set our short-term sights too high and fall short.

We take on music that’s too far above our ability-level. We try to play too fast. We move on before mastering the current lesson.

All this is born of unrealistic expectation. Unrealistic expectation sets us up for failure and disappointment. To move ahead, we need to go slowly and focus on details. But we also need to push ourselves further and further with new challenges.

Introducing a New Goal: 1% Improvements

Here’s a way to balance the time paradox. It’s a way to ensure that you’re working on the right things in the right ways. And it also ensures that you grow your abilities quickly and continue to improve.

Instead of grandiose goals, set the goal of improving one percent. Each practice or each week, seek to improve 1% in all the different areas of your study.

Instead of aiming to double your scale speed, aim at a 1% improvement. Then tomorrow, make the same goal.

The beauty of 1% improvements is the compounding effect. Your growth is no longer linear. Now it’s exponential.

Your abilities rise in tandem. One skill no longer falls behind while another excels (only to itself fall behind when attention shifts). Instead, each practice area marches ahead.

Inches Create Miles

In fact, we can only do one thing at a time. Instead of getting frustrated by limited time or attention for guitar practice, we can feel better knowing that we need just 1%. Not 5%. Not twice as good. Just a measly 1%. Easy!

Compared to other recent practices, we may not see much improvement. But as we continue to put one foot in front of the next, we steadily grow, refine and strengthen.

Some days will offer up more than 1% improvements. Something may “click” and we make sudden leaps. But these moments are gifts, and we shouldn’t count on them. The only way to ensure they ever happen is to maintain the steady incremental progress. (And whoop for joy when they do occur!)

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

When we make the goal of improving just 1%, practice becomes easy. Problems lose their teeth. We recognize deficiencies as temporary, and they matter less.

Instead of comparing and judging, we can breathe easy and relish each moment. We can let go of any feelings of inadequacy and focus on the moment at hand. We can sit back and enjoy the ride.

After all, when we get to where we want to be on guitar, we’ll then be aware of other possibilities. We’ll move our sights out further. When we get to the top of one mountain, there will be another, higher mountain beyond it.

There is no arrival point, only the daily journey. Aiming at 1% improvements keeps us in the present and lets us celebrate more success. We feel better. We have more fun. We play better. We improve. What a great way to spend a lifetime.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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