Progress vs. Success in Classical Guitar Practice

What is progress on guitar? And how do we make more of it? From one day to the next, we may feel like we’ve plateaued. We may feel like we’re spinning our wheels.

So how can we feel more successful in our guitar practice? How can we stay motivated and feel a sense of accomplishment?

The Problem: Not Seeing Enough Improvement, Leading to Less Motivation and More Frustration

When we don’t feel like we’re improving, guitar practice may become less fun. We may suspect we’re not we’re heading in the right direction. Or we may wonder if we’re wasting our valuable time.

We all want to progress – to get better. This personal growth is motivating and fulfilling.

And when we don’t sense progress, we tend to instead feel frustration. Practice becomes more difficult. We may ultimately quit, or make a drastic change of course.

But this is all based on feelings, not necessarily reality.

The question is: How can we tell we’re progressing? How do we judge what’s working and what isn’t.

What is “Progress” on Guitar?

Progress on guitar is forward movement toward our goals. We build skills over time. We reach benchmarks. We play better than we used to.

Why Progress is Difficult to Gauge

The problem is that progress can be difficult to gauge from the ground level. In our practices, watching for progress is like watching grass grow. From one day to the next, there may be little change.

If we ask the question each day, “Do I see progress?”, the answer will likely be “no”. This is because we’re comparing today against yesterday.

And often this comparison is not based on objective standards. It is based on personal perception (mainly feelings).

On a day to day basis, there’s a better way. And that is to instead aim for success…

What is “Success” in Guitar Practice?

Looking for success in a single practice is easier to spot than progress. If we know what constitutes success, we can make a more realistic evalution.

So what is success?

  • Calm, focused awareness
  • Work with specific and immediate objectives
  • Challenging, but not overly so
  • A well-rounded agenda, serving many practice areas

And for any given practice area on guitar, we can further define success. For example, in a piece of music, success could mean taking slow repetitions of the tricky parts. Or it could mean keeping the speed (tempo) steady. Or any of a thousand other objectives we set for the moment.

For classical guitar scale practice, success may mean even volume and good form.

The criteria we use is clear and defined. So we can look back at a single practice and guage the quality of our work.

Daily Success Leads to Overall Improvement

Fortunately, when we aim for success in practice, we also see more progress. We improve faster because our work is more strategic and productive.

Success is something we can affect today. Progress is not. Progress is something at which we stand back and marvel. But success is something we can make happen in the moment.

The search for success is empowering. The search for progress usually isn’t.

From one minute to the next, we get to direct our energy and attention. We choose what and how to play. And when do the good work, we enjoy faster improvement and more deeply engaged practices.

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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