Review the Last Year: How to Assess Your Guitar Practice

As we look back over a year of guitar practice, how should we gauge success?

It’s tempting to discount all our work. We may have meant to do more, or be further along. So we may feel like we’ve let ourself down.

But this isn’t productive. Instead, we can make a positive review of the last year. We can notice what worked and what didn’t. Then we can adjust going forward.

Rule #1: Avoid “The Gap”

Business coach Dan Sullivan calls the space between where we are and where we want to be “The Gap”.

We always look ahead and want to be better than we are. But our goals are like the horizon – always moving into the distance. As we approach, they get further away.

We can avoid the dismay that comes with comparing ourselves to our ideals. Instead, we can measure success looking back at where we’ve come from.

Celebrate Wins

For the first step of reviewing the last year, we can celebrate our wins. We can pat ourselves on the back for what we did and what worked.

These can be specific or general. Examples of specific wins are: “I learned how to play a C chord.” and “I got brave and changed my strings!

An example of a more general win is: “I practiced most of the time, only taking a couple of breaks from regular practice this year.

When we celebrate our wins, we’re more likely to feel good about our progress. And feeling good can motivate us to continue.

As we acknowledge our successes, we should avoid the temptation to add “..But…”. For this step of our review, only successes matter. No “buts”.

If We’re Still in the Game, We’re Moving Forward

If we did anything at all over the last year (even just listening to music), we’re ahead of where we were.

Even if there were times when little or no practice happened, we still move forward.

Sure, we would have gotten further if we had practiced five hours every day like a conservatory student. But for most of us, this isn’t reasonable or possible (even if we do have the time).

And we’ve also gained skills in other areas of life that will directly or indirectly help our guitar-playing. We’ve had experiences. We’ve overcome adversity and made things happen.

And if we’re still in the game, we can make adjustments and improve going forward.

Notice What Worked and What Didn’t

Once we’ve acknowledged our success, we can take a sober look at what worked and what didn’t. And we can do this with no shame or blame. Just the facts.

We can later use what we find to make the next year even better.

Here are a few areas we can evaluate:

Expectations for Guitar Practice

Often, how we feel about our practice and progress is related to our expectations.

If we set the bar to success very high, we’ll fail more often. If success equals 30 hours of practice every week, then 5 hours each week feels like a massive failure.

If we instead make success equal 15 minutes, 4 times a week, we’re much more likely to be proud of ourselves.

Likewise, if we’re a beginner, expecting to play large concert pieces is unrealistic.

So we can move our targets depending on our current schedules and situations.

We can take a close look at our expectations of all areas of our musical life. We can notice which serve us, and which to adjust.


Most of us have different energy and focus-levels at different times of the day and week. We can consider when we practice, and how this timing affects our work.

We may enjoy guitar more in the morning or the evening. Some small changes (like splitting our practice into two smaller sessions) may bring more joy and fulfillment to our practice.

Practice Planning and Organization

We can examine what we do when we sit down to practice. And we can notice how our organization and practice-planning affects our progress.

If we tightly schedule other areas of life, we may enjoy guitar more if we keep it largely unstructured.

On the other hand, if we have limited time and want to know we’re moving ahead, a detailed practice plan may be more helpful.

We can take an honest look to decide what elements to keep and which to change in the year ahead.

Self-Talk and Attitude

We can also review how we thought about guitar and practice. How we talk to ourselves – the stories we tell, the tone we take – makes a big impact on our experience.

We can list frequent thoughts and decide which help and which hinder.

Scolding, admonishing, blaming or berating is not helpful. It is demotivating and associates negative feelings with our guitar practice.

On the flip side, kudos, compassion, and encouragement get us excited and motivate us to do more.

Our attitudes both on the guitar and off are worth examining.

Classical Guitar is a Long Game

Classical guitar is hard. It’s complex and takes time. While short-term goals are useful, classical guitar is a “long-game”.

Ideally, we’ll be playing for years or even decades. The most important ingredient in our progress is attendance. If we keep showing up and practicing, good things will happen.

We can best insure our long-term enjoyment by creating habits and routines that let us feel good. When we celebrate daily successes and make small improvements, we move ahead, step by step.

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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