The Guitar Practice Log: How to Manage a Music Practice Journal


Most of us have less than an hour per day for guitar practice. But as we learn various scales, exercises, and pieces, the practice list can become long.

So how do we manage all the different areas we’d like to practice? This is where a practice log comes in useful.

But simply having a practice log or list of practice items is not enough. We also need to decide each day what to do from that list.

Here are a few tips on managing large practice lists. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of highly organized practice. And you’ll find ways to keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself feeling you’ve done enough (even if you haven’t done everything).

What is a Practice Log or Practice Journal?

A practice log or practice journal is a place to organize our guitar practice. We can list and track the different things we want to practice.

This can include all aspects of our technique practice. Different scale shapes, right-hand arpeggio patterns, exercises, and more.

We can include a repertoire list, with all the pieces we’ve learned.

And we can make notes and/or journal entries about what we do each day and how we performed. There are definite benefits to keeping and using a practice log.

What is the Point of Keeping a Music Practice Log?

Creating a practice log gives us a sense of being organized. This is no small boon. When we feel organized, we’re more confident. We can sit down and get right to the practice that matters.

A practice log can remove decisions about what to practice. And this makes the best use of our time and energy.

As we track our practice, we feel more progress. We gain better momentum and enthusiasm.

And if ever we need an emotional boost, we can look back at previous practices and know we’ve done good work.

But it’s not always easy to maintain and use a practice log or journal. Especially if the lists are long.

The Dangers of Organized Guitar Practice

While we generally benefit from staying organized, there are potential dangers. These are usually temporary. Still, they can work against our best intentions.

A practice log is only a tool. And like most tools, we may risk harm when we don’t use it correctly.

Overwhelm

When we face a long list of things to do, we may feel overwhelmed. We may know that all the items are healthy and beneficial. But it can still make it feel difficult to get started.

We may have “decision fatigue” and struggle to decide which of the items to skip for the day. All this mental strain can lead to feelings of stress and overwhelm.

Unrealistic Expectations

In the moments we create our practice log, we may feel overly optimistic. We may heartily promise ourselves five hours a day of focused practice. We may shoot for the moon, and set a high bar for success.

But then, on normal days, these expectations can prove too much. And when we fail to do everything on the list, we may feel disheartened or disillusioned.

NOTE: Powering through practice to get to everything is a false economy. It’s better to keep a manageable pace. Consistent, regular daily practice will take us further than manic sprints.

Disappointment

When times get busy, we may look at all we would like to do, but don’t have time or energy. We may feel disappointed at our slow progress. We may feel that life is passing by and we’re not accomplishing the things we find important.

Perceived lack of freedom

And as we sit down to practice, we may feel confined by a formal practice log. We may feel imposed upon by our previous self who made the plans.

This felt lack of freedom can suck the fun out of practice. It can make practice feel more like work and less like play.

So instead of having a productive practice we may rebel and noodle our time away.

The Balanced Approach to Planned Practice

To practice well over time, we need to balance the areas of technique and repertoire.

We need to make today’s practice work for and within a larger strategy. We need to practice the things that will build upon yesterday and prepare for tomorrow.

This means we don’t do everything on the list every day.

80% is a Grand Slam

Guitar teacher and performer Scott Kritzer has suggested aiming for 80% of a practice log.

This means one of two things:

  1. We practice 80% of the items on the practice (or of the main items we’ve chosen for the week or month)
  2. Or we practice 100% of our list, on 80% of our practices

This is not meant to be an exact measure. But it can work as a general guideline. And for especially long lists, the target number may be far lower.

And the time we spend on each item may be short. For example, say we have 5 scale shapes. We may spend only a minute or less on each, while spending 3–5 minutes on string-crossing exercises.

The main idea is to not expect absolute perfection or completion of a long list every day without fail. Instead, do most things most of the time.

In this way, we move forward while avoiding feelings of overwhelm or insufficiency.

Keep the Various Guitar Practice Areas Active

Perhaps most important in managing an ongoing guitar practice is to work on the main practice areas.

These larger areas of guitar technique are:

  • Scales
  • Arpeggios (right-hand patterns)
  • Exercises (i.e. hammer-ons and pull-offs)
  • Chords
  • Sight-reading

Add to this our pieces of music, and we have a well-rounded guitar practice. We can add new pieces to our practice. And we can maintain and further polish our older pieces.

Even if we only touch on each area for a minute or two, we still reinforce our intentions and advance our skills.

Over time, we balance and counter-balance the various areas. This is normal and fine. We’ll get excited about a new piece and so spend most of our time there. Then we’ll come back to another area and become re-energized in it.

A practice log can keep all this organized and close at hand. We can check the boxes and know we’ve done good work, even in short 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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