I’ve been practising acoustic guitar seriously since 2016, I average 3-4 hours a day, five days a week. 75% of that time is a regimented practise regime (although its content is constantly changing and evolving), 25% is playing later in the evening for fun. The practise regime currently covers warm ups, technique, knowledge, repertoire, improvisation and transcribing/ear training, with each of those sections subdivided into individual exercises.
I found as a mental exercise, that setting short term, medium term and long term goals was very effective in keeping motivated. At first my practise was much more technique based, but now it’s more well rounded. I think as a beginner on any acoustic instrument you need to do a certain amount of grunt work for a few years to get the muscle memory down so that you can express yourself and move on a bit. Unfortunately many people give up at that stage.
The last two years I’ve got really into music theory. I always found it boring before, but being able to relate it to practical use on the instrument has been a revelation.
Milestones come often early on, which really helps motivation, but less frequently the more you study/practise past the beginner and into intermediate stages. However there is so much more to learn, and so many more avenues to explore, that I haven’t found it demotivating. My latest big revelation was, after a year of studying theory and modes and applying it to the instrument, being able to solo in any key, in any mode, anywhere on the guitar neck. Something I never thought I’d be able to do, and always wondered how people did it. My improvisation still sounds pretty crap, but at least I can do it without hitting too many wrong notes!
I’ve seen massive improvement, but still feel very much a beginner. It’s the journey, not the goal…
And I totally agree with your idea that to get into “the zone”, you need to practise getting into the zone! Obvious but true.
Not sure what you mean by odd tempos, but I’ll post a vid link below that really opened up metronome practise for me.
Critical listening is easy for me as a mastering engineer cos it’s all I do most days, but the best way on an instrument, I feel, is transcription. Don’t pick things that are too hard/past your ability, but work out the chords, work out the key, work out the strumming pattern/rhythms, work out the vocal melody line, work out the solo, write it down, and apply it to your instrument. Many people learned instruments extremely successfully ONLY by listening and, in essence, “copying” what they heard. This was much more common in the days of vinyl only than it is with a million crappy tabs for every song ever recorded, only a mouse click away…
Composition is usually just happenstance for me, I need to try and practise it more. An idea, usually a chord sequence, seems to come from nowhere, sounds amazing, and leads me to develop a song/track around it.
Organizing is easy, I just have a practise/todo list that I follow every day. Don’t leave certain things on your practise schedule forever, it soon gets boring (although I think some technique exercises can be effectively studied for years). It should be constantly changing, updated and evolving. I try to switch things around/change them up every Monday. Have a goal for an exercise, say a certain BPM, and then after a few weeks or months, when you can do it, rip it out and add a new exercise. As Justin Sandercoe from JustinGuitar says, ‘Practise what you can’t do, not what you can’.
Progress is tracked easily, if you practise regularly, it’s very easy to see what is improving, what needs improving, and also how much you lose if you decide to take a week off, haha.
Don’t forget why you started playing the instrument. It should be something you enjoy, and fun, and even when you need to do grunt work for technique you should be telling yourself why you are doing it. Again, back to effective goal setting.
And for guitar specifically, I want to mention JustinGuitar again. I spent a year doing his Beginner’s Course (all free), and another year on his Intermediate Method (mostly free then, I think the new version is all free with donations), and it was a near perfect way for me to get the basics down by myself, at home.
Victor Wooten - proSession @ KORG - YouTube