One of the first things I ask any new guitar student to do is write down at least one practice goal. This doesn’t have to be anything complicated; it can just be a few sentences about how often they’re going to practice, and for how long. Example of a new student’s goal: “Every weekday evening, I’ll practice a minimum of 15 minutes.”
I also ask my students to write down what they’re going to practice. If they’ve got an instructional book, they can use that. If not, I give them some kind of photocopied handout to take home with them.
Before the student leaves, I write down their goal for my own reference and file it away in a folder with their name. This helps me track their progress and hold them accountable to their own ambitions.
Practice goals should be posted absolutely anywhere that you will see them often: in your day planner, on your wall calendar, on an index card that you thread through the strings of your guitar between sessions, on the bathroom mirror… you get the idea. This is important for establishing and maintaining the habit of practice.
It’s important to decide in advance how much time you’re going to spend with the guitar on a weekly basis, because in the middle of a busy week it is all too easy to just continually postpone practice and feel like you don’t have any time. By setting an absolute minimum practice threshold every day, you leave yourself absolutely no excuse for skipping a session.
Here’s the advantage to writing down in advance what you’re going to practice: it gives you something to focus on so that you don’t end up just noodling. Don’t get me wrong; noodling is great! Noodling tells me that you’re enjoying the instrument! But it shouldn’t eclipse intrude upon your practice time. Pay your dues with your daily practice plan first; after that you can noodle all you want.
Finally, the best thing about writing down some goals is that you can check your own progress every week with two simple questions:
“Did I put in the time that I said I’d spend practicing this week?”
“Did I practice the specific things I said I’d practice?”
If the answer is yes, great! If not, refocus and try, try again.