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The Trials And Tribulations Of The Devil's Instrument.

Focus, Goals and Attitude

Focus, Attitude, and the Art of setting goals.

There was a time when every guitarist couldn’t wait to get home and practice. It didn’t matter if you were just playing the three strings on a broken acoustic or picking out the melody to Ironman on your crappy squier, you were excited, motivated, and had a goal in mind. But now, there’s work, and you’re tired, and you’re just playing the same thing over and over and nothing ever goes anywhere. Sound familiar? What happened to the motivation? The excitement? It’s hard, you don’t have time, equipment, or whatever other excuse you can think of. But in reality, you lost a goal. Without a clear goal in mind, there’s nothing to shoot for, nothing to practice for, nothing to get better for. In short, without a goal, you’re just spinning your wheels.

So let’s start with the definition of the word ” goal “. According to Webster’s dictionary, a goal is…

the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; an aim; an end.

Just think about it. When you first starting playing, you had a goal. It could be as simple as being able to play Smoke On The Water, or as complex as learning how to play a piece by Paganini. The point is that there was something to strive for, to work toward. So now, the first step is define your goal. It doesn’t have to be right now, this instant, but think about it for a while. What do you want to do with the guitar? Play in a band? What kind of band?What kind of music? What do you want to get out of it? Be specific as possible about your goal. It’ll help you plan your ” attack “. All professional athletes, musicians, businesses have goals. Think about what you want to achieve, this can be anything, from playing a lick in a song to becoming a great guitar player. It’s whatever you want to do, you just have to DEFINE it. Put it out there, like a big neon sign. I want to be the next fill in the blank. Great. Now that’s done. Now, let’s get a plan of action to achieve that goal. The way we’re going to do this is by using a smart goal system.

Smart is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. This is your plan. This is the way you will achieve the goal you defined earlier. Let’s tear this down using a goal of being a lead guitarist for a blues band.



A specific goal will usually answer the five “W” questions:


    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • Be a lead guitarist for a blues band.


    • Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
      • Always loved the blues, it’s what you listen to all the time, dream about, you know everything about every blues player who ever lived.


      • Who is involved?
        • You. And a bunch of really good musicians backing you up.


        • Identify a location.
          • To play at the House of Blues in Chicago.


          • Identify requirements and constraints.
            • This is where the work comes in. You should be able to define where you are and where you want to be. If you can’t solo or even play a 12 bar blues. You should start from ground zero. Read everything you can, take lessons from an instructor, tell them your plan.


This is where taking lessons from a qualified instructor would help greatly. You can also do it yourself. Say for this week, I’m going to learn the major and minor pentatonic scales in every key. Once you’ve mastered that, then learn a blues guitar solo, then start to form your own solo’s and so on.


This means probably not saying I’m going to learn every Gary Moore solo there is in one week. It has to be something you can achieve, but not too easy at the same time. It has to push you a little bit. For example, you’ve learned all your pentatonic scales, and this week, I’m going to study and learn the solo to Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin. Here, you’ll learn how the scale is applied and the licks you can do with it.


That’s right. Relevant. It has to matter. It’s really cool that you figured out how to make pac man noises on the guitar, or that you can sling the guitar around your neck three times in a row. However, this is just a distraction, you really aren’t accomplishing anything no matter what excuses you come up with. Make sure your focusing and trying to achieve the real goal here.


Set yourself a time limit to learn something, within reason. A week to learn all major and minor pentatonic scales in three keys is a good goal. It will push you to succeed and it will create a sense of accomplishment when you reach that goal.

            • When?
            • Am I going to practice?
            • What do I want to do 6 months from now?
            • Be able to solo to any Major or Minor Blues song in the key of C, Bb, and E.
            • What do I want to do 6 weeks from now?
            • Learn how to solo to Major blues in the key of C, Bb, and E.
            • What can I do today?
            • I can learn the major pentatonic scale in the key of C.

There ya go. Now you have a goal, a plan to achieve that goal, and nothing can stop you. You might have stumbling blocks along the way, but don’t let that get in the way of the bigger picture. You might also find your plan changing and evolving along the way. Don’t worry about it too much, the more you learn, the more you may want to redefine your goal. The point is that you’re progressing and getting better.

Written by

As a private guitar instructor, and as a performing musician, I’ve come across all types of guitar players. Some good, some bad, and some just plain out there phenomenal. Always curious into what makes some people more adept at playing guitar than others, I’ve done a lot of research into what it takes to be a great player. As I pass this information on, keep on mind that there’s no secret ingredient, no fast and sure way to get instantly better, and no substitute for putting in the time on the guitar.

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