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Oh Susanna/When the Saints Medley

About a week ago I decided to set a goal. I’ve been fooling around with a fingerstyle medley of Oh Susanna and When the Saints Go Marching In. I had fun playing around with it but it was sloppy and not something I would want to play for others.

I set a goal to film it in one week. I thought I could practice it a little bit each day and it would be ready. NOT!  I ended up spending a good 10 hours working on it and still not feeling that it was 100% where I wanted it to be.

That said it was a great experience. I learned several things by setting this short term goal. My hope is that you can benefit from some of my insights. Here goes…

Playing something poorly creates bad habits. I believe it took longer to play the piece correctly because I spent so much time playing it badly. I had created habits that I had to undo. It would’ve been better for me to create a rough draft of the arrangement of the piece and film it to work on it later when I have more time.

Chunking it down really works. Playing the whole piece was just getting me frustrated. I constantly made mistakes in different places and had no way to work through them. I decided to break it down just like I teach my students… imagine that 🙂 Then I went through and worked on each of the pieces until I made improvements. I didn’t wait until they were perfect. But seeing improvement in the individual parts helped me to stay motivated.

A metronome is a multi-use tool. I often use a metronome to help straighten out my timing. But in this case, it gave me a way to change up the way I practiced the parts. I practiced the individual parts at a slow metronome setting. Then I sped it up faster than I wanted to play it. This was in addition to playing it without the metronome. The point was to make it interesting and keep me motivated. As a byproduct, it did help me get control over the timing.

Practicing in short segments really works. Are you familiar with the Pomodoro technique? In short, it goes like this… You set a timer for 25 minutes and work on something. Then take a five-minute break. Each session is called a "Pomodoro".

This is the format I used to practice. It helped me to focus for the full 25 minutes. On the five-minute breaks I drank water, did some stretching, and exercised a little. The movement helped to keep my energy up. It also saved my back.

I highly recommend this system for both practicing guitar and for studying.

Setting a goal made it more fun. Like most everyone, I struggle finding the time to get all the things done that I want to do. It was strenuous to make two hours a day to work on this one song. I don’t think I could’ve done it if I didn’t set this as a short term goal. The bottom line is it really felt good when I completed it. In fact, I’m ready to pick another song and go another round… after a few weeks of catching up with work.

Did you find any of this helpful? What other techniques or ideas have you used to help with your guitar practice? Let us know in the comments below so we can all benefit.

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