Setting and Achieving Goals on the Guitar

Practicing is pointless unless you have goals and use your practice time to work toward those goals. You should have three kinds of goals. Each of these types of goals take varying amounts of time to achieve. These are listed below:

Daily Goals

You should set goals for each practice session. A few examples of these goals are:

These goals should be small enough to be accomplished in one or two practice sessions. Today's practice session should be used to assist you in coming up with your goals for tomorrow. Did you have trouble with the rhythm or a technique in the music you are learning? If so, that should be a priority for the next practice session.

Short Term Goals

A short term goal is a goal that can be completed in several weeks or months. Examples of short term goals are:

Short term goals should be broken down into bite-sized daily goals. For example, if your goal is to learn the 12-bar blues progression in all twelve major keys, your daily goals could be to learn the progression in a single key per day. After several weeks, you should be able to comfortably play the progression in all keys. Breaking the goal down this way makes the larger goal more manageable.

Long Term Goals

A long term goal may take years to complete. Long term goals might include:

Your long term goals require consistent attention to daily and short term goals. A long term goal will be impossible to achieve if you are unable to achieve the smaller goals.

Work On Things That Help You Reach Your Goal

Achieving a goal requires that you work on things that actually help you reach that goal. For example, if you want to learn how to improvise, learning music theory, scales, arpeggios, and guitar solos in your chosen style are things that will help you with that goal. Practicing things like tapping and alternate picking might not be quite as beneficial. These techniques may help you play certain solos, but they won't enable you to improvise. These things are only loosely related to improvisation, whereas something like music theory is essential for understanding the concepts involved in improvising.

You also need to limit the time you spend on things that don't help you reach a goal. For example, just playing through songs you already know very well is not practicing. Plan your practice sessions so that your time is used in the best possible way.

Tracking Your Progress with a Practice Journal

The best way to track and achieve goals is to keep a practice journal. A practice journal allows you to track daily progress towards a larger goal. It should have a list of what you worked on, what you achieved, and any problem areas that you noticed while practicing. This information should be used to determine what to work on in your next practice session.

Things to Include in Your Practice Journal

A sample practice session might look something like this:

Description Achievement Notes
Alternate picking exercise 16ths at quarter = 54 first note is played too loudly, play evenly, thumb is pressing against neck
Trills between the index and pinky 16th notes at quarter = 80 rhythm is a bit shaky, work on evenness
Bach Prelude measures 1-4 at 16th = 80 work out a consistent rh fingering
Sight reading book p 45 exercise 52 at quarter = 100 read ahead!

Make note of any problem areas and make them a priority for your next practice session. If it is a technical issue, such as excess tension in the thumb, this is something you should try to be more aware of when you practice the next day.


A blank practice journal is provided below. It contains an area for listing your assignments (or what you want to work on if you are learning without a teacher) and an area to write details about your practice sessions for each day of the week. A sample of a filled-out journal is also provided to demonstrate how this works. Note that only the first two days are filled out, but this should be enough to give you an idea of how fill out your own practice journal.

Don't Be Afraid to Drop Unreasonable Goals

If you set a goal that is too big, don't be afraid to set it aside for later. Most players will try something that is far beyond their current ability. An example of this would be trying to learn the solo to For the Love of God by Steve Vai after playing for only a year. That is an extremely unreasonable goal unless you are incredibly gifted (no offense, but you probably aren't quite that good after only a year).

Continuing to work on something like this can be detrimental to developing proper technique and may be discouraging to the point that you consider quitting the guitar. You can always return to something later, so don't be afraid to admit that your goals were too lofty and pick something else to learn. However, don't use this as an excuse to be lazy and give up. There is a difference between unreasonable goals and goals that take effort to achieve.