“I’m the greatest guitar player alive”, “I’m much better than everyone else round here” and “I can play anything you put in front of me” are just a few of the ways in which other people have described their playing to me. All have one thing in common – they are not realistic or objective.
In the first part of this series we talked about why you need a practice plan. In order to create a plan that is right for YOU, you need to have a realistic view of where you are now. This needs to be an honest, realistic view of your playing. If you over or under exaggerate your abilities the only person you are fooling is yourself. Knowing where you are now will serve as a base for your plan and will be a great help later in showing how far you have progressed.
I would encourage every musician to take a few hours out of their practice time once a year to do a personal self assessment. It can be difficult when preparing for concerts or exams to take a step back. The beginning of the year offers an excellent opportunity to do this.
When evaluating your current playing and musical ability I would strongly recommend that you make written notes that you can look back on at a later date. I would also suggest you show them to friends, teachers and parents to see if they agree with your assessment.
Your written notes should be in three parts. Firstly a subjective view of where you think your playing is. Think about what you like doing, what you dislike, what you find easy and what is difficult. Make sure you take a broad view of your musical self – don’t just focus on your instrument. What repertoire do you know? How is your theory? What do you know about music history and the history of your instrument? What about people that play your instrument? The broader and more descriptive you can make these first few paragraphs the better they will serve in helping form your practice plan.
The second part of your written notes should be things that you can measure. Metronome marks and notes are great for this. Think about how fast your fingering is, how fast you can tongue. what speed you can comfortably play your scales, how agile your picking hand is. From a notes point of view you could consider which scales you know, which is the highest note you know and the lowest, which notes can you finger.
Lastly there is a method of evaluation which crosses the line between description and measurement. In this scenario you would give yourself a mark out of ten for any given category. For example how many marks would you give yourself out of ten for aural ability? (1 being no ability and 10 being an expert). The list of items you use in this system will vary depending on instrument but there are many common areas to all musicians such as stamina, intonation, rhythmic accuracy etc.
You can find the template I use to answer the question, Where are you now? in our Downloads section. This template will not suit everyone as there are some instrument specifics but please feel free to use and adapt to your own needs. If anyone else has a similar template I’d love to see it
Having considered some basics the next part of the series will move onto planning proper.