What could you work on right now that would make the most difference?

//What could you work on right now that would make the most difference?

What could you work on right now that would make the most difference?

It is a common misconception that more input (practice) creates more output (improvement). 

This is rarely the case. 

Instead of putting in more time I would encourage you to consider what type of work will yield the most improvement. It most likely will not be playing a piece beginning to end, or repeating the same warm up you have used for years. Rather, it will be an area of focus that you have decided upon because you analyzed your skills objectively.

Playing through pieces the same way you have been will improve your playing, but it will be slow. 

Take a step back from your normal routine and answer this question: 

What area of my musicianship can I work on that will yield the biggest improvement the fastest? 

Analysis? Sight reading? Re-fingering? Finger independence training? 

Only you can decide, and when you do you will improve.

Let us know what you decide in the comments below…

2016-02-24T02:34:57+00:0023 Comments


  1. Linda Tsardakas February 24, 2016 at 11:42 am - Reply

    I am often guilty of trying to fix mistakes in chunks which are too large, working on several measures or even just one whole measure when the problem may lie just between two notes. Your concept of chaining back, forward and center has shown me to go smaller in that way. That is the most important idea I took with me from the last live event on practicing. Thank you.

    I also should be more consequent about warming up before playing and include several aspects such as arpeggios, scales, slurs and finger independence each time.

    These are my new year resolutions, if a bit late…

  2. Philip McLeod February 24, 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

    Having just enjoyed your most recent 5 Practice Techniques webinar and plodding through “mastering” Level 1 road map, the “what to practice” question daunts everyday. Work ethic is good. Confidence that I am working efficiently, not so much. I need to grow in ALL of those areas as a 65 year old restoration project! In my ideal world there would be a sort of didactic sequence to the learning process up to a certain level at which time I assume I will be able to analyze and isolate deficiencies and drill them.

    The “mastering” of each exercise, each variation challenges my patience but I’m committed to your approach, Simon. I learn most every time I log on.

  3. Oorakoora February 24, 2016 at 11:52 pm - Reply

    this is an excellent question . I was surprised this week to find that as recapped the repertoire for level 1 – I do not consistently place the left hand fingers on the notes accurately whilst looking at the score and not the left hand.

    Recently I have been learning pieces that I practice from memory, – so I will go back to practising accuracy without looking.

    I also need to improve sight-reading – I have been slack about it because I play piano and consider myself a pretty good sight-reader – but of course the guitar is very different in terms of layout of notes, I find it much more challenging.

    also more use of the metronome , my internal one is too indulgent.

  4. Mark Featherstone February 29, 2016 at 11:06 am - Reply

    I guess for me it’s my left-hand finger independence and dexterity. Specifically, I think two areas are holding me back. The first is stretch (or rather the lack thereof), and the second is a weak 4th finger. I don’t know if everybody’s like this, but my 4th finger seems almost crippled sometimes. It collapses very easily, and on some fingerings I have to curl it very tightly to prevent this. It’s a bit worrisome as I’ve been playing for a couple of years, and I would have thought that it might be better by now. Then again, maybe it is better, but I haven’t noticed a gradual improvement. Anyway, still a long way to go for the 4th finger. And lots of other things too.

    • Lee Angus March 2, 2016 at 1:55 am - Reply

      I have th same EXACT problem as you Mark. My fourth finger collapses at the joint and at times I feel as though I’m trying to play a barre with it, haha! I am spending a lot of time doing Simin’s chromatic scale and slur exercises to help with strength, stamina, and accuracy. I’m also trying to be more disciplined about memorizing pieces so that I’m better able to pay attention to what the fingers are doing.

  5. Michael Troche March 8, 2016 at 3:31 am - Reply

    I am a complete beginner, and I need to learn every aspect, but for now …I am struggling with pressing the string with the center of my second finger. Also, my left hand is getting tired very fast while practicing my first progression (“A minor blues”).

  6. George Condover March 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    I recommend that you practice your scales first ie major minor etc and gain strength in your left hand and this will in time strengthen your 4th(quarto)finger and the others to,then slowly move on to arpeggios…
    Hope this is helpful to you…

  7. David March 21, 2016 at 6:35 am - Reply

    With regard to what to the daunting question of ‘what to practice today’ question, I find that keeping a log of my practice helps to provide a quick answer. The moment you home in on something that needs work, jot it down in the log and make that the first thing you focus on when you come to practice again.

    • Dave Belcher March 26, 2016 at 10:35 pm - Reply

      That’s a great suggestion, David, and one I think is really useful to all students of the guitar, at every level. I still keep a daily practice journal and can’t imagine what I’d do without it! Organization can be difficult for people like me who are not naturally or dispositionally disciplined, so keeping a journal/log really helps keep me more organized. Thanks again.

  8. Lissa Wick April 10, 2016 at 4:27 am - Reply

    Hi, just to tag on to that, the practice session planing has been a really helpful device to stay focused on specific things.
    My areas I’m focusing on are right hand accuracy and alternation, quality of sound- nail to skin ratio, rhythm, some dynamics, and the C scale on the fretboard.

  9. Michael Clunn May 3, 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    My biggest thing right now is that I have limited time to practice (20-30 min daily) and a lot to learn! I know I need the technical foundation but I also want to actually play pieces on my guitar! I’m going to take a suggestion and work my technical practice in with learning new repertoire. Also, playing everything with a metronome set to a slow beat has already payed massive dividends to my playing. Really let’s me focus on what I’m doing, counting beats, and sight reading.

  10. Chris May 11, 2016 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    Gosh I don’t know where to begin, as at varying times I have difficulty with all the above. I am not happy with my right had fingering at the moment, and my analysis skills definitely needs expanding. But I find structuring the practice time I do have around repertoire and course/technique work so I get a good balance a little challenging at times.

  11. Chris DaCosta June 19, 2016 at 2:28 am - Reply

    Being that I’ve played guitar for many years, the classical style is the hardest since I have to undo what I’ve done for over 30 years with my left hand positioning and grip on an electric guitar!

    So first area to develop is left hand positioning! and fingering especially the location of the thumb which now tends to “grip” rather than position itself mid neck. With fingering, it’s the stretch due to the fret spaces which are wider in a classical guitar.

    Another area I have to develop is sight reading! I do have a book that helps me, titled “Fifty Easy Classical Guitar Pieces” arranged by Jerry Willard that show both standard guitar notation and tablature so at least when I marry the two it helps tremendously with identification of notes on the guitar staff and guitar neck. Almost instant gratification though my goal is to go with just strictly recognizing standard notation.So those right now are the 2 biggest hurdles I have to overcome….I am enjoying the challenge…it is giving me the same feeling I had when I first held a guitar at age 10 and yearned to play it….what a beautiful instrument it is! Cheers!

  12. Julie Watson September 1, 2016 at 12:03 am - Reply

    I think the single thing that would help me the most right now is sight reading – and it’s also the thing I least like to practice because I’m so bad at it! I periodically make myself a resolution to work through a few pages of one of the books I have on the subject every day, but then something more interesting comes along … It was one of my summer resolutions this year but I can’t say I made a great deal of progress. I also need to be more consistent – too many mistakes – and that’s such a multi-faceted problem I don’t really know how to tackle it.

  13. Bonnie Stenstrom September 1, 2016 at 4:16 am - Reply

    Hi Julie,
    I also felt overwhelmed about how to go about improving my sight reading. What helped me the most was this music book by Robert Benedict . It’s called ‘Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar’, levels 1,2, and 3 are all in the same book. It’s published by the Alfred Publishing Company. What I really appreciated was the organized and progressive approach he offered so it seemed manageable even to me with my hopeless sight reading skills. That was 3 years ago and things are much better now in that department . Best of luck and I hope this helps. Bonnie

  14. Julie Watson September 1, 2016 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks Bonnie – that’s one of the ‘several’ books I own and haven’t finished!!! I’m currently working through (or trying to) Taschuk’s position playing. I figured that until my fingers know where the notes were in relation to each other I don’t have much hope of improving beyond reading single notes in first position. I think by the time I’ve finished 7/8 position though I will need to start from the beginning again ;)

  15. Bonnie Stenstrom September 3, 2016 at 3:58 am - Reply

    I don’t know Taschuk’s position book, Julie, but perhaps I should!
    I get that about starting from the top again once you’re ‘finished’. Somehow it seems to mesh together eventually, there are a lot of interdependencies going on. The only other thing I did was to limit my time doing sight reading. I’d set a timer for, say 10 minutes, and when that was up, it was done for that day. But would make a strong effort to get to it everyday and also to be patient with myself for the errors!
    Keep on keeping on! Bonnie

  16. John September 6, 2016 at 3:08 am - Reply

    There’s lots of free sheet music by Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi and many others on the net – eg from Delcamp website and online libraries, the Swedish guitar school etc etc Also published collections of studies eg by Noad. Many of these are lower level and, being very guitaristic, are ideal for sight reading.

  17. Julie Watson September 8, 2016 at 1:10 am - Reply

    Thanks for the suggestions John – I agree – my problem is not with the material – it’s making myself do it! As with anything that’s difficult, it’s hard to stick with it, and I find my progress is glacial. I need to stick with Bonnie’s suggestion for a daily 10 min effort. I am almost through the Taschuk book though it has some pretty weird sounding music and rhythms so it’s not easy to hear mistakes -so I’m just concentrating on finding the notes while looking at the music right now, which is still a big challenge – my hand gets out of position too easily. I’m hoping when I go back to Benedict it will seem easier….

  18. Joannes May 4, 2017 at 9:14 am - Reply

    rather late to respond to the question but i use this CGC site as much as possible to learn more about all the aspects to improve.my playing.

    My first goal now is to do Theory and Analysis and Ear training which i have never really done..
    i have limited time and have a music journal app where i note how much time i use for my practical studies and repertoir. this works very well and i can see the result since i started to use it.
    I try to combine singing while practicing but feel i have a lot gain doing the Theory. as much as possible.

  19. Scott July 29, 2018 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    I may join at some point, but at the moment I am starting some lessons with a colleague of your Adam Levin, who teachers at University of Rhode Island. After some instruction, Adam did recommend your services.

  20. D.Nollmeyer July 30, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

    I believe for me sightreading with score in front of you then memorize. Use the metronome. What difference does it make if you can’t count to four?

    Play as much Bach as possible. Sor is not as fashionable but those are great harmonies.

    Analyze as much as possible so it is not just your fingers.

    Now that I said this I practice 3 hours a day. It does not work. You need a Segovia split.

  21. Craig Butcher October 18, 2018 at 8:36 am - Reply

    I am starting guitar at 63, using a Suzuki teacher. I did Band and lessons when young (clarinet); my kids did piano, one also did cello, with Suzuki programs. They became actual musicians (not professionally, but capable); I did not!

    One thing that struck me: the kids memorized pieces apparently without effort. They read the music of course, but very shortly after seeing a new piece for the first time, they did so only on a kind of “meta” level; their actual performance relied on the memorized material. It seems to me this allowed them to focus more effectively on the development of the pieces in all the musical dimensions, and this allowed them to make amazing progress. With me I am always held back by just trying to play the notes. The extra mental bandwidth necessary for decoding the printed score and then processing out to the instrument is a huge impediment. If I am using, say, half my cognitive bandwidth just getting the notes right, I have little left over to track and perfect all the countless other musical and technical details. Over and over I find I am score bound.

    The genius of Dr. Suzuki was perhaps recognizing and capitalizing on the ability of the brain and body, particularly the young developing brain and body, to acquire language, and devote that to acquiring musicianship.

    So it seems to me if I could figure out how to commit more completely the material to memory, I could devote all my capability to really working on improvement. And a person like me needs all the available capability he can get. Us old fossilized brains need a structured way of getting past the score-bound part of the process and into the realm where we are actually able to focus on the music itself.

Leave A Comment