Songs as the Goal vs Linear Module Progression

Hi all, I’ve been an off and on JG devotee for the past 10 years. I completed the previous beginner track a long while ago as a refresher after not playing consistently. It has been hard for me to maintain motivation to stick with a strict intermediate practice schedule like Justin recommends. I was thinking of just designing my practice around the skills I need to play certain songs I want to learn (for example JT Fire and Rain and EC Tears in Heaven) and then also adding in a time block for transcribing by ear and another block for improvisation. If I were to build my practice around those three areas is that an okay way to approach it?

Hi Carl,

I just passed my 3-year anniversary with the guitar. I have done something like what you describe so I’ll give you something to think about rather than suggest a way forward - I just don’t know all the pitfalls!

I started by mostly practicing the skills from the lesson videos for a very short time. I would then try to apply the skill to playing in the simplified version of a song we see in the early days. I generally wasn’t interested in learning the whole song, so I never committed the song to memory and often didn’t even go far past the skill I was practicing. It felt like I had learned the skill and had sufficient competence to move to another lesson.

However, today I feel like this method has left me with maybe only half of a skill in practice. Every new song I start to learn feels like I am going back to the beginning and learning skills all over again. I think this is in part due to learning the skill for a specific song rather than as a general skill to apply where I need it.

My observation here is that you really need both dedicated practice style learning which is repeating the skill in a non-musical regimented way as well as application practice which is using it in several songs.

I also think that part of my lack has been practicing in one location. I am implementing regimented practice in locations not identical to the songs I use. For instance if I need to bend string 3 at fret 7 for a song, I’ll try to practice doing the bend at fret 9 and 5 as well so I get the feel of the skill across more than just the one song. Same idea for muting, string picking, and anything else I can scoot around.

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@Sayheycarl welcome to the forum Carl
The practice routine you’ve laid out is how people learnt before the internet. Learning by ear can be a double edge sword. If you have a good ear it is very rewarding. The good news is you can train your ear with practice. My only concern with your approach is this statement

If you lack the discipline to follow a routine laid out by someone like Justin it won’t be any easier to follow the routine you laid out for yourself.
The key is to practice regularly more than what you practice.


Thanks @stitch and @sequences super helpful. Reflecting more on this I think the beginner lessons were easy for me to see rapid progress in the areas where I hadn’t focused in the past like scales over chords, transcribing, and ear training. When I moved to intermediate it seemed to become “less fun” because I was already competent in barre chords so it was mostly learning the less common barre chord variants that I don’t end up using a whole lot in my playing and learning more scale variants which just seemed like work without a whole lot of benefit in most of the music I actually want to play. Perhaps what I should do is work toward playing with others (which was fun for me in the past) and divide my individual practice time 50/50 between ‘fun’ song practice/related skills & regimented practice as Justin recommends (ie eating my vegetables). I guess overall what I was feeling was that my intermediate practice became all ‘homework’ and was no longer fun. Without having any collaboration with others that work became less worth it than if I were working toward something I wanted to play with a band or another guitarist.

Hey Carl,

A couple of observations/ ideas if I may; although I’m certainly no expert, these work for me.
Ive been with Justin almost 4 years, and would consider myself in that ‘intermediate’ stage.
Sounds boring, but goal setting and a definitive framework is your guide, which you’ve alluded to. What really floats your boat, specifically? You’ve played long enough to probably get a taste for most things, so I’d be setting a few very specific goals, that’ll inform your practice schedule. And if you’re brutally honest with yourself, it’ll highlight areas where you may have considerable ‘knowledge’, but relatively low ‘competence’.

I’ve mentioned a few times on this forum about Knowledge vs Competence. I think its a crucial distinction.
Knowledge is obviously the starting point; it’s novel, and often fun and exciting. I love a little cerebral dive as much as the next bloke. Developing real competency however, can sometimes be the less ‘glamourous’ , more arduous part, as it includes things like perserverance, patience, repetition, frustration etc, etc. It doesnt have to be all a slog though. You have to keep mixing it up, approaching things from different angles, different contexts etc. And if you’re not invested in what you are doing, then generally your discipline will suffer.

Also regarding the ’ regimented’ practice vs song playing. ‘Eating your vegetables’ doesn’t have to be boring. If it is, change the exercise. Once you get the basics of a skills, idea, technique etc down, make the practice of it as musical as possible. Not only is it more ‘fun’, but it’s constantly honing your musical rhythm/interval/ aural skills which is always a good thing.

Cheers, Shane

Cheers, Shane


I find Justin’s suggestion “half work/half fun” working nicely for me. I have very structured practice with the main theme I am focusing on, but I always have something that is simply fun - song to play or something new which is exciting.


I think it’s a great idea, you’ll have first of all to listen carefully to the song and identify the skills you need, and this is no little thing! I had this approach and I’m quite happy I can play easy songs at a beginner level. Now my approach is slightly different…I want to enhance my game with strumming and I’m developing my skills with the Strumming Dynamics Course: what I do now is getting tools under my belt and when I listen to a song now I go like ok here I could apply this technique or pattern. Then I always end up printing out more songs than I’m actually able to learn :see_no_evil: and muck around with one for sometime until I get bored and I need another song…but that’s ok , it has to be fun after all. The songs that I really complete as I want them to be are just a few in the end. Both structured practice and playing are necessary.

I’d say the biggest issue with not doing some type of a structured program is picking up and engraining bad habits, especially in technique. This is especially true in playing classical guitar, which is where I spend most of my time now. I started out doing it on my own, and after a while I decided to do weekly in-person lessons, which improved my left and right hand technique quite a bit. I had to quit the lessons after about a year for financial reasons, and I have to say I haven’t been too structured since. I’m certainly not progressing like I was before. I’m kind of back in the ‘learning songs that I like’ mode again. I know this is not the best approach, yet I still do it.

Thanks it’s great to get your perspectives on this. Looking back at the material on the site Justin recommends focusing on a specific type of playing at least initially when moving from beginner to intermediate. I think for me that is fingerstyle right now. My dreamer songs right now are James Taylor and acoustic Clapton songs. I think what I’ll do is draft up a couple fingerstyle focused practice routines that would be motivating for me to do but also include some structure and post them in the forum to get any feedback or ideas from everyone. Thanks again!