Tip: Plateaus and lack of SMART goals

looks like the concept “learning” is no problem for you.
You need to know where you are going or you’re not getting anywhere

I wonder how up-to-date your goals are.
I’m sure we all start with; “I want to learn to play the guitar”

So we all want to have fun while doing it. If you book progress, the fun comes automatically.
No progress, no fun?

I’ve been at it for a good 8y myself andI book a lot less progress as before.
I even think my lead went downhill last year and still I’m reaching goals that are fun. (playing in band, doing rehearsal, an occasional solo or band gig…).

This is a typical moment for guitarists to start performing in public. The rush, the creative achievement of creating songs or reworking covers with the knowledge and skill they have

wait till you’re home alone, pour one of your favorite drinks, get in the couch and grab a piece of paper. a smooth quiet blues in the background might help :)

I would also suggest setting out goals.

you could make a mind map; you start in the middel; “guitar playing”…you start to think what it means to you; branch out the main parts that make up “the guitar” for you.

  • do you want to play songs
  • do you want to master theory
  • do you want to learn techniques
  • do you want to improvise
  • do you want to gig

from these branches, you start smaller branches; for songs you could see what king of songs, do you want to sing and play at the same time, do you want to play with somebody else, …

Start writing down…;

What do you want to achieve in the long run? (>1 year)

  • write songs?
  • learn to edit/produce them in a DAW?
  • get on stage? solo or in a band? if so, how will you get that band together?
  • or just jamming with friends? perhaps a fixed day in your schedule where you jam/improvise with a friend and ultimately start writing together? :)
  • You want to explore new music so you can get inspired again?
  • learn songs, play song and perhaps, start singing and playing at the same time? (believe me; I always thought it was impossible for me but turns out it wasn’t)

if you’re brave enough, you can check out what you’ve written down and see which steps of these goals can be achieved in the next year
Dig a level deeper and try to define which progress you want to make in each field this year.

you can cristallize each main, abstract goal to some concrete, smaller, digesteable goals.
these smaller goals should be S.M.A.R.T.


S - specific : well defined goal: ex: “improvising with 2 conencted shapes of the minor pentatonic scale” or “play the chords of the complete song ‘wish you were here’”

M - measurable: bad: “be good at scales”…what is “good?”. a specific goal could be; play the solo of stairway to heaven along with the track at 70% speed."

A - attainable. You can’t learn the compelte lyrics and chords to play together is you haven’t got some basics in chord playing. For some goals, you need a solid base layer of other, more basic skills.

R - realistic
Don’t set unrealistic goals. Go easy on yourself. it’s more fun to -add- goals than to scratch some because they were over ambitious. “learning canon rock/cliffs of dover within 3 months” would be silly goals when you play guitar for a month.

T - time-based, time-bound, timely, trackable
put a timeframe on your goals. long term goals can be more general and abstract in nature but you can also dividie in smaller and smaller blocks. months, weeks, … A good training schedule works. Justin has some good info and lessons about it.

  • examples:
    I want to discover 8 new songs I want to be able to play the chords structure of
  • I want to write 1 solo composition
  • I want to write 3 songs in which I sing and play
  • I want to get a jam group together by july 1st

You will notice that, when you define rather concrete but still high level goals, you will atimatically stumble upon the more “atomic” goals you have to achieve to get there.
Like perhaps for composiong that song, you want/need to know what chords go together and why. A “subgoal” would be: learn about diatonic chords.

Goals aren’t holy
you can alter goals. I would be raising an eyebrow if you -didn’t-.
As you learn to play more and more things, you will discover new things, your taste will change (yes it will) and you want to achieve other things. You might not think of playing in a band now but 2-year-older-you might want to. As you find joy in mastering chord grips and changing them fluidly; you might encounter the strangely staisfying joy of mastering the harder jazz grips. You want to play songs now but you start to gravitate to improvising later.

Patience is indeed the key word here, next to “setting realitc goals, one at a time”.

It took a year or 3 before I played something for somebody else
(except for my wife but she never asked “play me something”, she just hears me playing from time to time, delivering zero input)

trust me; it’s way cooler to pop up a guitar on a surprise random moment and play a song that you can bring quite ocnfident and offering some entertainment value (not just changing around some chords because that doesn’t really entertain people).
putting in some soloing, add singing, doing fingerstyle stuff… it all adds to the equation but it takes a long time to reach an ‘entertaining’ level. (so you can imagine how long “impressive” will take :))

I don’t want to discourage you, because if you keep your eye on the prize, it is SO REWARDING .
after a while, you grab a guitar and you can keep yourself busy for hours without noticing.
If you know some chords and you can change them and you develop a bit of singing; you can play a whool bunch of songs; just by transcribing them or looking up the chords. Free fun for hours!

don’t be misled by the feeling you get along the way… many guitarists will experience the feeling: “the more I learn, the more I get the feeling I am forgetting things, unlearning, getting worse”, just because you’re standard is getting higher and higher. I get that from time to time but i counter it by playign a little piece from which I once, a while ago, thought; “man, it would be so cool to be able to play THAT”

So, in the hope to inspire you lots, I’m now in a phase where people ask me “where did you learn all that” and I can tell them, with certain proudness in my voice, that I learned it from the Internet, from Justin,by this site, from also from these people here as they provide answers, advice, inspiration and motivation. I used to to think singing and playing was impossible for me but when I got around the open chords and the E + A shape barrés, I kept practicing. My singing is still below par but I can sing and play some things at the same time , so that is a huge victory on its own ![:)]

Now get inspired by this speech and grab your guitar; there is a long road to go but when you get the basics, you can plot your very own route! learnign guitar is all about the journey, not the destination.
Now go, go and get inspired! ![:)]


@Lieven good to see this carried over. Found it really helpful as I doing some prep work for my 121 with Justin. Food for thought and lots of food on the table :sunglasses:

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Thanks for your thoughts, encouragement, and inspiration, Lieven

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Love these tips i’m finding! Thank you so much!

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Thanks @LievenDV, that was very inspirational. We often tend to make goals with all good intention but forget to keep checking on how it’s going or re-evaluating.
A way to get into the habit is by making super short goals to start with so you have the encouragement of ticking something off the list within a few weeks. Keeping it simple to start with will help motivate to make longer term commitments.

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wise words.
You need to chop “the elephant” down in small chuncks and check progress there as well. Setting goals is about main targets and dividing them; keepign track of it all isn’t always that obvious.

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Hi Lieven,

It is probably around 9 PM in your part of the world right now so not expecting an immediate reply. This is an old post, but I see your expertise in the topic. I am very familiar with SMART goals as a people manager in my usual career. That said, starting Saturday morning I am dabbling in some private guitar lessons from a local teacher to supplement what Justin teaches. The first thing he asked me is to prepare for and explain exactly what I want to learn. That question is actually harder than I thought to answer. I know all of the fundamentals through Justin’s online course. What can I get from an in person lesson that makes the juice worth the squeeze? I think observing my technique in real time and giving feedback. I want to play faster with more complex strumming patterns while singing. Not getting singing tips from the lesson, but it is what makes playing that much more fun. My power chord techniques probably need work to be sure I am muting correctly. I will take some notes from what you have written here, and welcome any additional tips. I am really trying to get past the plateau and move to the next level. Thanks again for the help Lieven or anyone else who has a thought…and your singing is great not below par :slight_smile:
Duizand Dank


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That indeed is the argument that distincts a “physical” teacher there with you from other forms of education. Try to take full advantage of that.

Let him check your rhythm and chord technique.
Ask him to check your hands, upper arms and wrists when strumming; he should know that the upper arm and wrist share the work.
Let him check the angle of your fretting hand and fingers and how you are fretting notes.

You want to play live?
solo? in a band?
You want to write songs?
Copy songs? Fingerpick songs?
You probably have some ideas for possible paths and there is no “single choice”.

Everybody needs some solid foundations first and on the bottom layer, the are built “next to each other”. Than you can build upon those on a new layer etc and gradually build up horizontal layers upwards.

As soon as you got open chords going fluently, you have a solid rhythm going on, your fretting technique is on the level and your chord changes are smooth within the desired rhythm, You can build barre chords upon that.

Try to plot a path that

  1. fortifies your foundations
    (this lesson is excellent inspiration: 6 Guitar Areas You Should Practice | JustinGuitar.com)

  2. work towards a goal long term

  3. set some milestones along the way that confirm that you make progress

  4. focusses on the goal, doesn’t over-focus and doesn’t neglect.


Hi Lieven,

I greatly appreciate you taking the time to give some tips and feedback from your perspective. I think the big takeaway is defining specific goals like you said, writing them down, posting them in plain sight, and holding myself accountable to progress. That is the same thing I may say to an employee who works for me so why not for playing guitar too. I
am certainly going to follow your advice about asking the instructor to evaluate my fundamentals in rhythm, timing, and positioning of my hands. I really like the concept of the layered approach too. I think it makes a lot of sense and I think you have written that somewhere on the forum before. My long term goal is definitely to perform in front of a small group of people. I have already done that a little bit, but envision myself doing that with higher skill set in performing. I have been writing songs as well since I was about 16; nothing yet that really says wow amazing. Maybe taking more time to understand music theory will help with that and of course some singing lessons and hard work. I reviewed part of Justin’s music theory course; maybe time to have a second look and purchase the full lessons. Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I really value your advice and see you as a high level professional with a wealth of knowledge. I’ll check in to let you know how it’s going. Have a great day.


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HI Lieven,

I am just checking on to let you know how the lessons are going. My instructor has been focusing on music theory and scales. I learned why it is important to play notes within a specific key, especially for song writing. I also learned several scales and how to improvise the sales into songs as a mini solo section. I found myself going back to watch Justin’s videos as frequently as I can to refresh on pentatonic sales. On a smaller note, he had me fix my hand and wrist positions so I can play the F and similar chords sounding correctly. I have one more class then will reconsider more lessons in January. My two daughters are taking lessons at the same time with the same music school. My 9 year old is learning the uke and my ten year old is learning guitar. She is already leading the class and can play stand by me in time fairly well. They are having a concert in a couple weeks and I am supposed to do the solo part of Stand By Me, then possibly perform my own song choice on stage. That will be my first organized performance on stage. My daughters already do acting so they have me beat on stage. Thanks again for the advice and tips to get the most out of private lessons. After the music theory I think I am overall much improved in playing and get the big picture. He didn’t teach any specific songs, but had me play songs I already know and improvise with scales.