Harness that power to become a better guitarist and performer.
Like many, I see the the new year as an ideal time to make personal changes. When it comes to setting goals and resolutions, I’d like to offer up something that personally helps me turn those aims into reality: lists!
This beautiful Gibson ES-175 Historic Reissue comes alive in the right hands. A list of great tunes sets its mission.
Why do we make a grocery list? Because we don’t want to stand in the middle of the store trying to remember everything we need at home. With a grocery list, shopping is faster, easier and more complete. It’s time to take the power of lists out of the grocery store and into our guitar playing. Here for your consideration are some ways lists help me stay focused and prepared as a guitarist.
Just like with that grocery list, keeping a practice list handy makes the process faster, easier and more complete. I always have a practice list handy—it’s just like a grocery list in that you do not want to waste your practice time trying to remember what it was you wanted to practice. If you’ve done that thinking already, you can get practicing right away. Here is an example of one of my old practice lists:
This practice sheet helped me get the concepts listed into my guitar playing in a focused, efficient way.
Set lists are huge for more than one reason. First, dead air onstage is unprofessional. If your band wastes time onstage deciding what song to play next, perhaps flipping through a book to find it, you need a set list.
A set list will also help you and all your bandmates in practicing for performances. I regularly use two types of lists. The first is a comprehensive set list of all the songs the group plays. This is helpful in choosing tunes on a gig and as well as practicing for a gig. The second, a more traditional set list, includes the tunes in order for a specific gig, divided into sets. Here is an example of a my band DOJO’s set list from a recent Green Lady Lounge gig:
A set list keeps the show moving. This one is divided into three sets. I’ll often make little notes about tune-specific ideas. This one includes notes about which open strings I have available for each song’s blowing section.
Every musician should prepare a list of the songs they know. Once again, this aids in practice and performance efficiency and completeness. Keep this list up to date and practice the songs on it regularly. Other types of song lists include songs you’re learning, songs you want to learn, specific types of songs like bebop melodies or fiddle tunes, etc…
A to-do list can be a great reality check. What seems overwhelming often times looks feasible when broken down into its parts on paper. Try it! By the way,crossing things off a to-do list is not where the real power lies. It’s the focus and organization lists help you bring to bear.
For example, let’s say one of the items on my to-do list is to make a sound track for a video game. The first time I work on this I may only get as far as getting a count of the music pieces needed and the gameplay they’ll accompany. The next time I revisit my list, I might build a Pro Tools template with the instrumentation I plan to use then brainstorm with my guitar and that list of music pieces the game needs. A good to-do list allows me to work in spurts as time permits. The groundwork I laid in thinking through the process of creating a video game soundtrack will keep moving it toward reality.
Breaking down bigger projects into incremental steps on a to-do list also helps keep the process moving forward in an organized way. It recognizes that you can’t harvest every day. Some days you plant seeds.
Lists and Technology
I still like paper and pencil for many of my lists but there are some very useful tech tools for making lists and getting the most out of them.
Basic word processing software is great for clean looking lists. I use Microsoft Word for set lists and sometimes for practice lists. I also use the notes feature on my phone all the time. You can paste to and from email and texts, and because our phones are usually nearby, you’ll always have your list handy. At last check I had 185 notes/lists to myself on my phone.
Software and web-based playlists are awesome! Is your band on Spotify? Make a playlist of the set list for your next show and share it with your members! You’ll be setting everyone up for success.
iTunes playlists are great for organizing songs you are practicing or want to learn. Listening is of course an essential part of learning a new song. I regularly make iTunes playlists of songs I’m working on by burning them to disc or transferring them to my phone. YouTube is also a great place to organize your studies. Working up some fiddle tunes? Make a video playlist of your favorites! Learning the song “Autumn Leaves”? Make a YouTube playlist of all the versions you like.
Lists have the power to take your playing to the next level by keeping you focused and organized. Whether you keep them on paper or digital devices, try using lists and you will see results!
Until next time...keep playing!
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Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing every Wednesday and Saturday night at The Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach guitar lessons and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.