Another of the questions we’re asked most often around here is “How good should I be by now?” “By now” could be after a month, a year or really any amount of time. And what the question reflects, I think, is the very human desire to make sure we’re on track and doing everything we can or should be doing to improve. And of course, this is yet another of those questions that can’t really be answered.
With private students I get to know how much innate talent and dexterity the student has, what their goals are, how obsessive they are, and how much time they realistically have to practice. So for them I can usually tell them that they seem to be excelling or that I think they could be doing more (which generally means doing the same amount but with more focus). If they’re spending too much time on something at the expense of progress somewhere else, I can point that out, too.
But a generic answer to “How Good Should I Be” is basically impossible. Instead, I’d like to offer some questions you can ask yourself to make sure you’re on track for your own goals.
What are my goals?
Many of us become obsessed with flamenco and want to know everything we can about every aspect of flamenco as soon as possible (that’s why we created Flamenco Explained!). But while some players really want to focus on solo guitar pieces, others want to learn to accompany. And some just want to learn enough about the techniques to add that to their repertoire of other guitar styles.
How you organize your time and set your short-term goals has everything to do with your longer term goals. So be clear about what you want to accomplish in the long term as you set your short-term goals.
Am I using my time efficiently?
I’ve got some of that ADHD (really), so I sometimes feel like a hypocrite demanding lots of organization from my students. But unless you have unlimited practice time, you’re going to have to make some decisions based on your current short-term goals. If you want to learn to accompany, don’t spend all day practicing your arpeggios. Or accept that your personality type isn’t going to let you get back to working on accompaniment until you’ve made some improvement on those arpeggios.
I’ve written some about practice routines, so I won’t repeat that here, but if you’re the kind of person who needs to know if they’re on track at any given moment, you’ll also want to be the kind of person who organizes their goals and priorities to achieve those.
Am I prioritizing speed over relaxation?
It’s really hard to accept, but trying harder isn’t always the right path to improvement. Often, as we push ourselves to play faster, we build in tension that ultimately sabotages our efforts to improve.
Here’s some advice I wish I’d had earlier on: When you finally feel really competent playing a given technique at a given speed, don’t try to speed it up. Instead, try to play at the same speed with less tension. And then with even less tension. In fact, don’t even think about speed up until you’re completely relaxed at the current tempo. Then stay at that tempo a while longer with the new super relaxed feeling. Only then do you consider going faster. And when faster is working for you, do the process again and make sure you’re as relaxed as you can possibly be.
Am I listening enough?
If you know me at all, then you knew I’d bring this up. If you want to be good at flamenco you have to know flamenco. And unless you grew up hearing flamenco you probably aren’t as familiar with it as you are with whatever you actually did grow up listening to. So unless your goals are just to learn flamenco techniques in order to apply them to some unrelated style of music, listening to flamenco is one of the most important thing you can do to become a better player.
What should you listen to? Everything and anything. Find playlists – we have lots here on our Spotify channel – or start with something you like and just go down the Rabbit Hole on Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen. Or be old-fashioned and find a record store and buy lots of records or CDs.
Is there someone I can check in with?
Having someone to keep you accountable can be super helpful. Back in the day this would have been a private teacher for most of us. In a way, that’s even easier today, with so many teachers offering online private lessons. Of course I offer online private lessons, but so do many many others these days, so checking in with a teacher even once in a while can be a great motivator and a way to have someone help you assess if you’re on the right path to reach your goals.
You can also join our Discord server (email us for an invite), where you can talk to lots of other players and students (and me). Here you can ask questions or even post videos of your playing to get some feedback from the community. Not only will the feedback you get be helpful, but just preparing to post your video will likely make you focus in a way you might not without that extra bit of accountability.
In The End
In the end none of this will likely make you feel quite as confident as having a teacher tell you you’re on the right track. But learning to check in with yourself will teach you to trust yourself more on the decisions that matter to your progress. At the end of the day, the vast majority of your practice is likely done alone – just you and your guitar in a room. So learn to check in on your own progress in a way that helps you focus your efforts to get the very most our of that practice time.
And finally – remember that it’s not all practice all the time. The point of making music is to express yourself, so be sure to give yourself time to literally “play” and enjoy the fruits of all that focused effort you’re putting in!