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Organizing Your Guitar Practice Material
-By Eric Dieter


When you first start playing guitar, the practice materials are relatively easy to manage. The fact of the matter is that the longer you play, the bigger your library will get. This in turn leaves many guitar students with vast amounts of material and eventually overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “stuff.”

Consider Digitizing

Before you dive into managing your guitar songs, notes, TAB, exercises, etc. consider modernizing your system. You can skip this step if you don’t want to transfer to digital, but if you think you might want to, start now rather than organizing your stuff twice.

Why go digital? Here’s a short list:

  1. Papers get bent, wet, fade, etc

  2. You will always have all of your practice items in one place

  3. Because of #2, you can practice without your instrument anytime you have your tablet with you

  4. Making notes is WAY easier and eraseable

  5. Most practice items could fit into several categories. By “tagging” a digital practice item, you can group it with several different skills

  6. If you’ve ever played a wedding gig (or practiced near a fan) you know the havoc that a small gust of wind can create

  7. You can keep everything and not have to worry about where to store it

  8. Your materials become keyword searchable

  9. It can be backed up

  10. You can easily share them with your friends and not have to worry about getting them back

It is highly recommended that you use a tablet and some sort of tagging system. For example, forScore is a very useful app for musicians. It allows you to do all sorts of neat things like track how long a song is, what key it’s in, create and organize setlists, etc. But even if you don’t need all that, it’s got a great tagging system.

Also get yourself a PDF converter for your phone/tablet. This way you can quickly snap photos of all of your papers and have them as taggable PDF files. This tends to be quicker and more convenient than scanning.

How To Organize

Having goals that you are working toward will definitely help you keep your items better organized. But even if you aren’t a goal-oriented person, here are a idea to get you started.

Categorize By  Skill 

Whether nor not you decide to not digitize your practice material, categorize your items by the fundamental skill involved. As time goes on, your skills will become more refined and many categories will multiply into sub categories. For example, intermediate students may want to also categorize (tag) by key/meter/tempo; advanced students may want to categorize by music theory concept used.

Since musical skills can get very intricate, an attempt to list all possible guitar skills would be quite long. Here is a short list for newer guitarists to consider:

  1. Chord vocabulary

  2. Scale vocabulary

  3. Arpeggios

  4. Rhythm and timing

  5. Songs and repertoire

  6. Left hand techniques

  7. Right hand techniques

  8. Speed and endurance

  9. Music theory

  10. Compositions and creativity

It would be wise spending some time thinking about what specific skills you want to develop first then go through and fit your practice items into your own custom categories.

Also notice from this list here the point about an item fitting into multiple categories. What about a fingerstyle song you’re learning that has 3 chords you’ve never seen before and uses a ton of pull-offs? It would be nice to be able to tag it as “7th chord vocab”, “right hand-fingerstyle”, “left hand-pull-offs”, “repertoire”? If you just keep paper, you’ll have to pick the one best place in your binder to keep it. Then the trick is remembering which category you put it under.

Final Words

As a music teacher and musician, I have a hard time throwing away a practice item. I recommend keeping a separate binder for items you don’t know how to use yet or no longer practice regularly. Also, never throw away a song you wrote! You may want to use parts of it in the future.

There is no right or wrong way to organize your guitar materials, but leaving them in unorganized piles will likely result in unorganized practice. By spending a few minutes getting organized, you are setting the tone for your entire practice session… so why not make it as productive as possible?

About the Author

Eric Dieter is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher in Lancaster, PA. He has appeared on dozens of international albums as a session guitar player and tours with the synth-pop and prog-rock band. Eric has studied guitar at Millersville University and Berklee College of Music. Additionally, he holds a degree in psychology and a certification in hypnosis, making him uniquely qualified to train the minds and hands of aspiring musicians. Contact Eric if you are looking for guitar lessons in Lancaster, PA.

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