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How To Stay Focused With Your Guitar Playing – The 5/25 Rule For Guitar

Achieve Your Guitar Playing Goals with the 5/25 Rule

The number 1 most important factor in making improvements in your guitar playing is setting goals and working towards them.
When you set goals it makes it easy for you to identify what you need to learn and practice on the guitar.
From here you can lay out a very clear path to follow in the attainment of your guitar playing goals.
Once you have direction, you can work on relevant content and concepts resulting in much more progress. In addition, you’ll be far more motivated as each practice session brings you closer and closer to your goals.
Often as guitarists, we can be overwhelmed at the sheer amount of things that there are to learn, or we can be so motivated and inspired to learn so many things that we stretch ourselves too thin and learn far too broadly.
This results in us not making great progress because we learn a lot of content but none of it very well.

Introducing The 5/25 Rule For Guitar Players

To counter this I am going to introduce you to the 5/25 Rule.
I learned bout the 5/25 rule from billionaire investor Warren Buffet an have adapted it to be relevant to guitar players.
The story goes, Buffet has all of his employees go through what he calls the 5/25 rule in order to help them find clarity with their life goals.
After doing the exercise they have much more clarity on what they need to pursue in order to feel fulfilled. Hopefully you will too.

So What Is The 5/25 Rule

The 5/25 Rule is an exercise where Mr Buffet has his employees write out 25 things that they want to achieve in their lifetime.
It might include places to visit, things to learn, courses to complete, dream cars to buy and various other experiences or items said person desires.
The person has to reflect upon everything they want in life and then write down 25 of them on paper. This allows the person to lay out all of their goals and desires in front of them and truly reflect on what is important to them.
Nothing is too big or too small for this list and the person should write down everything they can think of.
Ideas include: getting a blackbelt in karate, having children, getting a job that pays $100k annually, learning an instrument, buying a Ferrari, visiting the pyramids and everything in between.

Narrowing It Down To The Top 5

In the next step of the 5/25 Rule, Mr Buffet has his employees review their list and select the 5 most important items to them.
This can be really hard for some people, and really easy for others, but the purpose of the task is to discover what is truly meaningful and fulfilling to you.
Life is short and there are many things for you to achieve or acquire, but you only have so many hours in a day and so much free time.
As the old saying goes; “the man who chases two rabbits catches none”.
If you try and do all 25 things at the same time, you will constantly be fleeting from one thing to another, and accumulate a bunch of half-finished projects resulting in a lot of dissatisfaction with your current situation.
Even if you limit your focus to 10 things, you are still spreading yourself very thin.
As guitar players, we can definitely relate as we try and divide our time between so many different skills, concepts, techniques and even genres of music to learn.

Focus On Your Top 5

Once you have your Top 5 Items you are to focus on achieving them and completely ignore the other 20 items on the list.
Make a new list that has only the top 5 items you chose. This is all you will focus on from here on in.
When you focus on a smaller number of things, the increased effort and energy put into them will help you make much more progress towards their achievement.
Think of it like having 25 plants to water and only 12 litres of water per day. You can spread the water between all 25 plants and have them all grow a little bit, or you can pick your 5 favourite plants and give them all of the water and watch them grow and flourish.
With less to focus on, life will be a lot less cluttered. You’ll also have a lot more clarity and direction for your attention, and will be invigorated with newfound energy as you start building more and more momentum towards achieving your goals.

So How Does This Relate Guitar?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got more things that you want to learn on guitar than there is time to learn them all.
For example when I was 15 I was obsessed with Van Halen, Guns ‘N Roses and AC/DC and wanted to learn all of my hard rock and heavy party tricks.
Then when I was 16 I saw Buddy Guy for the first time and it introduced me to the Blues.
All of a sudden I wanted to learn everything there was about the blues on top of all the work I needed to do in my rock guitar playing.
Then I had to learn a Tommy Emmanuel piece for a school performance which led to me becoming really motivated to learn more fingerstyle solo guitar pieces.
Then when I got to University I had to play jazz for 5 years which exposed me to even more cool things which I am still catching up on learning to this day.
The point is there is just so much to learn on guitar that it will take a lifetime to master. You can learn really broadly and cover a lot of knowledge at a surface level, or you can learn fewer things but go really deep.


Set Priorities And Get Clear On What You Want

Mr Buffets’ 5/25 rule teaches us to prioritise what is really important to us.
When we know what we really want then we can focus on learning 5 things really deeply.
You have the choice of what to do, but focussing on 5 things and knowing them really well will give you much greater skill, and much more confidence in those areas. 
You’ll also master the 5 items on your list much sooner when you really focus on them. When you tick one of these items off of your list it frees up space to add a new one on!
Once you have mastered 1 of the 5 items on your list,  you can add one of the other 20 into the core group and start focussing again.
It will be like dominoes where you build up momentum and knock things down one by one and over a period of months and years. You will accumulate lots of skills and knowledge along the way and will become a masterful guitar player.

Exercise Time

Here’s what you are going to do to complete this exercise
  1. Write your top 25 things that you want to achieve on guitar (or as many as you can think of) 
  2. Select the 5 most important items and either highlight them or put them on their own list. (Keep this list in your guitar folder).
  3. Focus all of your time, effort and energy on obtaining these 5 goals. Ignore the 20 least important items.
  4. When you complete 1 of your 5 goals, then and only then can you put one of the other 20 items into your list, make sure it’s important.
  5. You should do this exercise once a year (or once you have completed all 5 original items) as your goals and ambitions will change over time.

An Example 5/25 List For Guitarists

  1. Be able to play 1000 notes per minute
  2. Master my sweep picking
  3. Be a great blues lead guitar player
  4. Be a great blues rhythm guitar player
  5. Record my own album
  6. Be a great jazz improviser
  7. Be a great jazz rhythm guitarist
  8. Master funk rhythm guitar
  9. Master finger tapping
  10. Learn my entire fretboard 
  11. Join a band
  12. Play a live gig
  13. Have a youtube channel with 1 million subscribers
  14. Be able to play every song from my favourite album on guitar from start to finish
  15. Go on a tour of Australia and play a gig in every state
  16. Sell 1000 copies of my CD
  17. Learn all of my jazz chords
  18. Get into a music course at a university
  19. Master all rock guitar techniques
  20. Master fingerstyle guitar.
  21. Complete my Grade 12 Classical Guitar Exam
  22. Master my music theory.
  23. Do an audio engineering course
  24. Get my black belt in karate
  25. Get my pilots license
Now there are lots of things to achieve on that list, all of which take varying degrees of time and effort.
Each one of these goals can also be broken down into many micro goals, especially mastery of entire genres.
You will also notice that some of these goals conflict with each other, while others are supportive and run parallel.
Eg, the mastery of rock, metal and blues styles are all very similar while learning jazz improvisation and passing a classical guitar exam couldn’t be further apart.
Then there are things like getting a black belt in karate or a pilot’s license to fly helicopters which aren’t relevant to playing guitar at all.

Here's My Top 5

  1. Master jazz improvisation
  2. Master jazz rhythm guitar
  3. Record an album
  4. Sell 1000 copies of my CD
  5. Get 1 million YouTube subscribers 
So now I focus only on the things that will bring me closer to achieving one of these 5 goals.
I totally ignore the other 20, even if they might be easier to do or more fun. Every step I take towards something in my other list of 20 if a step away from my top 5.
I must be disciplined and see the bigger picture.

In Summary

So that is Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule. I recommend you try it out with your guitar playing goals. 

You will be surprised at what it reveals about you and what you find is important.

More importantly, it will give you a clear path to work towards your goals. 

Michael Gumley is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher located in Melbourne, Australia. He has toured both nationally and internationally with his band, has endorsement deals with Ormsby Guitars, Blackstar Amps, Line 6 Effects, Yamaha Guitars & Ernie Ball Strings and is the head teacher at Melbourne Guitar Academy.

If you’re looking for guitar lesson in Strathmore Michael will be able to give your playing the direction that it needs and set you on a path towards your True North!

Since writing this article in 2020 Michael has become an Expert Guitar Teacher who runs development programs and business coaching for guitar teachers all around the world through musical educators website Topmusic for which he is the Head Of Guitar.

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