By Tom Hess
Have you ever been practicing something on guitar for many months without making a breakthrough? Regardless of how much work you put in, you just can’t make improvements… So you end up becoming disappointed, wondering if you’ll ever be able to play guitar like you want.
Before I help you solve this problem for good, you have to understand that you CAN become an incredible guitar player, just like your favorite guitarists. If you aren’t achieving your guitar playing goals, it doesn’t mean you have no potential, or that you lack natural musical ability. It just means one or both of these two things:
1. You never understood the right steps to take while practicing to play anything you want on guitar (more on this below).
2. No one ever correctly taught you HOW to practice the aforementioned steps. This part is a lot trickier (and self-taught guitarists in particular struggle with this) because it requires a detailed awareness of how to effectively practice guitar. It’s simple to understand WHAT to practice (since these things are often rooted in common sense), but implementing them correctly is not so simple.
Think of your guitar playing as a struggle between two forces: one side being the practice you do to make your guitar playing feel easier, and the other side being the problems that consume your playing (making it harder than it should be). Whenever one side overcomes the other, your goal is split between the following:
- To keep making your practicing highly effective, so you can make faster progress (I’ve explained many ways of doing this in my other guitar playing columns).
- To move beyond certain challenges that keep you from playing the things you want to play as well as you’d like to play them (this is what I’ll show you below).
To help you completely understand the practicing process explained below, watch this video that demonstrates how this approach makes your guitar playing better. Do this now before you read the rest of this article.
Note: although the video above shows how to practice guitar correctly using only a single context, the general process for solving problems applies in the same way to EVERY technique and guitar style (from shred guitar sweep picking to blues double stop licks, to fingerstyle acoustic licks).
Start playing whatever you want on guitar by following these steps:
Step One: Act As A Doctor While Practicing Guitar
The crucial mental error many guitar players commit while practicing is looking for a way to fix symptoms (what they think are the problems) in their playing, rather than trying to solve the real root causes (actual problems). This is even more common among self-taught guitarists, who were never shown effective ways to practice guitar. As you saw in the video demonstration above, it’s very simple to incorrectly diagnose a problem and falsely assume that you know its cause, only to throw away tons of time practicing the wrong things – making almost no progress at all.
The best way to stop wasting time on mere symptoms of problems and to really improve your guitar skills, is to get feedback from an expert electric guitar instructor who can analyze your technique and pinpoint the exact things that are keeping you back. In addition to giving you the immediate fix to your guitar challenges and frustrations, working with a teacher will help you become your own guitar teacher and solve guitar playing problems by yourself. This is easily the greatest benefit of guitar lessons, and is the reason why guitar players who learn with a great teacher quickly become killer players.
This is not unlike going to a doctor with some symptoms of not feeling well or having certain aches in your body. Rather than prescribing medicine for the top level symptom of any issue you have, a great doctor tracks every symptom down to its root causes and treats it, causing you to feel much better (getting rid of all the symptoms at the same time). Of course, doctors aren’t born with knowledge of how to solve health problems – this knowledge is gained and learned. The same can be describe your guitar playing: even if you struggle with correctly identifying the causes of your biggest guitar playing problemsright now, you definitely CAN overcome them and (over time) become your own guitar playing doctor.
Step Two: Transform Any Problem Into A Self-Sufficient Guitar Playing Exercise
Once you’ve identified the problem that is preventing you from playing what you want on guitar, your next move is to find out how to correctly isolate and fix it. As you observed in the video above, spotting the specific issue (the hammer on and pull off in that particular example) was NOT enough on its own. The next step is to place the problem into the original context to transform it into a self-sufficientexercise. “Self-sufficient” meaning: you do not have to look for great guitar playing exercises to fix it – the problem itself BECOMES the exercise you must work on.
To find out more about how to properly do this step of the process, read this article about practicing guitar more effectively.
Step Three: Don’t Stop Drilling…Until You Strike Gold!
Once you identified the exact problem that must be solved to move your guitar playing forward and you correctly transformed it into its own exercise, you now have to practice the problem until it’s solved.
The mistake that most guitarists make in this step of the process is not completing enough quality repetitions of the exercise to develop guitar playing habits to take the place of the old ones.
Version One: Some guitar players stop working on the exercise prematurely – they get bored, lose their focus and quit after practicing for only a few minutes… never to come back to the exercise again. So they simply never complete sufficient repetitions of the exercise to improve their guitar playing.
Version Two: Others will move forward through strong discipline and willpower to end up practicing the exercise for many hours at a time. Although they perform many repetitions of the exercise, the qualityof each repetition begins to decline as they play the exercise over and over, eventually losing focus. Read this column about practicing guitar in a mindless manner to learn more about this.
The right way to create a good habit is by continually practicing guitar in bursts of concentrated effort for several minutes at a time. Instead of practicing the same exact exercise for many hours on end, practice it for several minutes at a time, many times throughout the day, gaining tons of volume (repetitions) over the course of a week.
Version one of the mistake above frequently happens with guitar players who never use practice schedules. Their practicing is cluttered and random (and it shows in their playing).
In contrast, version two of the mistake above happens frequently to guitar players who don’t know the nuances of correctly training the body and the mind to play guitar. Instead, they attempt to build their practice schedules with linear guitar practice methods using a spreadsheet or a calculator (huge mistake!).
To steer clear of both mistakes, you must be aware that teaching a human being to play guitar is much different than programming functions into a computer. It’s for this reason that you must utilize aneffective guitar practicing schedule that is made for getting big results.
Now that you know what is required for playing whatever you want on guitar, begin applying the advice provided in this article (and in the additional resources given throughout) to make your practicing more effective and your guitar playing much more easy.
If you still have a hard time attaining the results you desire from your practice time, you will achieve your guitar playing goals faster by working directly with me. Check out this page about guitar lessons onlineand tell me about the greatest guitar playing struggles you currently face.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, songwriter and a pro guitarist. He uses the best online guitar lessons to train guitar players to reach their musical goals. Go to tomhess.net to get more guitar playing resources , guitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.