When you start learning guitar, chances are you started to improve fairly quickly.
Moving from zero to playing your first chord doesn’t take that long, and if you have a good guitar teacher you will start developing your other skills as well.
The real challenge comes once you can already play a little bit.
Maybe you know a couple of songs, or you’re getting pretty good at playing your chord progressions. Maybe you’re even playing with friends or in a band.
The stage when you’re not a complete beginner, but not really an advanced student either can be a tricky time.
It is tempting to start looking for shortcuts - whether that is information, gear, or a new guitar.
You start looking for the “one thing” that is going to make you a way better guitar player, and save you a ton of time doing it.
I’ve also been guilty of this.
I spent years researching different theories, chord shapes, new scales, new ways to practice scales, and all kinds of other things while looking for the secret that would make me a much, much better guitar player.
Sure I learned a lot, but just because the knowledge was in my head didn’t mean that I could play all of it.
You see, it’s easier for you to know and understand something on an intellectual level than it is for you to train your hands to be able to play it.
The good news is that there is something that will help improve your playing quickly, and keep you improving over time: pick up your guitar consistently and play it.
Playing guitar on more days than you don’t play guitar is the fastest way to improve your guitar playing, almost like magic.
All of the best guitar players I’ve met over the years are simply the ones who spent the most time playing their guitars.
While learning new techniques and concepts is important to your development, it is equally important that you spend your time playing - figuring out how those techniques and concepts work with your hands on your guitar.
First, let’s take a look at the things that can make us go into “research mode” instead of actually playing guitar and getting better.
We’ll look at things you can do to keep yourself on the right track a little later.
Most of the time we start looking for something new when we hit some sort of plateau or block in our progress.
It seems like we aren’t getting better anymore, so we look for new information that will get us unstuck.
If you’re doing something difficult, what you really need to do is keep working on whatever it is you’re stuck on.
If you’re starting to get frustrated, slow down. A lot of times we make mistakes because we are trying to play faster than is currently possible for us.
When that happens, we haven’t developed the right motor skills yet so our fingers don’t know where to go. So slow down a little bit.
Sometimes your best bet is to put it down for the day and get back to work tomorrow.
You might be surprised at how well this works. Taking the time to sleep on it and come back fresh can make a huge difference in your progress as a guitar player.
It can seem easier at first to look for new information instead of working on your playing. The problem is that after a while, you realize that there isn’t really anything new out there.
It’s just the same information you already have - worded a little differently, and packaged in a different way.
The real key to improving your playing is to keep playing the things that are difficult for you.
That can seem daunting at first, so let’s look at some strategies that can help you get going.
Find one thing in your playing that you would like to do better. (Just one)
This should be a chord, a scale, a riff from a song that you just can’t quite get, or anything else you do with your guitar.
Think about your guitar playing and ask “What is one thing that I want to do a little better?”
With the knowledge you already have about playing guitar, what can you do to improve it?
Even if you are a beginner just getting started, you have probably heard some kind of guitar advice.
Do you need to take it a little slower? Are your fingers always going to the right spots? Can you play that chord from memory? What about your picking/strumming hand?
This is the problem solving part that most people just don’t do.
If you’re consistently trying to improve just one little thing in your playing, you’ll start getting better pretty quickly.
As a bonus, you’ll also be able to get more out of your guitar lessons because you’re already thinking about the small stuff.
Keep working on one thing at a time.
Now that you’ve identified what you want to get a little better at, stick with it.
Whether that means for one practice session or for one month, keep working on that one skill until it’s easier for you to do.
As you’re working on your skills, remember to slow it down. When you practice slow, you are programming your muscle memory.
If you try to go too fast, you’re relying on muscle memory that just isn’t there yet.
Make sure you’re doing everything right from the technical point of view. Do you have the right fingers in the right spots?
Are you picking or strumming the right strings? Are you playing anything on accident, or are you doing exactly what you want to do?
Explore the technique - try to get creative with it.
If you’re woking on chords, try putting them together in different progressions. If you’re learning a scale pattern, try to improvise with it.
Playing creatively with your lesson material is going to help you learn faster, and be able to actually use what you learn in your guitar lessons.
A good guitar teacher can help you start to work creatively with your lesson materials. If you need help, just ask.
Once you are feeling more confident with the skill you’ve been working on, move on to another thing in your playing you want to improve.
Your guitar playing will continue to get better and better as you apply these steps to different skills and songs.
Remember - one of the best things about taking guitar lessons isn’t the information.
The information you learn in your guitar lessons is just trivia. Words to describe the chords, scales, songs, strumming patterns, and other skills you learn.
The best thing about your guitar lessons is the coaching you get.
Your teacher (either in person or online) is helping you get your fingers into the right places, develop new skills, and tailoring advice to your situation.
The pure information is out there for free. Having someone who can coach you to put it to use in the best way possible is what’s valuable.
Your guitar teacher can help you come up with more ways to work on issues in your guitar playing than you could come up with on your own.
This coaching is going to help you get into the right mindset to work on things in the way I described above.
As you’re playing, think about what your guitar teacher would suggest.
If you’ve had more than a couple of lessons with them, you can probably start to get an idea of the kinds of things they would say to you in a given situation.
Things to think about:
Sometimes getting started practicing this way can be hard to do.
It’s easier to look for more knowledge than it is to sit down with your guitar and play through the things that you are struggling with.
This is where a good guitar teacher can help you out.
Your guitar teacher can show you different ways to tackle any issue you are dealing with in your guitar playing, to help you improve your skills and reach the next level.
The single most important thing for you to do is to make sure you are picking up your guitar, and playing on more days than not.
The more you play, the better you will get. Playing new things and more challenging songs or exercises will help you take your skills to the next level.
One of the things I focus on with my own students is helping them develop fundamental, concrete guitar playing skills that will help them to keep on improving their playing over time.
Whether you are learning your first chord or working on advanced concepts, pick up your guitar and get going!
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