If you’ve ever tried to learn how to play an instrument like the guitar or piano, you have experienced the frustration when you practice don’t seem to make any progress. We’ve all been there. You’re not alone.
It doesn’t just apply to learning to play an instrument. It also applies to any skill you are trying to develop, like touch typing or learning a new language. I remember when I was learning how to type by touch. We had classes where we’d practice, just like practicing the guitar or any other instrument.
Today, kids learn their way around a keyboard before they hit junior high, but most of them use their index finger or thumb as they do on their phones. If you want to play a sport such as baseball or football or hockey, you know you have to practice. But, I digress. Learning any type of skill takes practice.
You’ve heard the term, “Practice, practice, practice.” But interestingly, it’s not just about sitting down with the guitar in your lap or sitting at the piano/keyboard or even sitting at the computer keyboard. We often assume that if we “practice” enough we will become perfect.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you can “practice.” Or you can “practice smarter.” With the smarter practice, you won’t necessarily become perfect, but with smarter practice, your practice makes progress toward your goal.
Tip #1 Don’t Give Up.
Too many kids and adults set out to learn a new skill, like playing guitar, but when it gets tough, their fingers hurt from the strings, they aren’t able to play with a band in the first week or whatever so they lean their guitar in the corner and say, “I’ll practice tomorrow.” Unfortunately with many people, tomorrow never comes. The guitar sits in the corner collecting dust, being neglected.
Tip #2 Take it Slow and Steady.
Many kids that start playing guitar think they are going to be an overnight prodigy being picked up by their idol band. They have a guitar, an amp, and a gung-ho attitude. They envision themselves walking down the road with their guitar slung over one shoulder and a backpack over the their shoulder headed for Nashville, Los Angeles, or some other city where they will be discovered. The dream of being an instant success obscures the fact that it’s a skill that has to be learned.
Instead of rushing through training as quickly as possible, slow down. Learn the basic fundamentals that will equip you to be that great guitarist that you’ve been dreaming about. Move from one lesson to the next, only when you have mastered the first one.
I hear some groans arising from the audience. Wait!! Wait for it!! The lessons don’t have to be boring exercises that don’t seem to move you toward your dream. Keep reading. Learning to play the guitar can be fun.
When I began to learn I taught myself from a book and by watching other guitarists on TV. Back then we did not have online video lessons. It was “teach” yourself or pay for lessons if you lived in an area where somebody taught guitar. Also, if I was lucky enough, I could learn something cool from a friend.
Tip #3 Make A Plan and Stick To It
With a plan, you can get the maximum benefit from the time and effort you put into your practice.
Many beginning guitarists, especially ones who try to learn on their own, think that running through a couple of scales and playing a chord or two then jamming to a CD of their favorite band is practice. That is playing, it’s fun, but it doesn’t advance your skill level.
True guitar practice or any other type of practice involves deliberate practice and isn’t necessarily fun. It takes work to master and improve guitar techniques or any other skill that you are trying to learn.
It’s important to change your mindset of jamming and noodling around to practicing the lessons and exercises that will help you develop good guitar technique.
Several of the online guitar classes have practice plans that you can develop for your maximum benefit. TrueFire’s Smart Practice is one of those lessons.
You start by writing down your goals. They can be as simples as, “learn 5 new chords and a new scale by the end of the month”
or “learn to play a new song each month.”
Keep a journal so you know when you accomplished each goal.
After six months or a year, you can look back and see the progress that you’ve made.
As I stated above, I had to teach myself how to play. In 3 weeks I was able to play songs with 8 first position chords and 2 barre chords. After about a year some of my friends and I started a band to play in our high school talent contest. We played Tequila by the Champs. Being able to play in the talent contest was one of my goals and I accomplished it.
Tip #4 Three Step Practice Makes Progress
Step 1: Warmups and Drills:
Each time you start practicing warmup with exercises, scales, and simple chord progressions, things you know, nothing new. Work on playing these with good technique, properly and cleanly. Also, practice warm-up exercises and drills that work on muscle memory, such as:
- Finger toughening (at first)
- Hand and forearm strength.
- Left hand, finger speed, precision, and flexibility (for swift, precise playing of scales, arpeggios, and sweeps).
- Right hand, finger speed, precision (for swift, precise picking).
Step 2: Learning New Things
This is where you focus on learning new things, such as new songs, new scales, some theory, new techniques. Something you couldn’t do before. This is the area where you will spend most of your time. Jeff Sheetz from TrueFire tells his students to spend most of the time practicing things they can’t play or are just learning or not polished yet.
Step 3: Playing and Being Creative
This is where you get to have fun, playing with jam tracks or playing along with a song from your favorite artist. You will learn to improvise and be creative. This is also where you learn to write songs if you’re so inclined. This is the FUN ZONE.
It’s important to start your practice with Step 1 and Step 2. It’s very easy to start with Step 3 and never leave. In that case, you are having fun, but you aren’t advancing your skill and technique levels.
Tip #5 Learn When To Call It A Day
This principle is important for anything you are doing. It’s very easy to start practicing one chord progression or strumming pattern for hours without making any progress. It seems like the more you work at it, the worse it sounds. It doesn’t matter if it’s learning to play a musical instrument, playing a sport, writing, working on a design project, it doesn’t matter. At some point, you get “brain dead.” When this happens it’s time to quit. Give your brain and your body a rest. Walk away for the day or night. Many times after walking away, you go back to it the next day and you can play it flawlessly. Sometimes your brain and your body just need a break. It needs some downtime.