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April 06, 2011

How to improve your guitar playing

As I was sitting at the airport today, I started thinking about how I have taught guitar for a long time now. Decades, actually. Most of my students have been beginners or intermediate. Some of them have become very good lead guitar players, and some of my students have been been content with being able to play a few campfire songs, using 3-4 chords.

I have found that there are many different approaches to teaching and learning guitar, and in the end, it all depends on the student's motivation, ambition and discipline. We are all different personalities, and the way you approach playing guitar is reflected in these aspects.

A good teacher will give you the tools and framework for learning guitar. However, you must keep in mind that it is YOU who must spend the time practicing by yourself, in order to really improve. There are no shortcuts or secrets that will magically make you a guitar player. Only by dedicated practice will you be able to reach your goals.

Speaking of goals - this is a key concept that will help you along the way. Set small goals, for example learning one chord in several inversions all over the neck. Don't make goals too hard, such as learning 300 chord shapes over a weekend. If you take on such tasks, you will become frustrated when you find you remember very little of what you practiced. The key is to take BABY STEPS. Learn a chord progression of say, 3 chords. Play the progression in one key, and learn perhaps another version of the 3 chords as well. Then, practice the progression in a different key. Use only the first inversion of the chords, and when you know it well, try the other inversion of the chords you practiced in the original key. You can then practice the same thing in a third key, or you can learn a third chord inversion over the first two keys. Do you know it? Go back and forth between different keys and chord inversion, checking yourself that you can play them without difficulty. Only then should you move on to something new.

You see, it is when we play things over and over, slowly and focused, that we really learn long term. I see too many guitar players who are not sure what they are doing, and that is because they THINK they know what they are doing, but they didn't practice each little thing long and focused enough. As a result, they make many mistakes, forget the chords and notes, and ultimate struggle and feel they suck. Don't be one of them. Instead, take your time and practice the "little things" and learn them well. That is something we all have to do, regardless of ability.

As an example from my own practice routine, when I practice improvising over a certain chord or chord progression, I focus on remembering a scale, part of a scale or maybe just a lick, and I do it over and over again. This could be just a couple of seconds long, maybe just 4-5 notes. Since I spend plenty of time repeating this "little thing" over and over, it will eventually stick and become part of my musical vocabulary.

I don't stop there, however. I think I know it, but experience tells me otherwise. So, a day or two later, I go back to it again, and I try to repeat what I knew so well earlier. What I find is that I sort of know it, but it's not as solid as earlier. So, I practice the same thing again. This time, I get it under my belt quicker, just because I have practiced it before. Then, perhaps I change somethning, like different chord inversions or playing it over different keys. Immediately, it becomes harder again, so I focus and practice slowly until I think I know it. Again, I come back to it a day or two later, and check up on myself if I REALLY know it. Do you see what I mean?

This is how all great musicians evolve as players. Some may be able to learn more in a shorter time than others, but the process is still the same - focused practice, taking on bite size of information as we practice our instruments.

I believe a guitar teacher can only give you guidelines and sign posts about where and how you can do things, but it is only you, the student, who can ultimately get there, by practicing often, and by practicing the correct way.

Never, ever, believe these people who promise you huge leaps in learning in a short time, by buying their products. Those sales people are nothing but scammers, because people don't work that way.

None of my guitar lesson products will take you from a beginner to a top act lead guitar player in a week or two. Not even a month or two. No, you should approach all guitar teaching products as small helpers along the way, because they teach you building blocks and concepts, which you then practice as I have described above. If you have discipline and motivation, you WILL as a result developer as a guitar player, and move closer to your goal of becoming good at playing guitar.

I do hope this does not discourage you. Playing guitar is a life long journey, and it is great fun. Enjoy it, and take advantage of the many great guitar learning products and sources out there, and stay focused. I am sure you can do it.

If you are looking for some ideas for learning scales, here is a good resource for scale patterns. This will help you to really understand when and where to use scales.

By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com

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Posted by Robert Renman on April 06, 2011

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