Why Guitarists Who Progress 'Too Fast' Often Don't Become Great Players

by Tom Hess


You think that to become a great guitar player in the least amount of time you must make progress as fast as possible, right? Wrong! There is a BIG difference between making ‘the fastest possible’ progress in your guitar playing, and reaching ALL of your guitar playing goals ‘in the least amount of time’. Very often guitarists sabotage their own long-term guitar playing growth by progressing ‘too fast’ in some areas while not progressing enough (or at all) in other areas. How can this happen? Imagine driving a car to your destination and traveling at such a high speed that you get into a crash because you lost all ability to control the car and maneuver around obstacles. The key word in the previous sentence is ‘control’, and it applies directly to your guitar playing progress. Unless your progress is managed, carefully controlled and perfectly optimized, you risk ‘crashing’ your guitar playing into a wall of frustration and never learning how to reach your long term musical goals.

Why Unrestrained Progress Can Be Dangerous For Your Guitar Playing:

Making too much progress (too fast) in some musical areas at the expense of other skills makes your guitar playing unbalanced. I can’t tell you how many guitarists I’ve seen put all of their time into learning to play fast guitar licks, arpeggios and scales but lack the ability to make them sound ‘musical’ or self-expressive. This happens because your guitar speed and technique developed faster than your ability to think as fast as you can play and because the skills needed to ‘apply’ the speed in musical ways (such as phrasing, ear training and music theory knowledge, to name a few) were never mastered. The skills that develop disproportionately fast in relation to the rest of your guitar playing can never be applied fully, since your weaker areas hold back your ability to use them. This is similar to building a car and spending all your money on buying the best, most powerful engine, while ignoring the fact that the car has a bad steering, worn out breaks, horrible suspension and tires as bald as my head! You will obviously not get the optimum performance from your car’s awesome engine until/unless the other critical parts of your car are improved to make it possible (and safe) to drive the car at top speed.

There are 2 reasons why such unrestrained progress occurs in many guitar players:

Reason 1. Guitarists make an incorrect assumption that they must learn and master certain skills before beginning to practice other skills. Therefore, they intentionally put all of their practice time into those areas, tipping their guitar playing out of balance. I have seen this happen hundreds of times with new students who come to me for guitar lessons. Here are 2 extremely common examples of this:

Example 1. Guitarists focus all of their practice time on technique and music theory only, looking to master these skills before starting to apply them to creative areas of improvising and songwriting. These guitarists may develop their skills/knowledge with technique and music theory to a high level, but will still feel like (and be) total beginners when it comes to ‘using’ their skills to do anything creative (such as improvising rock guitar solos). Fact is, improvising has its own set of skills that must be practiced at the same time as you work on your general guitar playing. Few things are more frustrating than having to ‘start over’ after wasting an enormous amount of time developing your skills in an unbalanced way.

Example 2. A guitarist (whose goal is to learn to improvise) assumes that he must learn all notes on the fretboard ‘first’ before starting to improvise. He spends months memorizing the note names on all the frets and all strings as quickly as possible before attempting to practice improvisation. However he will be in for a shock when it comes time to improvise because not only will he feel like a total beginner with this skill, but the ability to recall note names on guitar ‘in isolation’ will be virtually useless UNLESS that skill is integrated with visualization of scale patterns and understanding of how notes function within chords. Once again, mismanaged and out of control progress has lead the guitarist in the wrong direction from his true long-term goals.

To see a more detailed explanation of why the above methods of learning guitar are incredibly damaging to your progress, watch this free video on how to practice guitar.

Reason 2. Some guitarists naturally progress faster in certain areas of guitar playing but not nearly fast enough in others. This happens because their practice methods in their weak areas are simply not effective enough to keep up with their musical strengths. This often happens with guitarists who are self-taught OR with guitarists who study under mediocre teachers who do not have a proven track record of helping thousands of guitarists to reach their goals.

What Is The Solution?

Before I tell you what to do to prevent the problems above, here are 2 common mistakes to avoid:

1. Right now you may be thinking that the solution to the above problems is to practice all of your guitar playing skills for an equal amount of time. DO NOT DO THIS! Fact is, your musical skills do not all develop in the same way and at the same pace. So allocating the same/equal amount of time to all items that you practice will only ‘create’ the problems of unbalanced guitar playing I described above.

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2. DO NOT think that you must practice ‘everything’ in order to ‘not have any weaknesses’ as a guitar player. You must understand that every single one of your favorite guitar players has huge, gaping weaknesses in areas that fall ‘outside’ the scope of their musical goals/style…however they are true masters of all skills that are directly and specifically related to what they want to do in music. Master progressive rock guitar players do not usually excel at playing country music. Jazz guitar players usually do not play neoclassical metal well. Heavy metal guitarists typically do not play fingerpicking at a high level. This is because they realize the difference between ‘relevant’ weaknesses (those that stand in the way of them playing guitar the way they want) and weaknesses ‘in general’ (that have nothing to do with what they want to do as musicians). ‘Relevant’ weaknesses MUST be overcome to reach your musical goals. ‘General’ weaknesses can be ignored.

Here are the steps to follow to ensure that you don’t suffer from the problems caused by unrestrained guitar playing progress:

  1. Get clear on what musical skills are needed to reach your guitar playing goals. This page about musical goals manifestation will help you get this clarity.
  2. Learn how to create highly effective practice schedules and understand the best way to allocate your practice time among all the items you have to practice. Then, (most importantly) actually ‘follow’ your practice schedules consistently to stay on track towards your goals. Take this test about creating guitar practice routines and evaluate your current ability to do this.
  3. Don’t get seduced into only (or mostly) working on areas that you are strong in while ignoring the ‘relevant’ weaknesses that hold back your guitar playing. Remember that your weak areas will continue to limit your ability to apply your musical strengths. You must fix them before you can get the most out of all the strengths you have worked so hard to develop.
  4. Don’t make ‘ignorant assumptions’ about what musical skills must be mastered first before working on other areas of guitar playing. Make sure to watch the video I mentioned above on how to practice guitar to learn more about how to develop your guitar playing skills in a balanced way.
  5. Find a ‘great’ guitar teacher who has already transformed other guitarists from average players into great players and can design a proven strategy for you to reach your goals. Then commit to studying with such a teacher until your goals are reached. Download this free guide on how to find the right guitar teacher for you to get help with this.

Following the steps above will protect you from the all-too-common problems of mismanaged guitar playing progress and will help you to get on track towards reaching your guitar playing goals in the least amount of time possible.


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