How To Learn To Play Anything You Want On Guitar - 3 Steps For Practicing Guitar Effectively
by Tom Hess
See if this sounds familiar: you practice something for months (a song, a guitar solo, a lick or some guitar technique) and it doesn't seem to get any better. You try every guitar practice approach you can think of to improve, but nothing seems to work... leaving you frustrated, helpless and full of doubt about your potential to become an awesome guitarist.
Before I tell you how to solve this and learn to play guitar the way you want, you MUST realize and believe that you DO have infinite potential to reach your guitar playing goals, just like any of your favorite musicians. If you are still struggling with problems in your guitar playing, it does NOT mean that there is something wrong with you, or that you lack talent to play guitar well. It simply means one (or both) of these 2 things:
1. You never learned the correct steps to follow when practicing to play anything you want on guitar (I’ll list these steps for you in a moment).
2. You were never correctly taught HOW to practice the steps mentioned above. This part is a lot trickier (and self-taught guitarists in particular struggle with this) because it requires a thorough understanding of how to practice guitar effectively. While the steps of what to do are easy to understand (they are rooted in common sense as you will soon see), executing them correctly is anything BUT simple.
The first thing you must do is visualize your guitar playing as a tug of war between all the practicing you are doing to make your playing feel easier, and the problems that riddle your guitar playing that make your guitar playing a lot harder than it should be. As each side tries to dominate the other, your goal is twofold:
- To continue making your practicing highly effective, so you can make more progress faster (I’ve discussed many ways of doing this in my past guitar playing articles).
- To overcome specific problems that prevent you from playing the things you want to play at the level you want (this is what I’ll show you below).
To help you fully understand the practicing process described below, first watch this guitar practice video that illustrates how this approach makes your guitar playing better. Do this now before reading further.
Note: even though the video above is a demonstration of how to practice guitar correctly using only a single context (arpeggios), the general process for solving problems applies in the same way to EVERY technique and musical style (from shred guitar string skipping licks to blues guitar double stops, to chord changes on acoustic guitar).
Here is how to apply the steps from the video you watched to learning to play anything you want on guitar:
Step 1: Think Like A Doctor When You Practice Guitar
The cardinal mistake many guitarists make when practicing is trying to fix symptoms (perceived problems) in their playing, rather than focusing on ROOT causes (actual problems). This is especially common among self-taught guitar players, who were never taught how to correctly practice guitar. As you saw in the video above, it’s very easy to misdiagnose a problem and to wrongly assume that you understand its cause, only to waste weeks or months practicing the wrong things - making little/no progress.
The best way to avoid wasting time on mere symptoms of problems and to really improve your guitar playing, is to get feedback from an expert guitar teacher who can analyze your technique and pinpoint the exact things that are holding you back. In addition to giving you the immediate fix to your guitar playing challenges and frustrations, working with a proven teacher will help you to ultimately become your own guitar teacher and fix your guitar playing problems by yourself. This is by far the biggest benefit of guitar lessons, and is the reason why guitarists who study with a great teacher become better players much faster than those who are self-taught.
This is no different than going to a doctor with some symptoms of not feeling well or having specific aches and pains in your body. Instead of prescribing medicine for the most obvious surface-level symptom of a problem, a good doctor traces every symptom all the way to its root causes and treats them, making you feel fundamentally better (eliminating all the original symptoms at the same time). Note that a doctor wasn’t born knowing how to correctly identify and fix health problems - these skills/knowledge are all acquired and learned. The same can be said about your guitar playing: even if you struggle with correctly identifying the causes of your guitar playing problems right now, you absolutely CAN learn to overcome them and (over time) become your own guitar playing doctor.
Step 2: Turn Any Problem Into A Self-Sufficient Guitar Playing Exercise
After you identified the problem that is holding you back from playing what you want on guitar, the next step is to learn how to correctly isolate it, so it can be fixed. As you saw in the video above, identifying the specific problem (the hammer on and pull off in that specific example) was NOT enough by itself. The next step is to put the problem into enough of the original context to turn it into a self-sufficient exercise. “Self-sufficient” means that you do not need to look for any additional guitar exercises to overcome it - the problem BECOMES your exercise.
To learn more about how to correctly do this step of the process, read this article about practicing guitar correctly.
Step 3: Keep Drilling...Until You Strike Gold
After you identified the correct problem that must be overcome to improve your guitar playing and you correctly turned it into its own exercise (as described and shown in the video above), you now need to practice the problem until it’s fixed.
The mistake that most guitarists make in this step of the process is not doing enough quality repetitions of the exercise to develop a new guitar playing habit to replace the old one. This mistake shows up in one of two versions:
Version 1: Some guitarists simply stop practicing the exercise too soon - they become bored, lose focus and quit after practicing for a few minutes…never to return to the exercise again. So they simply never do enough repetitions of the exercise to improve their guitar playing to begin with.
Version 2: Others will persevere through sheer discipline and force of will and end up practicing the exercise for hours on end. Although they do often perform a lot of repetitions of the exercise, the quality of each repetition begins to suffer as they go through the exercise over and over, allowing their mind to fatigue and lose focus. Read this article about mindless guitar practicing to learn more about this.
The correct way to replace any bad habit is by practicing guitar in bursts of concentrated effort of a few minutes at a time... CONSISTENTLY. Rather than practicing the same isolated exercise for hours nonstop, practice it for a few minutes at a time, many times throughout the day, accumulating lots of volume (repetitions) over the course of a week.
Version 1 of the mistake above is common to guitar players who practice at random (without ever using a practice schedule). Their practicing is completely disorganized and chaotic (and so is their guitar playing).
In contrast, version 2 of the mistake above is common to guitar players who don’t understand the nuances of effectively training the body and the mind to play guitar. Instead, they attempt to build their practice schedules using a linear guitar practice approach with an Excel spreadsheet or a calculator (big mistake!).
To avoid both mistakes, you must realize that teaching a human being to play guitar is different from programming a computer. This is why you must use highly effective guitar practice schedules that are designed specifically for helping guitar players get great results from every moment of time spent practicing.
Now that you understand what it takes to play anything you want on guitar, start implementing the advice given in this article (and in the additional resources I provided throughout) to make your practicing more effective and your guitar playing much easier.
If you still struggle with getting the results you want from your practicing, you will reach your guitar playing goals much faster by studying directly with me. Read this page about rock guitar online lessons and tell me about your guitar playing challenges that you need help with.
Learn how to get better faster, every single time you practice guitar - accelerate your guitar playing.
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