Guitar Practice Myths - A Tom Hess Review And Critique Of Conventional Guitar Advice

(This article is an excerpt from a guitar playing interview with Tom Hess. The interview was conducted and transformed into an article by Ryan Buckner.)

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If you are like most guitar players, you are always looking for new ways to practice guitar and improve your overall musical abilities. These days, you can very easily search the internet to find the opinions of thousands of other guitarists. However, most of the guitar advice that you will find is given anonymously by people who may or may not actually know anything about how to get better at guitar. That said, have you ever wondered whether or not the guitar playing advice you get from others can really help you improve your guitar skills?

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Fact is, a lot of the ‘conventional wisdom’ that you find in online guitar forums, YouTube comments, or amateur music blogs can actually be harmful to your progress on guitar. In the process of doing research for a book project I'm working on, I recently interviewed an expert in guitar teaching, Tom Hess (who is also a professional guitarist for Rhapsody Of Fire) to get his views on the matter and ended up putting together an official “Tom Hess Review” of the 5 most popular guitar practice myths that you will hear from other guitar players. Read through this review below to see what Tom had to say:

Guitar Practice Myth #1:

Ryan Buckner: One common belief that guitar players have goes something like this: “You need to practice guitar for 5+ hours a day to become a good guitarist”. What do you say about this?

Tom Hess review of this guitar playing advice:

Tom Hess: This type of advice is commonly given to guitarists who are looking for ways to quickly improve their guitar playing skills. For these guitar players, it seems logical that practicing guitar for long periods of time each day will lead them to their musical goals much faster. Unfortunately, guitarists who use this approach usually make very SLOW progress because they take on way too many ideas at once. This causes them to become overwhelmed and practice guitar without direction. As a result, they experience great frustration due to a lack of results.

The key to making fast progress in your guitar playing is to focus LESS on how much time you spend practicing guitar and MORE on getting the most out of each practice session. To do this, you must first work on clearly defining your long term guitar playing goals. This will help you eliminate all guitar practice items that are unnecessary for achieving your ultimate guitar playing goals. Next, you must develop a highly effective guitar practice routine so that you are using your practice time as productively as possible.

Guitar Practice Myth #2:

RB: Many guitarists say that guitar lessons will not help one to get better at guitar any faster than practicing on their own. What is your take on this issue Tom?

Tom Hess review of this guitar lessons advice:

TH: Taking this advice is a HUGE mistake that could significantly slow down your progress as a guitar player. Most guitarists who learn on their own waste massive amounts of time due to ineffective guitar practice habits and a limited understanding of how to reach their musical goals. By working together with an experienced guitar teacher, you can quickly identify the problem areas in your guitar playing and progress at a much faster rate.

In order to get the best results with a guitar teacher, it is important that you find someone who has been proven to get BIG results for his students and will be highly committed to your success as a guitar player.

Guitar Practice Myth #3:

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RB: As a guitar teacher, what are your thoughts on the very common advice about the need to ‘always’ practice with a metronome?

Tom Hess review of this guitar practice advice:

TH: Many guitar players will tell you to always be using a metronome to practice guitar in order to get the best results. These guitarists frequently claim that using a metronome is absolutely essential for increasing speed and improving your guitar playing technique.

The truth is, practicing guitar with a metronome is useful to improve ‘some’ areas of your guitar playing. However, most guitarists use it incorrectly or do not really understand how it can be used effectively in their guitar practice.

For example, if you were to take the advice of most guitarists and use your metronome to try to increase your guitar speed, you would probably see limited results at best. Why? Using a metronome has nothing to do with helping you build speed and learn new guitar techniques! These aspects of your guitar playing are actually improved by mastering various subtle movements in both hands at low speeds (without using a metronome).

Guitar Practice Myth #4:

RB: It is commonly said that: “To get faster on guitar, you must practice everything slow and build up to speed.” Do you think there is any validity to this conventional guitar practice approach?

Tom Hess review of this guitar practice advice:

TH: The problem with this guitar advice is that it lacks context. It is true that practicing slowly and building up to speed is one way to help you play guitar faster; however, most guitar players cannot effectively use this advice because they do not have a solid strategy in place to help them work toward their guitar speed goals. As a result, they practice guitar for long periods of time only to make very little progress. To get faster in your guitar playing, it is necessary to clearly map out your musical goals and use different strategies to reach them.

Guitar Practice Myth #5:

RB: Here is another very common advice guitar players say to each other: “The best way to learn something new on guitar is to practice the idea exclusively on its own until you have fully mastered it.” Do you agree, Tom?

Tom Hess review of this guitar practice advice:

TH: On the surface, this piece of guitar advice probably seems to make sense. In fact, it IS necessary to practice new guitar playing ideas in isolation in order to make progress with them. However, the problem with this guitar advice is that it is too narrowly focused.

In reality, most guitar players do not really want to learn new guitar playing skills just for the skills themselves. They want to be able to APPLY what they learn on guitar in a musical context (whether they realize it or not). For example, a lot of guitar players learn to play fast guitar scales, arpeggios and sequences, but struggle to use these tools in a highly creative way in their music. Why is this? The reason they learn these guitar skills is because they heard them being used in music by other guitar players, enjoyed what they heard, and wanted to be able to play guitar to achieve the same result. However, after “breaking down” music into a set of manageable and isolated skills (to learn them more quickly), you need to also learn and practice “putting it back together” so that your skills are actually APPLIED creatively instead of remaining as disconnected “pieces” of music forever. This is why it is important to not only learn new guitar ideas in isolation, but to also integrate them with other aspects of your guitar playing.

RB: Thanks Tom, for your time and insights! To the readers of this Tom Hess review, to learn more about how to quickly and effectively improve your guitar playing, check out Tom Hess’s web site for online guitar lessons.

TH: My pleasure, you are welcome Ryan.

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