When you first start playing guitar, you learn that there is a great number of skills and techniques you need to practice to reach your goals. As months and years go by and you practice these elements, you think you are making progress in your guitar playing…yet you continue to freeze up when improvising, recording, or playing for others. Worst of all, “learning more things” doesn't seem to fix the problem - you continue to freeze up and make mistakes while playing guitar “when it really counts”. So why is it that your playing doesn't seem to be getting better despite the efforts you put into practicing guitar?
The answer is that you are not able to play guitar fluently. What does this mean? It means that, while you may know many things about playing guitar, you are not able to combine and use these elements easily in your guitar playing. The biggest reason this problem happens is because most guitar players practice something just to get it right ONCE and then they think they’re done, and want to move on and learn something new. This kills your ability to integrate and use all of your guitar skills fluently, which in turn kills your chances to become a great guitarist.
This is similar to a student taking a test at school. Many students try to simply pass the test and they don’t try to actually learn the material. While they may end up passing, they forget everything as soon as the test is over. Don’t be the student whose only goal is to “pass”. Until you learn how to practice guitar effectively, you will never be able to master all aspects of your guitar playing.
2 Types Of Guitar Players Who Almost Never Become Great
Guitarists who most often fail to reach their goals (despite having the potential to do so) often fall into 2 groups. Guitarists in the first group are not concerned with mastering anything - they only want to learn new things all the time. Having this mindset holds back your guitar playing due to lack of integration of your musical skills (more on this below).
Guitarists in the second group are “perfectionists” - they focus on absolute mastery of every individual element of their guitar playing and are afraid to move on to practice something else until the previous item has been mastered. Fact is, you CANNOT master any musical skill in isolation (I explain why in this video about the best way to learn guitar). If you try doing this, at best you will only end up with pieces of musical knowledge that you can’t truly use. Most likely you will give up out of frustration when you realize how much time you are spending trying to master things in isolation (and never getting anywhere).
Now that you know what does NOT work, here is the process of practicing that ALL great guitar players go through on their way to true musical mastery of any new skill:
1. Begin learning the new skill in isolation to learn it on a basic level, without worrying about application or fluency yet. Most guitar players do this, but they end up spending too much of their practice time on this step and never do the following steps.
2. Practice applying the skill you learned in step 1. To practice this, you need to recreate a real-life musical scenario. For example: after you learn a new arpeggio shape, apply it in soloing over backing tracks - creating many guitar phrases that include this new arpeggio.
3. Integrate this new skill into all the other aspects of your guitar playing. This is the biggest thing that will make or break your guitar playing fluency. You can work on integration by focusing on several skills at a time and practicing them together. There are hundreds of ways you can do this. For example: ascend an arpeggio using sweep picking and come back down through a scale sequence, or find 10-20 different ways to play the same arpeggio on guitar (integrating the arpeggio with your fretboard visualization skills) or add other notes to the arpeggio to achieve a new sound. Other examples of integration could include combining rhythm guitar with lead guitar phrases, or combining string skipping and 2 hand tapping, while soloing over a chord progression that changes keys. The possibilities are endless…
No matter your overall skill level as a guitarist, you MUST practice integrating your skills together to truly reach your musical potential. Lack of integration is one of the most common problems that guitarists at intermediate level and above suffer from and is one of the most important areas I work on with my online guitar students to help them become awesome musicians quickly.
4. Review and refine your new skill. This means that you go back to step 1 and again practice your new skill in isolation, having acquired deeper understanding of what elements of the skill still need to be improved (from applying and integrating it in steps 2 and 3). Then move on to applying the skill in more new contexts and integrating it with other skills/techniques until you are back to step 4 - review and refine. Going through this cycle will help you make giant leaps towards guitar playing fluency.
WARNING: you must avoid falling into the “perfectionist” trap of staying at each step for too long. You must also avoid skipping some of the phases just to learn more new things on a surface level that you never truly master. Instead, you should:
Rotate your exercises when you practice guitar, so that different aspects of your guitar playing are in different phases of mastery at any given time. This will keep your rate of progress very high. To do this right, you need to have the very best and most efficient guitar practice schedules customized specifically for you.
Work with a master guitar teacher who knows how to pace the flow of new content (so that you never get stuck trying to master any one thing for too long) and who also doesn’t constantly bombard you with new material.
- Understand that getting better at guitar is not a linear process. Instead, your guitar playing fluency is a byproduct of the overlap in the 4 areas of guitar playing mastery (isolation practice, application, integration and review). When there is little/no overlap in the 4 areas of musical mastery(as is the case for most guitarists), your level of guitar playing fluency will be minimal - with a huge amount of potential left untapped. Observe the diagram below:
Your goal is to maximize the overlap between the 4 areas in the diagram above, so they all reinforce each other and make it possible for you to achieve the highest levels of guitar playingfluency possible. Like this:
Now that you know how and why to focus on fluency of your guitar playing, watch this free video to learn more about the best ways to practice guitar and speed up the process of reaching your musical goals.