Practice. Your teacher rolls his eyes if you don’t. Your mom or dad may or may not have to remind you and set a timer (yes, my mom did!). If you’re taking lessons you of course have stuff to work on. If you’re not taking lessons, you’re playing what you feel like…and that can be good or bad.
I’m going to divide this up into three sections because your needs change as you advance.
Beginners need to practice daily or nearly daily. If you must skip a day, skip only one if you can help it. We’re looking for 20 minutes here. Go over what your teacher has written out, even the hard stuff. Trust me, he’ll know if you haven’t practiced.
I have one student who is married, has small kids and runs a business. His day gets away from him very quickly. Try to set aside a regular time for your practice that is routine. Routine is a good thing. With routine you’ll get better faster.
If you’re working something hard, like your first bar chord, and it doesn’t sound good, go back to it several times during your 20 minutes. Play it, go on to something else, and go back to it. Do not let yourself get frustrated. String by string, note by note, it will come together. Remember, everybody has to come this way.
There are more beginners in any field of study or discipline than any other type of participant. There are more beginning skiers than expert skiers. More beginning chess players than chess masters. And more beginning guitarists than professional guitarists. Keep plugging away and you’ll soon find yourself in a smaller, more choice group of players.
You can now play the scales pretty good, handle all your bar chords, maybe you’re even in a band. You’re starting to get that bending thing down and maybe even vibrato. People are starting to notice you can play.
At this point, a lot of people quit lessons. Hey, they can play Van Halen now and handle some of Stairway to Heaven, they’re cool, right? Unfortunately, this is the Wall for many guitarist because they can do most of what they want to do and they stop growing.
The first symptom of this is they stop practicing that boring stuff their teacher gives them. They wiggle their fingers quickly in the A Blues Scale and their bandmates brag about them. And besides, working on the hard stuff just isnt’ fun!
Try to remember it’s only hard because you’re learning it. Those blues scales were hard too at first, so were the bends.
We, as humans, tend to do what we’re good at – our comfort zone. Steve can now play the major scales at the top of the metronome so he’s good. No, Steve is fast. Fast does not equal good.
My best advice to intermediate guitarists is this: you know you’re going to play the new Metalica song 20 times today so leave that for last. Work on the hard stuff first. Just like the beginner does, put that 20 minutes in. At this point you’re probably playing about an hour a day. Do the hard stuff, do it with a clean tone (it shows your mistakes more clearly) and use a metronome or some other back up tape/CD or software. Then crank it on the distortion and rock out.
You’re playing will improve. Plain and simple.
Hmmm…..not sure why I even need to give you advanced players advice, but I will anyway because It’s my blog(!)
Set goals. As advanced players those goals change. It could be that we’re learning songs for the band. It could be that you always wanted to get some of the tougher jazz songs down for improvising.
Advanced players don’t usually have to practice as much to keep their chops (i.e. skills) up. 30 minutes a day would cover it. I would suggest the following routine to keep those skills up:
Turn the metronome on. Work those major skills slowly and pick up speed. 5 minutes should do it.
Work on a difficult phrase. We need to keep those nerve impulse paths expanding and we do that by useing our fingers in different ways constantly. Abandon the comfort zone and you’ll find the comfort zone comes and finds you.
And unless your a beginner, if you’ve been hitting it for a good long time, give yourself a week off now and then. Your playing will be fresher for having the break and your creativity will be sparked.