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How do you know if you're making progress????

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Trusted Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 32
Topic starter  

Years ago I sold my guitar when my wife and I were first married and
having kids, etc. I didn't have time (or at least didn't think I did). But
three years ago I bought a another guitar (strat) and have been playing

Last night I made a comment to my wife that I think I've improved a lot
since I started playing again and she said "but you've only learned 5
new songs!" That made me think - she's right. I don't know many songs
from beginning to end. I don't sing - at least not in front of people :wink:
So I've been focusing on blues/rock lead, technique like bending,
vibrato, etc, scales, and lead improvasation. Before three years ago
I couldn't improvise blues lead, but now I can play along with just about
any 12 bar blues song.

So, I think I've improved, but my question is how important is learning
complete songs? I would love to play in a band and do some open mic
stuff eventually. What is the best thing I can do to improve your playing
when you don't have anyone else to play with? I've been playing along
with CDs and background tracks, etc.

Thanks for your input!

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5108

It's important, I think, but it's not the whole story either. Knowing five songs well is better than knowing just bits and pieces of 15 songs. I think it sounds like you're right on track and making good progress. But it can't hurt to learn some songs along the way too.
Hope that helps.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon

Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 179

There is no doubt in my mind that learning five songs thoroughly is a huge accomplishment. If I didnt write my own stuff I wouldnt know any from beginning to end, I know 5/8 of classical gas, 2/3 of Little Wing, all of Flake by Jack Johnson (like 5 chords changing over and over). My point many songs does your wife know from begining to end? How many do alot of people know. You are definately making the right moves if your asking yourself where am I and where do I go.

Go on.

I also think that open mics are the best thing you said in your post. Going into public when your ready is almost a no-brainer if you love your craft and want to share it. It doesnt matter if you know five songs or fifty, its more then you knew before you started, and thats what counts.

Keep at it bro.


Estimable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 109

Learning songs is a good thing but it's not the whole picture. Playing entire songs when you only play by yourself can get boring unless you like to play along with the CD. I too think you are on the right track. When you develop all the skills you are working on it will be much easier to pick up and learn a song when you want to. Learning the chords and notes of a song is the easy part. Learning the skills to pull it off is not. Keep doing what your doing and be happy with the progress you've made.

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 297

It's very dependent on how much you write, and how you approach writing music, composing your own stuff can be a lot easier and less frustrating if you can play through a few songs, 5 songs is definetely god for 3 years.

I don't follow my dreams, I just ask em' where they're going and catch up with them later.
-Mitch Hedburg
Did you see that!

Eminent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 35

It sounds like your making progress, but if you want to prove it to yourself than try this: once a month( or once every two months) record a song or to that you know. As time goes by listen to the recordings, you'll be amazed on how well your technique has improved.

Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 66

I think it more or less depends on what your real goal is. I mean, if you're goal is to be able to play a lot of songs in their completion, then no, you'r enot making progress; if you're goal is to be a musician, then you're definitely moving on the right track. I think it just takes another guitarist to tell you if you've improved or not. Not just a fan of music.

By the way, do you have AIM? I've been working on blues leads for a while now. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about it.

Honorable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 653

I'm in a similar situation. I've been really focusing on technique in chord changes, scales, vibrato, ect.

One of the articles here on GN (I don't remember which) was talking about this. Basically, there are two types of guitarists. Upward growth guitarists and lateral growth guitarists. Lateral guitarists memorize their chords and then learn a thousand songs using those chords. Upward guitarists might not know a thousand songs but the songs they do know are harder to play, deeper, and more fulfilling to master. So, it's like that old "quality over quantity" saying. You're DEFINATELY making progress. You even say what progress you're making in your post. If you don't beleive it, the article suggested that you flip that guitar over in the left hand playing position. Then it smacks you in the face how far you've come from that first Em chord.

Of course you've gotta take all that technique you've built up and start putting it to use and learn songs. When that time comes is up to you.


Reputable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 280

Ahh the question everyone asks at some point in their guitar playing life!
I think a lot depends on what your goals are. I have been playing a very long time and I am the rhythm guitar player in a band. I can learn just about any song in an evening or two, all the way through. A lot of the songs I play with the band were learned in 10-15 minutes. So for me, learning a lot of songs does not mean I am "getting better". I also work hard to learn every thing I can about theory, scales, chord construction, etc. That being said, learning a lot of scales or different chords doesn't really mean I'm getting better. I also know how to play in any key anywhere on the neck. So, I can improvise a solo at will. Some sound better than others but that is not really a gauge to tell me if I am getting any better. [Note: I'm not bragging, I'll get to the point in a sec.]
The point is: I think you must look at all things together to judge whether you are getting better. Can you learn songs faster than you could last year? Do you know any scale other than the minor pentatonic? Can you improvise a solo in G in more than two positions? Can you play C major in more than 3 ways? Do you understand why a D sus chord is called a D sus chord? Do your improv solos sound better by the month? Do you add bends, slides, vibrato without thinking about it? Have you learned anything by ear only? If you can do some of these things, or other things that you could not a year ago, then you are getting better. It's pretty much impossible to actually play and practice alot without getting better, but it is all relative to your goal. I'd say that someone that practices speed picking hours on end and got faster and faster, would not get better as a guitarist, but would merely get faster at speed picking. Yet, if someone in a cover band learned song after song [even the easy ones] and that's all they practiced, I'd say they would be getting a lot better.

Addressing your other question: I think learning a ton of songs is crucial. You don't always use difficult techinque but you do learn a heck of a lot. Even in the easy songs. You have to develop stamina to play chord changes over and over for 3 1/2 minutes or more. If there are any technique freaks out there that spend hours doing sweep picking and have not learned any complete songs, I dare you to try standing up, strapping on an acoutic guitar, and playing G-C-D at a fast pace for four minutes. You'll be crying. :wink: Seriously, it causes you to learn to change chords quickly, to keep the beat, to anticipate changes, to not get lost, and you learn to cover up mistakes (yours and others). If you learn a lot of songs you can stop practicing bends, or hammerons, or vibrato, because you will practice that stuff while you play. Anyone in the house will also greatly appreciate not haveing to listen to an hour worth of unison bending.