Have you ever struggled with improving a certain aspect of your guitar playing? If you said “yes”, then you are no doubt aware of the frustration that comes from feeling like your guitar practicing is simply not having the effect that you want. When most guitarists face this situation in their playing, they usually either decide to abandon trying to learn guitar entirely or keep trying to get better but “accept” that they will never become as good of a musician as their favorite artists.
Fortunately, this does not have to be the reality for you. More to the point, anybody with a fully functioning body has the potential to develop into a highly advanced guitar player with the right training and tools for reaching this goal. Obviously it is not realistic to suggest a magical guitar practice routine that will work for every person who reads this article, however there are several critical steps that all great guitarists use when solving their guitar challenges in order to consistently make progress in their musical skills. Here is a list of these steps and an explanation of how to best apply them to your guitar practicing every time you face a difficult problem in your musical development:
1. Find out exactly what is causing your problem
For you to have a chance of successfully overcoming the guitar playing challenge in front of you, it is necessary to know exactly what the problem is. Although this seems exceedingly simple, you would be surprised how many guitar players are not able to accurately define what is giving them trouble in their guitar playing beyond highly vague descriptions similar to: “I can’t play rhythm guitar” or “my speed is slow” or “I can’t write songs.”
Fact is, such general statements will do little or nothing to help you find the solution you need to take your guitar playing to the next level. In contrast, the best guitar players observe what is happening in their playing every time they have trouble and then define their challenge by completing some variation of the following sentence: “I struggle with (insert skill here), when I (describe the situation here).”
2. Use your mind to solve the puzzle
The steps of learning to play guitar (especially the body mechanics involved in practicing for guitar technique) obey the basic principles of physics and logic. Knowing this means that many guitar playing problems can often be solved by using your powers of observation and common sense. In a lot of cases, even what seems like a “big” problem or challenge in your guitar playing can be solved with a very simple adjustment to your guitar technique (or by using your ears to notice something that you did not detect before).
To give you a specific example, when you are faced with an issue in your guitar technique of not being able to perform a certain phrase or solo without mistakes, analyze the notes around the part where the mistakes are happening. What is it that’s happening in the picking hand or the fretting hand that is giving you trouble? Perhaps you are not clear on the fingering to use or your picking hand efficiency is not as good as it could be. Performing this analysis will help you to get to the root of the problem.
To see a more detailed demonstration of this type of practicing being applied to an actual musical example, check out this (free) guitar chord changes video lesson.
With all of that in mind, I want to also caution you against “thinking too much” to the point where your analysis paralyzes you into a complete stupor and inaction. This happens to a lot people with a perfectionist mentality and such an approach will hurt your guitar progress more than it will help. Remember at all times that your primary objective is to “make your guitar playing sound good” and the technique and practicing approaches you use are only the “means” towards reaching that goal. So only apply this analysis for as long as it takes for you to learn to play the music you want to play and then move on to another area of your practicing.
3. Put your guitar playing challenges into appropriate categories
It is important to realize that not all of your guitar playing problems need to (or can) be solved immediately. As a result, it is best to place them into three general categories so that you can use your limited guitar practice time most effectively. These categories can be labeled similar to the following: “Immediate Action” (referring to problems that you can completely solve ‘right now’), “Intermediate Term” (indicating that you can take action on the problem but you won’t be able to solve it in its entirety right now) and “Problems To Deal With Later” (meaning that a particular guitar playing problem is a long term one and it isn’t possible to try to fix it right now, since your current musical skill level will not allow you to solve it).
Set aside the majority of your practice time into focusing on the guitar challenges placed into the “Immediate Action” and the “Intermediate Term” categories. At the same time, continuously work on learning more about practicing and playing guitar in order to advance your general skill level as a guitarist so that you can transition to working on the items in the “Problems To Deal With Later” category and completely remove them from your guitar playing for good.
4. Magnify the difficulty
A seemingly counterintuitive problem solving technique for guitar (which is nonetheless highly effective) involves taking a challenge that you find difficult to overcome and think of a way to make the difficulty even greater. What this will do is force you to pay greater attention to coming up with the most effective way of solving this issue and most importantly it will make the original problem feel much easier than ever before (by comparison).
Doing this involves being creative to think of how to place extra restrictions or difficulties upon the passage you are trying to play that isolate the main problem you are facing. To see several specific examples of how to do this, study this video on solving guitar playing problems.
5. Believe in your potential and refuse to give up
Always remember that the greatest musicians managed to successfully solve their guitar challenges noy due to being born with better “guitar playing genetics” but rather because of their habits of consistently applying the techniques listed throughout this article. When your guitar playing seems to be improving slowly, always remember that your next powerful burst of progress may only be one or two guitar practice sessions away from where you are now. All it takes is for you to not give up and have the courage to take one more step while applying the most effective guitar practicing approaches (such as the ones I shared with you here). If you study with a guitar teacher or use another very effective and proven resource for learning guitar, your rate of progress will become even faster and more predictable.
When you consistently follow all of the tools that I shared with you in this article (and in the included video demonstrations at the links above) you will find yourself feeling a lot more confident about your potential to become the guitarist you want to be and you will enjoy the process of reaching your goals a lot more along the way.