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8 No-Nonsense Tips for Learning Guitar

Thursday, November 21, 2013
lespaul-close-up-smIf you are like me, you appreciate straight talk – especially when it comes to something that is important to you, like learning guitar. There are just way too many opinions, by too many people, and too little time to wade through them all to find the real information. So, here are a few things, from where I sit, that every learning guitarist should know.

1) Decide. Are you going to do this or not?
Is learning guitar and playing music an important goal in your life? If it is ever going to be more than just a “wouldn’t it be great” and a “maybe some day” kind of a hope, then you need to get busy. Stop waiting for the perfect time to get started. It will never come. Inspiration is for amateurs. Decisions, goals and actions are what get any job done. Decide, then start.

2) Don’t wait for free time, PLAN time to learn.
Everyone’s busy. Waiting to practice until you have some free time is a recipe for finding yourself a week from today not having touched your instrument. Think about your daily schedule and decide where you can fit in a few moments to practice. Set this time aside and be faithful to it.

3) Consistency is more important than quantity of time.
The old saying goes “only practice on days you eat.” The human mind learns best in regular, consistent small doses. You’ll find you learn and retain more in 15 minutes a day for 5 days than a 3 hour “binge” practice session on the weekend. Don’t believe me? Try it and see.

4) When practicing, work and reach.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking, “just because I have my guitar in my hands, I’m getting better.” Progressing in your learning comes from “reaching” – from doing things that you can’t do. It comes from struggling with a new task, fumbling around, making mistakes, eventually getting better at it, until slowly more successful attempts are made. If you’re not “reaching” and “struggling”, then you’re not progressing.

5) Never waste a good mistake. Learn from it.
Don’t make a mistake and think “well, I just messed up.” If you make the same mistake more than once then stop and think about what happened. What specific musical task did you stumble over? Isolate it, and analyze it. Was it the change between two specific chords? Or, perhaps, you’re consistently overreaching to get a particular note? You’ll find that your mistakes are hardly ever random. They are very specific. Find what you stumble over, isolate it, practice it slowly until you can play it consistently correct, then put it back into context within the song. Be a student of your mistakes so that you can learn from them.

6) Record your progress - seeing the flower bloom.
When you finally get that new exercise down make a short video of yourself playing it. Try to make one video a week. After three months, you’ll be able to clearly see the progress you are making. Recording yourself helps you measure your progress but it also helps you learn how to switch from “practice mode” to “performance mode” which is a vital skill.

7) Bring someone else along in your learning journey.
It’s no fun learning alone. Involve someone else in your learning journey. Play your new song for your spouse, or friend. It’s not about them being “impressed” with your playing. It’s about having someone to help you be faithful to your commitment to learn.

8) Relax. It’s just guitar.
Learning guitar shouldn’t be stressful. It’s a long road toward a very worthwhile and life-enriching end. Relax and enjoy the journey. You’ll learn a lot better.
Keep up the great work!

– Steve
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