One of the most frustrating feelings to experience when you practice guitar is the emotion of powerlessness that comes from realizing that your guitar practicing isn’t having a noticeable effect on your progress. For many musicians such frustration is too much to bear – causing them to either give up their dreams of becoming a guitarist or, at best, to continue practicing but accept certain self-imposed limitations on their guitar playing potential.
The good news is that if you have both of your hands operating properly it means that you CAN learn to solve any guitar playing problems you encounter. Although it isn’t realistic to suggest a single cookie-cutter method for overcoming all conceivable problems on guitar, there ‘are’ some proven steps you can take that will get you closer to finding the solution that you need for the problem at hand. The next time you feel your guitar playing becoming stuck, apply the 5 steps listed below to jump start your progress:
1. Get Specific
In order to effectively approach any guitar problem or challenge you must first get crystal clear on exactly WHAT it is you need to fix. As common-sense as this advice sounds, I get daily emails from guitar players who describe their guitar challenges with vague phrases such as: “I am bad at improvising” or “I can’t improve my speed” or “I need help with rhythm guitar”. Until you learn to get A LOT more specific in pinpointing exactly where and how your problem appears in your guitar playing there is virtually no chance for you to correctly fix it. In addition to the obvious reason for needing to know “what” the problem is in order to work on it, breaking down a much bigger issue (such as general difficulty with improvising) into a series of specific and smaller tasks will make it a lot less overwhelming to practice towards mastering them. When doing this step in the process of solving your guitar problems, fill in the blanks of the following sentence: I have difficulties with (put guitar/music skill here) whenever I (describe a precise musical situation here).
2. Put Your Thinking Cap On
Even though we typically think about music as a creative art, the process of improving your ‘guitar playing’ (especially in the area of guitar technique) is largely dependent on the foundational laws of physics, body mechanics and common sense. Quite often you might face what appears to be a total inability to play something on guitar that can easily be solved by paying attention to notice a single ‘minor’ adjustment needed in your technique. Even the more creative aspects of your musical development can be broken down into sets of concrete skills that can be analyzed and improved by thinking through the problems you have in each one.
As an example, if you are practicing a lead guitar phrase that you are not able to play cleanly, consider how each of your hand moves (and how it ‘should’ move), find the breakdown in the efficiency of your technique and analyze the picking and fretting hand motions. Use your common sense to determine how your hands need to move in order to avoid a specific mistake or to make your guitar playing sound clean. If you want to see a more detailed demonstration (on video) of how to apply this approach to your practicing, see this guitar lesson on practicing chord changes for guitar.
All of that being said, it would be a mistake to fall into the extreme of “overthinking” the issue at hand. Some guitar players fall into the self-imposed trap of analyzing a certain detail of their technique to the point where they become so paralyzed that their practicing becomes counterproductive. Keep in mind that your actual objective is to be able to play what you want to play (first and foremost) rather than making your guitar playing ‘perfect’. As long as you are able to make your guitar playing sound the way you want, then your practicing efforts are successful.
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 3 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 learn more about how to apply this technique to your guitar playing (with specific examples), see this free video on guitar practice methods.
No matter how frustrated you might be with your current rate of progress, always keep in mind that you very well might only be a single practice day away from a monumental burst of progress in your guitar skills. Also realize that it is entirely possible to conquer EVERY challenge you face in music and guitar playing. Your breakthroughs and results may often come from a variety of surprising avenues, such as through self-discovery or from being guided through the process by a teacher or some other learning aid.
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.
About the author:
Mike Philippov is a guitar teacher and professional musician. His lessons and writings about the process of practicing guitar are read by guitar players around the world. Go to http://PracticeGuitarNow.com to find a collection of free guitar learning materials that will help you to become a more advanced musician and guitar player.