Nailing Difficult Guitar Licks

Let's assume that you sit on a beach a late evening, when sun is going down, and you hold your beloved
guitar in your hands. You're letting all your thoughts flow out of your mind and you start to play J.S. Bach's "Chaconne in D Minor". Your fingers are moving effortlessly, your body is completely relaxed, the music is swimming out of the strings of your guitar. After 15 minutes you've finished playing this
beautiful masterpiece and you feel delighted and satisfied with your virtuosic playing -- sounds like
a utopia, doesn't it? It doesn't have to be. If you understand how your body functions when you're playing guitar, you can get out more of your practice routines (if you never practice -- it'd be worthless to read this article).

When you're playing a scale, a chord, etc. there's a lot of chemistry and physics going on inside your
body, even if you can't feel it. I won't detail all the processes which are happening there, let me just
focus on the most important things that determine if you'll progress quickly or slowly when you're establishing your practice habits.

Let's say you are practicing a lick that's quite difficult and you want to nail it 100%. Believe me, it
does take time to learn something perfectly -- if you practice this lick at random, or just spend a
few minutes on it each time you practice it -- I doubt you'll get it even after a couple of months. The key
to learning to play this lick is by practicing it often, you have to bombard your fingers and your brain with
the same finger movements over and over until it becomes memorized. You should be able to play it
without thinking about it, and that becomes possible only by systematic, regular practicing of this lick. (Naturally, this idea not only applies to licks but to all other aspects of guitar playing.)

Now, what happens in your body if you do as I tell you, but you practice the lick in the wrong way without
being aware of it? For example, let's say you play a note with your ring finger instead of your pinky. Later on you notice that the lick will be impossible to play at faster tempos, just because of your choice of fingering. Bad news: the damage is already done, because your brain has already memorized the finger movement and it resists moving your fingers the correct way. Your fingers and brain never know if you are playing this lick the wrong way or the right way -- they are just your pupils and you are their teacher. They learn what you tell them to do. So what can you do about it now?

Good news: You can correct your mistake'll take some time. If you practice with a metronome, you must slow this lick down to the tempo that you began with the days (or weeks) ago when you started to learn this damned, boring phrase (that's how it feels, just accept it). Now begin to re-learn this lick but remember not to play it incorrectly again. Always remember to take a big look at the lick (or other stuff) before you start to practice it. The little time you spend on this procedure will definitely pay off. I don't think you'll like to "get caught" later on, realizing that you're practicing the wrong way.

You should develop your own problem-solving skills for your guitar playing. Always think about what fingering is the easiest one for a particular technique. Remember that you can play a lick with several fingerings on different strings -- just examine all the possibilities and see which one feels the most natural to you. Focus your concious mind on just one specific technique at a time; don't strain your brain too much trying to learn everything at once. Most of the time, when you come across a difficult lick, there's only one tiny problem within the whole phrase of notes that makes it hard to play the entire lick. Try to find that tiny problem and practice just that. When you get it nailed, begin to practice the whole passage -- it'll go much faster now when you've solved the mystery of playing the lick the right way.

I don't know what you've heard before, but in my opinion one shouldn't practice several difficult
techniques on the same day. Your brain is very fragile to the new experiences many hours after you're done practicing one difficult technique. That is, when you try to learn a totally new, difficult movement on
the fingerboard right after the former one, your brain will actually "get burned". Give your brain a chance
to digest the new information you want to learn. Give it a chance to memorize it! Trying to learn
everything at once doesn't work out so well, and the learning process may turn out to be veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long.

Sebastian Kalamajski, a guitarist from Sweden, began his music studies when he was seven years old by learning how to play piano.

Sebastian is currently studying for M.D. as a biomedical scientist. His new, large (370 pages) digital book is just being published on his web site.

Sebastian Kalamajski

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