Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
Visit his site to discover highly effective music learning resources, guitar lessons, music career mentoring and tools including free online assessments, surveys, mini courses and more.
Send comments or questions to Tom Hess.
© Tom Hess
Click here for a printer-friendly version of "Making Fast Progress May Keep You From Becoming A Great Guitarist".
Do you assume that becoming a superb guitarist requires that you make progress as fast as possible? In reality, this assumption can actually prevent you from reaching your musical goals in a short period of time. The majority of guitar players unconsciously ruin their potential for improvement by learning 'too fast' in some areas of their playing and 'too slow' in other areas. This causes their playing to become unbalanced and they end up losing control of their ability to move forward to become better players.
Why Uncontrolled/Mismanaged Progress Is Destructive For Guitar Playing
When you make too much progress too quickly, you are at great risk of becoming 'unbalanced' as a guitarist. I see this all the time – guitar players come to me frustrated because they have developed great 'technical' guitar skills, yet lack the ability to translate what they can play into actual 'music'. The reason this occurs is because the player developed their technical skills and speed much faster than they are able to 'think' about the notes they are playing. As a result, they never mastered the ability to express themselves with what they learned. When you advance your guitar skills in this manner, your playing becomes 'out of balance' and your weaker areas end up preventing you from using your musical strengths expressively.
Here are the most common reasons why unmanaged/out of control progress happens for many guitarists:
Reason One: In some cases, guitar players seem to 'naturally' make progress faster with specific guitar skills while struggling to improve in other areas of their playing. This situation occurs because the practicing approaches in their weaker areas are nowhere near as effective as the ones they use with their strengths. This commonly happens with guitarists who learn guitar on their own OR with people who take lessons with guitar teachers who have not helped tons of other guitarists reach their goals.
Reason Two: In most cases, guitar players falsely believe that certain skills must be mastered before mastery of other skills can even be attempted. They put all of their time and energy into practicing in a few areas of their playing and end up becoming unbalanced players because of it. Every year I take in tons of new guitar students who suffer because of this belief and I have to help them change it so they can become better guitar players. Here are a couple of frequent examples that I see:
Example One: A guitar player who has the goal of becoming great at improvising thinks he needs to memorize the name of every note on the fretboard before he can begin practicing improvisation. This belief leads him to spend weeks mapping out the fretboard and memorizing all of the note names as fast as he can before he starts working to improve his improvising skills. Then, once he has finally done this he immediately experiences great frustration when he tries to improvise, because a) he feels like a complete novice in this area of his playing, and b) being able to remember note names alone will not help him to improvise unless he also learned how each pitch expresses specific emotions over specific chords. Again, a mismanagement of progress causes the player to become 'out of control' and takes him far away from his desired goals.
To learn more about how you can avoid the issues discussed above, watch this video about how to practice guitar effectively.
Example Two: Guitar players spend all of their practice sessions working only on improving speed/technique and music theory knowledge with the intention of mastering these things before applying them creatively through improvisation or composition. In the end, these players become great in their technical skills and understand a lot about music, but feel frustrated because they can't actively use their skills to play anything that sounds like real 'music'. To improve in areas such as improvisation or songwriting, you must actively practice applying your skills to making music and being creative while you are also getting better in your general guitar playing. You definitely don't want to 'begin from the beginning' and waste tons of time trying to 're-balance' your guitar playing after failing to properly integrate together your different skills.
What Should You Do To Solve This?
Before I give you the solution to preventing the problems above, you must understand two additional mistakes that need to be avoided:
1. 'Practicing anything you can think of in order to be free of weaknesses': Don't believe that in order to 'not have any weak areas' as a guitarist you need to practice everything you can think of. Believe it or not, ALL of your guitar heroes have major weaknesses in areas outside of their desired playing style. However, they are masters in the areas that matter most to them. For example, Yngwie Malmsteen does not excel in playing jazz fusion, Steve Vai is not a master in the bluegrass style, etc. These players all realize that these skills are irrelevant to their major musical goals and understand that it is not important to waste their time developing them. Only the most relevant weaknesses are the ones that you should improve in order to reach your musical goals. Other weaknesses can and should be avoided.
2. 'Practicing everything for an equal amount of time': You might believe that the solution to becoming a balanced guitarist is to equally divide your practice time among your practice items (using a calculator or an Excel spreadsheet). This is a huge mistake! Fact is, your guitar playing skills will not all improve in the same manner at the same rate. When you evenly distribute practice time to all areas of your playing, it does not 'solve' the problem of unbalanced skills, it 'creates' it.
To ensure that you don't have issues with mismanaged guitar playing progress, follow these five steps:
1. Locate a great guitar teacher who has already helped other guitarists reach their highest goals and understands how to help you reach yours by providing you with many effective strategies. Find the greatest guitar teacher for you by downloading a free resource about finding the right guitar teacher.
2. Don't give in to the temptation to work only on the strong areas in your guitar playing while ignoring your weak areas (that are relevant to your goals). Don't forget that your weak areas will hold you back and keep you from getting the most from the strengths you have spent so much time developing.
3. Learn how to put together a guitar practice schedule that helps you maximize productivity in relation to your specific musical goals. Then take initiative to use your practice schedule consistently and make progress toward these goals. Learn how to practice guitar effectively.
4. Don't assume that some musical skills need to be fully mastered before you can even begin working to improve in other areas of your playing. Learn how to simultaneously work on different areas of your guitar playing by watching this free guitar practice effectiveness video.
5. Use the information in this article about reaching your highest musical goals to get insight on exactly what guitar skills you should be advancing.
By following the steps mentioned above you will avoid the frequent problems of uncontrolled guitar playing progress and get on the fast track to achieving your musical goals.
Additional Columns by Tom Hess