How do I get better at guitar?
by Guitar Instructor Doug Marks
Every few years I revise my Top 10 Tips for “How do I get Better at Guitar?” The list can change radically from revision to revision. Some tips fall off of the list while others are added. One thing has remained constant. The number one tip has been, “Practice your guitar dummy.” Recently, I’ve reconsidered and changed the number one tip. Care to guess what it is?
How do I get Better at Guitar?
Sometimes there’s a simple question that puts everything into perspective. How do I get better at guitar? Isn’t this our quest? There are over 700 million Google searches for this phrase. I did some research on Quora. Check it out: How do I get better at guitar? The most popular answer, with 24 upvotes is practice. That answer is almost as simple as the question.
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken
Sure, practice is very important but it’s possible to spend an incredible amount of time practicing something that barely moves the needle. When I was young, I decided to learn 250 chords. I was focused, methodical, and committed to the goal. I made my own flash cards, stuck to the process and over a six-month period achieved my goal. 40 years later I remember around a dozen of those chords. Face it, popular music doesn’t need 250 chords. I wasted 6 months.
Lack of practice isn’t the disease; the disease is lack of commitment. Face it, if you’re committed to the process of improvement, you’re going to practice. Otherwise, you’re not.
I’m going to share another of my favorite quotes. This one’s from Tiger Woods’ first professional coach, Butch Harmon that oversaw the initial magic of Tiger’s career.
“Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” – Butch Harmon
What this means is, if you lack commitment to a goal, and a strategy to achieve that goal, you’ll never fail. It solves a problem that many of us have – fear of failure. Don’t take deadly aim at your target and you’ll never fail. In other words, “I missed, but I wasn’t really trying that hard.”
I’m no different than most of you. I am very reluctant to make a full-on commitment to projects. I’m the king of the dabblers. I realize that once I’ve made a commitment, I’ve got to stick to it and must succeed. Otherwise, next time I try to achieve a goal I reflect on the previous failure. I’m very selective and don’t fail much only because I’m slow to commit. But once I do make that self-promise, I usually win.
Unless your guitar practice is focused on the desired outcome, you’re wasting time. And most of us don’t have time to waste. If we practice a half hour a day it had better be focused on our weakness.
“Let’s See What Happens”
This non strategy can actually work if you’re a sixteen-year-old with a ton of time on your hands. After school you might head to the practice space, meet your friends and aimlessly jam for the next four hours. With that much time you’ll stumble onto many things that will work and probably even remember a few of them tomorrow. So, “Let’s See What Happens” is a shotgun approach. Try many things with a lack of commitment to all and you’ll occasionally stumble upon a winner. Unless you have all the time in the world, what you need is laser like focus.
A Lack of Commitment is the Number One Reason for Guitar Lesson Failure
Many people buy my lessons thinking, “This may work. It sounds good. I’ve read many comments on the internet that shows it works for others. I don’t know if I have any talent, so I’ll give it a try and see what happens.”
I’ll save you time and money. That attitude won’t lead to the desired results. You may decide that progress is so slow that you obviously don’t have what it takes. You can’t approach learning guitar with any possibility of failure. Instead, you must understand if others can do it you can too. If you’re not getting the desired results take responsibility for that. Adjust your strategy and move forward. You’re not going to get the desired results by continuing down a path that’s not working.
Ever been on a diet?
If you don’t lose the desired weight the first week don’t keep doing the same thing the second week. Too many dieters say, “I’m going to really stick to it this week.” Won’t work. Identify the weakness of your strategy, make an adjustment and move forward. You’ve heard this proverb many times…
“If at first you don’t succeed; try, try, try again.”
Let me make a modification to this proverb. If at first, you don’t succeed; try something different. You can succeed but not by repeating the same failed strategy.
Back to the original question: How do I get better at guitar?
Specify the goal, write down a process that addresses both your strengths and weaknesses, make adjustments as the process continues. And of course, diligent practice is a huge part of a process that leads to success.
One Last Proverb
I’ll leave you with one last proverb. If at first you don’t succeed; give up because you don’t have the necessary talent. That’s a simple answer to a complicated problem and it’s wrong. Trust me, you’ve got this one.