(NOTE: Wanna get better at guitar? Then download The Ultimate Guitar Practice Template and make progress today!)
You are either born with musical talent, or you aren’t. That’s the common belief. It’s wrong, here’s why…
I think anyone can learn guitar just like any skill. Years ago, I decided to get back into guitar. I’d played all through college but gave it up when life hit me. Now, with retirement barrelling towards me, I thought it was a great time to dive back in.
So I got a sweet new acoustic guitar, a few books from the music shop, and off I went.
I struggled. Hard. My fingers hurt, I couldn’t play simple songs. I had a lot of rust. I never was a great guitar player, but I didn’t expect relearning guitar to be so difficult.
I’d get home from work and “practice” most evenings. But I never seemed to get much better. After 6 months of practicing, I still could only play a few things my wife could recognize.
But this is about the point where I had my epiphany. I completely changed my approach. I succeeded in learning guitar enough to play entire songs. Then I joined up with some buddies for jam sessions. And have since played 100’s of coffee shops and nightclubs. I have even taught several good friends to play.
It turns out, there is no guitar-learning gene. But there are tools and tricks for faster learning… much faster!
As a competent guitar player now, my whole outlook on life has changed. I have forged new friendships. Met tons of interesting people. Played some really cool gigs. And I’m even recording my own music. It’s a blast!
All these things are well within reach for you. Yes, you can learn to play the guitar in a lot less time than you think.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably in a similar situation like I was when I started. So I’m going to outline what worked best for me. I went from basically complete beginner to gigging guitarist. And I hope this post will help you do the same.
Let’s get started!
Rule #1 – Focus On Core Song-Playing Skills (and nothing else!)
There’s this idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything in life. Might be true, but you don’t need to master guitar to enjoy it. I’m no master and yet I can play most songs I’m interested in.
Not everyone wants to be a guitar god. I can hold my own at jam sessions and I’m not nervous to play gigs for hundreds of people, and I don’t have anywhere near 10,000 hours playing guitar.
How did I do this? How did I turn it all around when I was struggling?
I realized I don’t want to be a theory nerd. I don’t need to shred up and down the fretboard to sound good. In fact, I don’t really like that kind of playing anyways.
Yet my books and my teacher were forcing that stuff on me. So instead, I ditched the books. I ditched my teacher and I focused on what was fun to me.
And fun was learning and then playing songs! My engineering background came into play here. I looked at the fundamental skills needed to play a song. And then I practiced just those skills.
Sounds idiotically simple right? That’s because it is!
After just a few weeks of focusing on these fundamental skills, I could play my first songs all the way through! Here is what I worked on:
- Chords – I learned the 8 basic open chords and 4 barre chord shapes. 95% of songs that you will learn use these chords. That’s a lot of songs to go through before you have to worry about anything too advanced.
- Switching Chords – I then practiced changing between those shapes to backing tracks (there are tons of them on youtube).
- Strumming Patterns – Then I worked on my strumming. 3-5 strumming patterns are really all you need to play 1000’s of songs on guitar. Sure you can get fancy later. But you can go a long way with a few simple strums.
That’s it! People like to over-complicate things. Especially learning guitar. Don’t do it! Focus on these 3 things and you’ll be playing along to songs in no time!
(Recommended: The Ultimate Guitar Practice Template)
Rule #2 – Consistent Daily Smart Practice (even just 10 minutes!)
Daily practice, even 10 minutes per day, has a cumulative effect. Something you will not get from 2 hour marathon sessions on the weekend.
Learning guitar is a discipline. So set aside time each day for real practice. Save the noodling and tone chasing for the weekends.
Experiment with different times during the day to find what works for you. Do you get more done in the morning? Evening? Lunch time? Figure out what works best and commit to it.
You want to make daily guitar practice as effortless as possible. Think of it like “tricking” yourself into doing it.
Leave your guitar out of the case and on a stand. Ready to go. Keep the gear to a minimum. Plug into a small practice amp, or better yet practice unplugged! (I’ll get into practice routines in a little bit.)
Set small goals. Guitar is a journey and there are many small milestones along the way. Consistently practicing the right things, the right way, is what has the biggest impact on your progress overall. Make it a daily habit and you’ll be surprised how much you improve in a short amount of time!
Rule #3 – Ditch The Misconceptions
“You’re too old.”
“You don’t have rhythm.”
“Your hands are too small.”
“You can’t go far without music theory.”
“Since you can’t practice 8 hours per day, you’ll never be good.”
Those are all pretty common misconceptions for new guitar students to have. And those preconceived notions have kept many from their dream of playing guitar well.
In short, any doubts you have in your head about why you can’t play are just part of the “struggle” of playing guitar. Here, I’ll show you…
Hand size doesn’t matter. Take a look at these North Korean children playing full-size guitars:
If they can do it, so can you!
Think your hands are too big? Try playing with NO HANDS!!:
Age is just a number. Sure, children have an amazing ability to learn large amounts of information quickly. But adults have more time to devote to hobbies like guitar.
Especially those of us whose kids are out of the house.
It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to spend these years on the couch watching tv or jamming on guitar. Guitar is certainly more stimulating for your brain. And actually, there are studies showing great health benefits for learning an instrument later in life.
“Playing music reduces stress and has been shown to reverse the body’s response to stress at the DNA-level” (Dr. Barry Bittman).
In theory, the more you practice, the better you get. But in reality, unless you are a professional musician, more than a couple hours per day is unrealistic. Heck, even 30 minutes to an hour per day is probably the maximum for most people.
And the good news is, that’s PLENTY. Plenty IF you practice deliberately.
Don’t know what that is? Here’s an article about it from Noa Kageyama, PH.D.
Rhythm can be developed just like anything else. Practice using a metronome or even better, backing tracks. Everyone is different and you might learn rhythm faster than Joe down the street. But everyone can learn it. Just give yourself time and be patient.
Rule #4 – Never put yourself down.
Learning guitar is more mental than physical. Many famous guitarists will tell you that it didn’t come naturally. So stay positive. Encourage yourself.
Negative thoughts are poisonous progress killers! It’s super-important to never EVER put yourself down. Here are some examples of negative thoughts:
“I’m not cut out for guitar”
“I probably won’t ever play this part right”
“Why can so-and-so play that way but I can’t?”
Your self-confidence comes from your subconscious mind. And when you put yourself down, your subconscious mind holds on to it. Over time, this wears you down and you are less confident and everything gets worse. So don’t do it!
Stay positive at all times. Instead of getting frustrated and mad at yourself, analyze what you are doing wrong and work to correct it.
That’s the way forward, at a rapid pace!
Rule #5 – Crawl Before Walking.
Slow. Deliberate. Practice. Is. How. You. Get. Better.
You can use a metronome, but most people get bored with them. Use backing tracks instead. Practice is repetition. And repetition gets old quick to a metronome. But use what works for you.
Chunk difficult things into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Practice those things slowly and then raise the bpm by 5.
The number of repetitions is key.
Generally, you want to nail something 100% of the times you repeat it before bumping up the tempo. Playing a simple chord transition correctly for 5 times in a row (even perfectly) might not be enough repetitions. Playing it 500 times in a row might be overkill.
A general rule is to repeat something enough until you think it’s good. Then double that.
So let’s say that you can play a tricky chord transition 10 times perfectly in tempo. Great. Now play it an additional 10 times perfectly before raising the tempo. This is called “over-practice”.
If it takes you 100+ repetitions to play 1 chord transition correctly, that’s what it takes. Don’t get discouraged. Embrace it.
That’s guitar my friend!
Rule #6 – Chart Your Progress
If you aren’t doing this now, start today. You can do it a couple of ways…
1.) Keep a daily log with exercises you are working on. As well as your current bpm and number of consistent repetitions reached. You don’t need to track everything. Just your most important exercises.
2.) Record your practice sessions. Nowadays almost everyone has the ability to easily record practice sessions. Most phones come with built in apps for this.
Don’t record noodle sessions. No one wants to hear that! 🙂 But do record your deliberate practice.
In a couple of weeks, listen back to your first few sessions and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!
3.) But you said “a couple of ways”. I did. But the best and 3rd option is to do BOTH of these things. Keep a daily log AND record your practice sessions. Do it. DO IT.
Here’s a weekly guitar practice planner and tracker spreadsheet that I made for you!
Save the sheet to your drive:
(Recommended: The Ultimate Guitar Practice Template)