Countless guitarists throughout the ages have asked this question. In a sense it’s the “Holy Grail” of all guitar questions-“What are some things I can do to get better at guitar?” Without sitting down with you for a while-it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to improve. However, I can give you some general advice that will point you in the right direction.
I have three “A” words for you: ASSESS, ACQUIRE and APPLY.
ASSESS YOUR PLAYING: Be brutally honest with yourself. What can you do well and where do feel you need work? What-specifically-do you want to be able to do that you cannot do at the moment? For example-what solo or song by one of your favorite artists do you want to be able to play? Write your assessment down. Putting things like this into writing will help you process things and clarify them in your mind.
ACQUIRE A GOOD TEACHER: In this world of tabs and free online lessons it can be tempting to bounce around from free lesson to free lesson and try to learn that way. I’m not saying that there isn’t any value in these free lessons, but if you really want to grow as a player-steadily-you need a teacher. I.e. you need someone who has been where you are now… who has walked the path you’re on… who has mastered the skills you want to learn and can teach and mentor you toward the achievement of your guitar playing goals. You won’t find that in a free internet lesson.
A good teacher should posses three qualities:
1) GUITAR KNOWLEDGE-This is an obvious one. You can’t teach what you don’t know. So, when looking for a teacher look for one who knows what they’re talking about. How do you determine this? LISTEN TO THEM PLAY! Any teacher worth their salt can either a) play something for you on the spot, or b) send you some mp3s of their playing. Listen to them. Can they do some of the things you want to be able to do? Do you listen to them and think, “Yeah! This dude can wail!”? If yes, that’s a good sign. Also, talk to them. Are they approachable? Can you talk comfortably with them? Are they able to speak intelligibly about the guitar and communicate with you in a way that you can understand? Or do they speak in techno garble that all sounds like gibberish? Good teachers are able to talk to you about the guitar in such a way that you understand it and are empowered by it.
2 & 3) PASSION & ABLITY TO TEACH-Sure they need to be able to play, but even more important-they need to be able to teach you how to play! Do not assume that if they can play they can also teach. This is definitely not the case. As I stated above-they need to know their stuff and be able to communicate with you in a way that you can understand. And they should actually like teaching! The last thing you want is a teacher who is only teaching for the money. You want a teacher who really enjoys helping his/her students learn how to play-that’s what I mean by “passion for teaching.”
APPLY YOURSELF: I.e. put your nose to the grindstone and practice what your teacher gives you in each lesson.
TWO TIPS THAT WILL MAXIMIZE YOUR PRACTICE TIME:
TIP #1: Employ The 5:30 Rule. I.e. practice at least 5 days each week for at least 30 minutes. If you can practice more than this—fantastic, but five days per week at 30 minutes per practice session will get the job done. The idea here is consistency. One of the keys to improvement on the guitar is consistent practice. You are far better off to practice 30 minutes, 5 days per week than you are to practice for eight hours on one day and not play again for a week-make sense?
TIP #2: Employ The 80/20 Rule. This is sometimes called the “Pareto Principle”, named after the Italian economist, Alfredo Pareto, who discovered it. He discovered that 80% of the world’s wealth was held by 20% of the world’s population. Over the years, people around the world have discovered all kinds of applications for this principle. For example-Microsoft recently discovered that they could fix 80% of their computer crashing issues by addressing the top 20% of the bugs in their software. Generally stated, this principle declares that 80% of the results we experience are caused by 20% of our actions. Here’s how this applies to your guitar playing. If you will spend the first 80% of your practice time working on the skills you want to master—and the final 20% on fun stuff (jamming on the stuff you already know) you will be amazed how quickly you will improve!
So, there you have it; ASSESS, ACQUIRE and APPLY. Assess your playing honestly and decide what your guitar playing goals are. Acquire the best teacher you can find-one who understands your goals and is able to help you reach them. And apply yourself to consistently practicing the lessons your teacher gives you. If you do this, I am confident that in a relatively short time you will see improvements in your playing that will bring a very large grin to you face!
FINAL WORD: The internet is your friend! Search online for guitar teachers in your area. Be specific with your searches. Don’t just type in “guitar teacher in MY TOWN.” Type, “rock guitar teacher”, “blues guitar teacher”, “metal guitar teacher”, etc. You want someone who specializes in your area of interest. Finally, don’t be afraid to work in a correspondence course-there are some great teachers out there who are dedicated to helping students -using a blend of teaching files, email and phone conversations, who can be very effective in helping you grow as a player!