How to Improve Your Guitar Playing
How do you improve your guitar playing? That’s a great question! In fact, I hear this question a lot from students and their parents. In this blog post, I’ll show you how improving your guitar playing is a lot like an avocado seed, and I’ll also provide five practical tips for improving your guitar playing.
Just Because You Don’t See The Improvement, Doesn’t Mean Your Guitar Playing Isn’t Improving
Hi Mary, and thank you for this great question!
Before I dive into specific guitar techniques, I’d like to address the process of learning and growth because I suspect anyone investing half an hour a day in practicing the guitar is making progress. In most cases, the challenge is recognizing, measuring, and honoring that growth. Just because you may not see the results doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.
Improving Your Guitar Playing is Like the Avocado Seed
I like to use the metaphor of the avocado tree. About six months ago, my wife planted an avocado in our apartment, and she was excited to see it grow. A month went by, no sprout. A second month went by, no sprout. She started to lose patience. She thought, “Surely, the avocado seed will sprout next month.” The third month passed, no sprout.
This pattern continued until she suspected the seed was dead. Just when she had given up on the avocado and was ready to toss it out, the seed sprouted.
Then, something magical happened. The seed grew a few inches the first week. Then it grew several inches the following week. Then we went to bed one evening, and the avocado grew more than six inches in a single night! Today, the seed is growing into a strong tree.
Growth and Development Happen Under the Surface
Learning to play the guitar is a lot like the avocado seed. Growth happens under the surface. Just as the avocado tree was building roots, your brain is processing neural networks. For months or even years, it may feel as if nothing happens, then one day you notice everything is more accessible. Your melodies sing, your chords chime, and your rhythm is tight. The music you make is unique, and the sound is all your own. Just like the avocado tree, you are thriving.
Record the Process to Improve Your Guitar Playing
Therefore, the real challenge just might be capturing and recording your growth. For that, I highly recommend creating weekly videos. I’ve been playing the guitar for about 15-years. Still, most of my growth happened over the last year-and-a-half when I enrolled into Berklee College of Music’s online professional guitar program and focused on professional projects like recording and writing an album with Portland’s top musicians.
I account that growth to five essential processes:
- I practice three hours per day, six days per week without fail.
- I use the Pomodoro Technique practicing in 25-minute chunks with five minutes of rest in between practice sessions.
- I log every practice session in a spreadsheet I call “the dailies.” (As of right now, I practice for 1,587 hours since January 1, 2020. I know that because I log every single practice in my spreadsheet.)
- I make a video recording every week.
- Berklee College of Music holds me accountable for delivering my assignment each week on time with a video recording.
Leverage My Learning Process to Improve Your Guitar Playing
Now, I understand what you’re thinking, “I don’t want to practice for three hours a day or write and record an album. For God’s sake, I want to improve my guitar playing.” However, you can leverage the processes I developed over the last year-and-a-half to improve your guitar playing.
You can start with the Pomodoro Technique, which involves timing your practice sessions with a kitchen timer or app. If you want to take things to the next level, you could challenge yourself to record a video performance each week and post it on social media or share it with your family and friends.
Video performances work for two reasons: First, it focuses the mind with a tangible goal. Second, it creates accountability. Third, it simulates a musical performance, which is a crucial factor in musical growth.
Specific Techniques to Improve Your Guitar Playing
Of course, there are always specific techniques you can work on to optimize your practice regimens. I recommend every practice session include the following elements:
1. Tune-Up & Warm-Up Exercises
5. Ear Training
On a side note, this is where the Pomodoro Technique shines. You could break each of these elements into five-minute practice sessions. Then, take a one or two-minute break in between. For example, you start with tune-up and warm-up exercises for five minutes. Take a one or two-minute break. Then, move on to scales for five minutes. You could even split your practice sessions up into two-day splits doubling the time for each section. In this case, you practice scales, chords, and songs for 10 minutes each. The next day, you work on ear training, jamming, and songwriting for ten minutes each. Alternating practice sessions every other day.
The sky is the limit. Just use your imagination.
Avoid These Two Mistakes to Improve Your Guitar Playing
The two biggest I see students make with their guitar practice regimen is:
- They have NO plan.
- They ONLY learn riffs.
In Sum, Here’s How to Improve Your Guitar Playing
There you have it! If you do not see results in your guitar playing, you may need to:
- Recognize, measure, and honor the growth happening “under the surface” like the avocado plant.
- Record the learning process through hours of practice logged and weekly video performances.
- Optimize your practice routines using the Pomodoro Technique, focusing on warm-up exercises, scales, chords, songs, ear training, and jamming.
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