A Shred Odyssey: Part 1 (Self-Mastery)

The first in a series of lessons designed to teach newcomers and more experienced guitarists alike to take charge of their progress. This lesson focuses on the concept of self-mastery.

Ultimate Guitar
Hello, and welcome! Are you ready to begin a new chapter in your own Shred Odyssey? Are you frustrated by slow progress? Do you feel overwhelmed when faced with all of the different things that you want to master? If so, these lessons may be for you.

Why is it that one person can practice for 30 minutes a day and see more progress than his friend who practices for hours and hours every day? This is a question that I've been asked hundreds of times. The answer or answers to that question are dependent on the case. Most of the time, an individual's relative lack of progress has nothing to do with his or her hands. Instead, the problem comes from the mind. This is why I've decided to begin this series by exploring mental concepts. We'll start with the concept of self-mastery.

What is self-mastery? It is essentially the power to control one's actions, impulses, or emotions. In order to get the most out of our practicing, we need to be focused and in control of what we're doing for the duration of our practice sessions. This means making a conscious decision about what we're going to practice and for how long. During that time, there is no messing around or deviation from the scale, run, exercise, or whatever we've chosen to practice. This may seem obvious to some people, but plenty of people (including myself) have struggled with this at one time or another.

To start learning this skill, we'll begin with a five minute session. Since these sessions will be all about mental control, we'll use a very simple exercise: Downstrokes. Choose any note, whether an open string or a fretted note, and play it with only downstrokes at a slow and even speed. Do nothing but this for five minutes each day for a week. During that time focus intently on your technique. Work on removing any excessive motion from your picking. Work on making it more even and lessening extra noise. Work on improving your downstrokes in any way that you can think of. You could also work on upstrokes this way if you would like to, but for now, make your session all about one or the other.

After a week, test yourself. You'll likely notice that you're able to play successive downstrokes faster than you were able to before doing this. This is what progress feels like. Notice that you made this progress in five minutes a day. That's only thirty-five minutes a week! With that in mind, think of what you could achieve with 10, 15, 20 or 30 minutes of focused practice in a day!!!

When you apply this simple idea to your practice sessions (regardless of what you're working on), it will make your practice time much more efficient and beneficial. When you witness the progress that you've made, it will make you want to engage in focused practice even more, which will allow you to progress even more quickly! When you focus on improving something and make a dedicated effort to do so, you will see the reward quickly rather than waiting months or years to see significant progress when practicing a million things at once.

That's all for now, folks. In the next lesson, we'll discuss various ways to make improvements to our playing outside of our general practice sessions!

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Fantastic stuff. I could see a lot of people being skeptical about the 5 minutes of downstrokes a day, but I see your point. Mastering anything requires discipline, and that means doing a lot of things you'd rather not have to do. I'm giving this a try, and I'm definitely keeping an eye on the rest of this series
    Thank you for the comment! It really means a lot. The main reason that I used downstrokes for the example is that it's something that's accessible to players of any level. I'm starting this out simple for that reason. It helps beginners out, and even the most advanced guitar player needs to revisit basics every now and again! Thanks again
    A few minutes of downstrokes a day is something that I've started doing recently myself. 300bpm downstrokes for 3minutes for the first week or two to get acclimated and then move on from there. It *does* make a noticable difference but again, it takes discipline and a lot of dedication because it is slow grind to get to where you want to be.
    I have friends that are just starting out and need to know this kind of information. They will watch me play and get frustrated but now I know a way to help. Thanks. Some things you can't explain but someone else can.
    Thank you Robert! I'm glad that I was able to help you help your friends \m/ I could give private lessons or paid online lessons, but I decided to do this on UG so that anybody can learn more. That's the beauty of UG! \m/
    Good article. This is basically the staple for all other techniques as well. Do the same for all the other techniques you need work on and you'll be shredding in no time Add: Odyssey, you should write more lessons for different aspects of playing.
    Thanks for the feedback! I have a few more of these "mental concepts" lessons, and then I'll be moving into building good technique from the ground up. I'll probably have been writing this for years before I've shared everything that I want to share with the readers haha.
    Nice points there...I am going to attempt to sit through the 5 minutes and apply this to my problem areas. (Ironically, I am applying the same principle to sweep picking, tapping, pull-offs, and tremolo picking, haha).
    It's definitely something that works in any situation! Thank you for your comment! The feedback is very much appreciated!
    Thank you for this I look forward to the next few lessons of things to do. Don't be offended if your next lesson isn't part of my focus for the week I have been lacking focus for a while now without knowing how to get further. Back to basics for me then and I'm excited to start the shred odyssey! \m/
    I'm glad you like it There is no offense taken whatsoever, my friend! Only you can dictate what you need to work on. I'm just grateful that you took the time to read through this and to comment. Your support means a lot!
    I'm sorry that you didn't find this helpful. Please feel free to PM me with comments and suggestions! I'd like for everyone to be able to enjoy and benefit from these lessons, so any constructive criticism is welcome!
    Thanks for the lesson! Downstrokes happen to be something I struggle with, I found I could comfortably do them at 120 BPM for 5 minutes. That´s what I did for a week and now I can go for 3 minutes at 150 BPM (which feels a bit unpleasant, but not sloppy yet). Should I increase the speed at which I practice if I find it easy or stick with it for a whole week? When should I increase the practice speed and how much? Thanks alot!