Getting Better at Guitar - A Correct Way to Approach Big Goals

If you want to improve faster - read that article.

Ultimate Guitar
Nearly every guitarist wants to become better and better, all the time. Practicing is not an endeavour that you come up with once a week, but it is a discipline, which uncontrolled can be quite chaotic and lead to a heavy workload and lack of progress though. In this lesson I'll try to show you a very good way to get rid of problems with motivation through your practice. Let's use an example guitarist to describe this situation. His name will be Tim.

Hello Tim.

Tim is a young guitarist and fancies Joe Satriani. He desires to play like Joe, so he bought a guitar, impressive amount of books and DVD's and googles the internet through, finding hundreds of lessons and exercises, just to get better. Woah. He is getting pretty good, and he gets a lot of support from his friends and family, but anyway, he gets depressed quickly - after few weeks his motivation is over. Exercises are more and more complex, so is theory. There is chaos in his practice and learning songs doesn't go the way he thought it will. It's getting really messy, and he doesn't play that much as he used to, which eventually leads to giving up the guitar and staying on a "intermediate" level for ever. Oh, that sucks.

This scenario is really popular one, and majority of my students suffered from this kind of problems. And there is a really easy way to completely negate all the depressive emotions and get productive with guitar. It's all about big and small goals.

Tim has got a desire to play like Satriani does, which is a pretty big goal. To be exact, getting to "Satriani Level" can take up not months, but as all we know - many, many years, and its not only a matter of technique, but overall musicianship. So how can Tim do it? That's really simple. Time-consuming, but simple.

The big goal is "to play like Joe." Playing like Joe can be divided into few smaller* parts, as:
  • Getting the technique chops together
  • Learning a lot about music theory and harmony
  • Learning to sight-read music**¬†
  • Developing a very good relative pitch
  • Building a big repertoire¬†
  • Developing composing skills
  • Learning how to play piano**
* I know they are not so small, I know, read on and don't panic.
**Joe Satriani fancies standard music notation, as well playing keyboard instruments, but remember it's only an example of what you can do - your goals have to be entirely chosen by you.

Ok, lets cut again. These seven big goals can be divided into smaller ones, we'll pick an example of the first one.

"Getting the technique chops together" can be divided into:
  • Picking
  • Sweeping
  • Legato playing
  • Tapping
  • Vibrato
  • Bending
  • etc.
And the next one: "Developing relative pitch" can look like:
  • Knowing the sound of every interval, melodic and harmonic
  • Being able to sing scales and arpeggios
  • Recognizing chord progressions and chord qualities¬†
  • etc.
All the categories above can be quite intimidating, but after you divide them into smaller exercises, you will start seeing that all this skills and knowledge are more manageable when you deal with them that way. These categories can be named as "smaller goals", and the smaller goals can be divided into exercises. You will probably need a good teacher to help you with the exact and well-balanced material to practice. And if you will see progress in small exercises, one by one, its much more motivating, which was proven scientifically.

Let's show how this method can work on a example of legato technique.

First, you can start with simple moves - learning how to properly hammer on, and pull off. This can take few days to master. Then you move on to some flutter exercises, and play some trills. After that you will probably try some scalar exercises, and after that - you can add tapping with your right hand, to perform arpeggios. This has got to be done really slow and jumping straight ahead from practicing hammer-ons to two-handed tapping will result in a spectacular failure.

This method is based on hundreds of interviews with musicians, articles by John Petrucci, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai and my personal experience. And as we all know - every journey starts with a single step, so make every day a new step, don't hold back and don't practice what you already know - you don't want to run in circles. Give yourself few weeks of that kind of practice and enjoy the results, I promise you - it works really good. Remember that practicing for the sake of practicing is a straight way to get stuck, so use musically everything you learn. "Use it or lose it", as they say. I hope that everyone who had Tim's problem will quickly get rid of it. Be patient and clean, and you will be surprised how fast you will improve. Divide and conquer.

I really hope that this concept will help you, as it helped me.

Thank you for reading!

About the Author:
By Daniel Kaczmarczyk.

8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good article, I can relate to Tim's issue. Just practicing "what I already know" can be depressing enough when I should really be trying out newer things while still retaining the things I already know. I may as well just refer to this whenever I need some more motivation.
    Whenever you need some more motivation, refer to Eric Thomas
    Jacques Nel
    Good article. Good way of looking at becoming a better guitarist. I think practicing things you already know may not be the best way to grow as a musician, but when you do not have access to something new at the very moment you have time to practice, practicing the stuff you already know is better than rather not playing. I will definitely try this. Never took the time to actually make a practice schedule.
    It might also be worth it to document what you can and can't play, so that you can look back and see the progress you've made. Your memory can be so easily tainted by the mood you're in, that you might not be able to remember just how much progress you've made if you're feeling depressed. It can also help you figure out what you might want to learn next to build off the skills you already have. I'm going to try this and see how it goes. It might also add steer me into setting good goals.
    some may disagree.. in the early stages of playing guitar one needs positive experience .. i am brave enough to say that any tiny bit of taught material by almost anyone who can "show" u something is good enough , motivating you for the start .. later on one gets more into it.. by now one should have come to the conclusion "hey ! i really wanna play guitar".. Here you need a proper teacher .. who'll not only throw random fingerings at you but actually explains the theory behind it .. (not that i know my theory but ok )... so you get down some kind of "structure" in your head and on the fingerboard .. i think instead of getting a huge amount of info off the net or books or dvd's , one needs something like a "personal trainer" like in any gym ... who teaches YOU personally .. who'll do this "dividing" job for you and lead you through .. trying to learn on your own is disappointing most of the times cause we guitar players always want to be better than last week , or better than that "other guy" .. dunno why ... so having a personal trainer is much more motivating .. cause you get homework on wich you can improve till next session .. and hearing from someone else "hey ! cool bro you got that down" is much more of a payoff and reassuring than playing by yourself at home , i think.. Friend of mine asked me (and i think some people on the web will do the same) , why pay for a teacher when all the info is "out there" ? .. well , ill put it that way ... if i am willing to pay a couple of thousand bucks for an amp , guitar and other equipment , that extra cash on a teacher shouldnt really hurt me .. i think i lost the point oO
    I think that constant repetition is essential for developing tone, improving dexterity and building speed. There must be a big difference how you played an "Enter Sandman" cover the first time around when you were still a beginner and now. In addition, stick to one song or exercise before moving on to the next. One gigabyte or terabyte of guitar tabs and instructional lessons might be too much for your brain's attention span and ear's capacity and setting up too many goals can be a distraction. Sometimes, one or two pages of a guitar tab will suffice for one rehearsal as long as you practice things correctly and make the most out of each second. Let's say you were able to nail the "Back to the Shalla-bal" solo at 130 BPM last week so try increasing the tempo to 132 BPM today. Do this for hours, days, weeks or months until you've got the entire song memorized, play along with the record with minimum effort and able to reach or exceed concert speed. Remember, the reward will be sweeter once you can execute each measure correctly and you'll have enough time to practice other songs of your choice and move on to other areas like singing "I believe..."