Your growth as a guitarist: vertical or horizontal?

As the years go by in the life of a player, there are two kinds of growth we can experience. Both are necessary for our development as musicians and guitarists. I call them Vertical Growth, and Horizontal Growth.

Ultimate Guitar
As the years go by in the life of a player, there are two kinds of growth we can experience. Both are necessary for our development as musicians and guitarists. I call them Vertical Growth, and Horizontal Growth. Here is a common scenario. A person comes in for lessons after already playing for awhile. Maybe they have played for a year, maybe a few years, maybe many years. I say, "play something for me, something you are comfortable with". Now a few different things may happen. They may play nicely, strumming and singing, maybe even throw in a few runs. So I see that for the level they are at, they play well. I then try to find out what they are here for. "What do you want to do, that you find you can't do." They may say "Well, I play lots of things, but I play them all the same way. I want to learn how to do chord melody solos, more interesting chords and strums, and also improve my fingerpicking so I can try some classical.". In other words, they want to move to a higher level as a player. They want to make VERTICAL GROWTH. They don't want to continue to learn new songs and play them the same way. That would be HORIZONTAL GROWTH. Everyone can always make Horizontal Growth, even on their own. You just learn more material, but you don't actually play any differently, musically or technically. Vertical progress as a player is the tough one. It requires what is usually considered "work", although I have always found it enjoyable, although challenging. Here is another even more common scenario. Someone comes in for lessons after playing for awhile, and when I ask them to play, they make a couple of excuses, and then they play really badly! Then I ask them to play something else, and they play that really badly! This is the person unable to create Vertical Growth. The reason they cannot raise their level as a player, is because they don't know how to practice to solve problems and achieve results! Also, because of this, there is no solid foundation of technique for Vertical Growth to be built upon. So there is only Horizontal Growth, more things played the same way, in this case, badly. Do you know how many young players I've seen who play only the beginning of a hundred songs, and play them badly? Lots. Or how many people playing classical who go from piece to piece, struggling with and mutilating pieces as they go? Lots. It is sad, and unnecessary. If you love the guitar, and are dedicated to your own development as a player, if you are dying to play the way the guitarists you admire play, you must know how to create Vertical Growth. This is done through an understanding of HOW TO PRACTICE. I am of course talking about REAL PRACTICE, not repetitive "run throughs" that only re-enforce the muscle tensions causing the problems you already have. From my experience as a player and as a teacher, it is extremely difficult to create Vertical Growth, once bad, or insufficient practice has locked in tension and bad habits. The good news is, it is not impossible. In fact, the word difficult is not the best word. I use it only because we have such a tendency to under estimate the intensity of concentration it takes to undo past damage. A better word is challenging. And if you want to keep getting better and better as a guitarist, you'd better learn to love challenges! As Mark Twain said "Life is one damn thing after another", and that is what playing and practicing are. One damn problem to deal with after another. But as we learn to actually deal with and solve those problems, what a sweet reward we earn. In fact, it is not the problems we face in our playing that are really the obstacle to our growth. It is the growing feeling of frustration and helplessness we experience as time continues to go by, and we see no fundamental improvement. We start to feel helpless. We may not admit this feeling to ourselves, we only notice that, for some reason, we are beginning to lose our motivation to practice. When we learn how to really practice, we start to feel powerful. Problems and challenges don't frighten us, they excite us. Because we know that we can look forward to those problems getting smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker, as we continue to apply the Principles of Correct Practice. It is important to realize that the quality of our Vertical Growth determines the quality of our Horizontal Growth. Any ability we have gained as players has been our Vertical Growth. If our Vertical Growth has been shaky, with weaknesses built in, (which was true of myself, and I think, most players), that shakiness will be in everything we play, so our Horizontal Growth doesn't do us much good, it just keeps us busy, feeling like we are making progress because we are learning a new song or piece. This is why so many teachers turn the page and assign new material to a student, even though the student can't play the material from this week. The teacher doesn't really know how to create Vertical Growth, and so is trying to keep a feeling of movement going. Most students, if they are paying attention, will catch on to this. If Vertical Growth is strong, than all new material learned will be strong, and will help you grow as a musician, as you absorb new music, and are able to play it well. This is the kind of Horizontal Growth we want. If you want to learn how to have this Vertical Growth as a regular experience for you, I invite you to visit and learn more about "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar." It is the approach I have found to work for myself, for my students, and anyone else who actually understands it, and uses it. Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas. All rights reserved.

84 comments sorted by best / new / date

    this is the kind of theory i like to read about,and very elegantly expressed
    zesty spikey
    wow, thnaks. i found this article really helpfull, and its made me think about the way i practise
    Sales made sense to me, maybe a couple of pesos is what i need to suck a little less. Pretty much everything I play sounds the same....somebody stop me before I suck again.
    I really liked that even tho its a sales thing. I still got the feeling that u really CARE! haha if i had money i might buy ur stuff.
    Wicked article! You really gave me concrete thoughts on this one. Do you have any practice examples or anything inparticular that I should???
    That was kinda inspiring, i was continuasly nodding my head and thinking to myself how true all this is!
    what a friggin dick man. he says "i can make you better" so then you go and pay to learn and hes laffing all the way to the bank.
    It was an alright article however it doesn't explain how we can improve. It simply states what we have to improve... and then it leads you to a web site where you can 'buy the tools you need to succeed!' so basically its a great advertisement.
    Article goes into depth about vertical growth and its benefits...doesn't really explain how to achieve it...
    Some pretty inspiring stuff in that article dude, well done. I totally understand the theory of vertical growth stuff, but would not be able to express it as well as you just did. I'll be sure to check out the site
    thanks loads, that has helped so much, ive had 2 teachers one vertical and one horizontal, i hated the vertical but now i see why he made me perfect a piece completely so nothing was wrong, im really gonna try to be more vertical thanks again
    hmm... having been self taught i didnt find this immensely useful, but i sure see everyone else has, so nice one dude =] ive learnt myself first by learning simple songs.. then harder songs.. then much more technical songs. After noticng the repeating patterns and cliches that occur in an absolute majority of songs ive managed to start composing.. but im not dissing, nice article indeed man
    what if you learn how to play lots of different styles (i.e. classical, metal, punk, soft rock, hard rock,etc.), and learn to play them well by a teachers standard. what kind of growth is that. i know that playin well is in the ears of the listener, but to all my different teachers, like in and out of school, they say i do them all well. Which is it?
    nice article! after reading it, ive determined that i am growing BOTH horizontally and gave me a new inisght so i could focus first on improving vertically...
    This is what everyone should read when they feel like they are getting nowhere with the guitar.... find a couple of extra hours in your day and dedicate it to making your self a better musician
    I think there are two different type of persons: who plays the guitar, and who loves and feels it, who lives for the guitar. The second type will grow vertically. That's the point, i guess.
    so retarded you can learn a new song or piece and some concept within it can stick out and bite you in the leg, sending your playing leaps and bounds ahead. too bad i thought this was going to have to do with horizontal and vertical movement along the fretboard
    I don't know about you guys, but I was doing horizontal growth the whole time I've been playing and I've only improved in technical playing. All I did was play songs by people I knew like COB or Metallica and I gradually learned to utilize what I played into my own playing style. I guess its just how you look at practicing,lol. Right now I'm trying to improve my speed on the fretboard and the cleanliness of my playing.
    this is great... i've been teaching myself for about 8 months now and this is like the light at the end of the tunnel.
    i would apriciate to have the book, which can be found after folowing given link. But there is no way to buy it and download it is also difficult - enough to stop me from trying download it maybe its imposilbe
    Gar! I do not wish to be rude, but I was a bit disappointed in this article. I was hoping for some good advice on correct guitar practice, but what I seem to have received is an advertisement for a book being sold at I would request that any future lesson you write contain pertinent content. You don't have to spoil the book being sold, but some kind of helpful advice would be highly appreciated by me, and other guitar players, I'm sure!
    you didnt give any help on how to change vertical/horizontal but it was good coz like paquiquinho said you can see where you stand. and it gave me an idea, if i write down everything im learning "vertically" and kind of check things off, or do a graph thingy so i can see how much horizontal/vertical im doing... or i could just practice more instead and yngwie, he's about as tall as eddie van halen
    thanx man. helped me realiz dt horizontal growthz nothin special lol :d
    Shaggadellicfuz wrote: So how tall is Yngwie?
    I think he's 18 feet tall and weighs something like 800 pounds... xD Even not being a lesson this is helpfull as you can see where you stand and improve from there...
    What about if u can play the start or parts of hundred songs and play them good??
    WOW this was excellent it has inspired to keep practising and practising!!! Very well put...excellent
    I can relate to so much said in this article. Thinking about getting lessons now so some other wise man might give me some tips.
    it sucked! lol j/k very nice job, fairly easy to understand, and has good advice, like a childrens story with a lesson involved.