10 Secrets or 10 Principles?
A few years ago I decided to sit down and write out the answer to this question: “What would I have liked someone to tell me when I first started learning guitar?” I really took my time with this and searched inside myself for the best answer to this question. After pondering and writing for days I came up with many ideas. I realized that for it to be useful to my students I would need to make it as concise and practical as possible. Finally I distilled it into these 10 principles.
Well, really it turned into 11 🙂
I would've called it “The 10 Principles…” but I thought that sounded a little too stuffy or scholastic. I like things to have a little more pizzazz so I titled it the “10 Secrets to Playing Awesome Guitar With Ease”.
Something New And Something Old
Some of these 10 secrets might seem like new information. Many will seem like common sense. None of them are exotic secrets that you've never heard before. I’ve found that some of the most useful information is stuff we already know but kind of forgot.
I encourage you to read through these and ponder them. Don’t take any of this at face value. Think about it and apply it in your own musical adventure. Some of these ideas will resonate with you right away and inspire you. Others not so much. Not to worry. Take what works for you now and run with it.
You may find that some of the ones that didn't make sense at first start to make more sense and become more useful over time. For example when I was in college it was very difficult for me to grasp the concept of Listen First. We spent so much time at the University analyzing, dissecting and thinking about music. It wasn't until several years later that I could let go of the analysing and play inspired beautiful music. Then I realized how important it is to really listen. There's a season for everything.
Beginning Of A New Year
By the way I saved this post for the end of the year and the beginning of a new year on purpose. I'm hoping you'll find some inspiration to start off the year. If even one of these ideas resonate with you and helps you to play beautiful inspired music I will feel successful.
Secret #1 – Listen First
Learn with your ears, not your eyes or intellect. Listen to and internalize the music you want to play. Don’t get stuck on written chord charts. Learn to recognize patterns. Try to hear in your mind what you want to play. This is how real musicians play songs and improvise. It’s the key to your success.
Secret #2 – Slow, Deep Learning Is Best
The secret to learning to play guitar with confidence and ease is to learn each pattern and each song DEEPLY. It’s not enough to play through the pattern. It’s not enough to remember a bit of music theory. To really play guitar the fundamental elements must go deep into your brain. They must become “second nature”.
Secret #3 – Learn In The Correct Order
There really is a correct 1st thing, 2nd thing, and even a 3rd thing to learn. Just like skipping rungs on a ladder, jumbling up the learning order causes a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering. Habits you develop early on can help you or hold you back. Bad habits are nearly impossible to break. Most guitar students, and even some guitar teachers, haven’t a clue. You don’t have to be one of them.
Secret #4 – Do Not Study Music Theory First
Music theory teaches you to think about playing music; I want you to play naturally – without thinking. Learn by doing first, then add some understanding at the right time and in a practical way so you can use it. Your playing will improve. You’ll succeed. You’ll learn to play with confidence and ease.
Secret #5 – Practice Regularly And Effectively
Make practice a regular and enjoyable part of your life. You must practice the RIGHT way to get results. Find out how to get yourself to practice and study the best way to get the most out of your practice time. Practicing effectively is part understanding and part habit. Yes, I actually mean learn to practice. Get this and it will change your life. It did mine.
Secret #6 – Practice Chord Patterns, Not Individual Chords
Don’t spend your valuable practice time working on single, individual chords. Guitar players recognize and use chord patterns. When you play chord patterns you will also practice moving from one chord to another smoothly and in time. It’s much faster to learn guitar this way. Memorize and practice 6 commonly used chord patterns. You’ll be able to play hundreds songs quickly and easily.
Secret #7 – Go Slow To Go Fast
Every time you play your guitar your mind is recording the movements. Go slow at first and play properly. Then pick up speed little by little. Many people make the mistake of playing as fast as they can. This creates tension. It reinforces mistakes. It creates bad habits that take more time to undo. What seems fast at first ends up making for slow progress.You don’t have to make this mistake. Learn right from the beginning. Be patient. Start slow. Do it right.
Secret #8 – Relax (Really)
To play with ease and really enjoy playing guitar you must learn to relax. Relax your body. Stay loose. Relax your hands. Use just enough effort to play the notes or chords…and NO MORE. Relax your shoulders. When you feel tension creeping in stop, and shake out your hands, or raise and release your shoulders. Let go of the tension and start again. Tension becomes a habit that we don’t notice after a while. Break the habit.
Most importantly relax your mind. Try to accept mistakes without judging yourself and keep practicing to do better. Take breaks after practicing for set periods. Then come back at it with a fresh attitude, but keep coming back. Have fun. Laugh at yourself. Let the music flow through you. Don’t try to squeeze it out.
Secret #9 – Say “No” To Excuses
Everyone has mind chatter that goes something like this: “my fingers are too small”, “my fingers are too big”, “I’m too old”, “I’m not talented”, “I don’t have time”, etc. etc. etc. I’ve heard them all…in my own HEAD 🙂 I’ve truthfully never met anyone who could not learn to play guitar with good guidance, patience and persistence. The key is to acknowledge the thoughts (excuses) and then move on and take action. Say ”thank you for sharing”, then go practice some more.
Secret #10 – Choose An Instructor Or Online Course Carefully
Having expert guidance can save a lot of time and frustration. I’ve been hiring music instructors for 33 years. My success has depended on hiring good ones. How do you choose a good instructor? There are many things I look for, but here are the most important: I look for someone with a teaching temperament and a sincere desire to help others. They must be proficient on their instrument and have teaching skills. Finally I want someone with training in a good systematic method or who has developed their own.
A good guitar player is not necessarily a good teacher. Someone who can teach but doesn’t play well cannot really help you either. You need both… someone who knows the road (plays well) AND has the temperament and skill to teach. Also, they should have a roadmap…a step-by-step system. A real teaching method is like a ladder – one rung should lead to the next. A good system will prepare you for the more difficult techniques before they come up. There’s no “winging” it. Would you trust someone without a map to lead you through the himalayas, either on paper or in their head? I hope not.
Bonus (but not very “secret”)
Secret #11- Persistence Wins Every Time
Don’t give up. If you want to play guitar you can… just don’t give up. Persistence wins every time. I’ve seen it over and over. It’s not the fastest learners or the most talented. It’s not the ones with the best instruments or even the best teachers. In the end it’s the ones, for whatever reason, that just keep at it until they get it. Of course you want to do your best to get everything working for you that you can do something about. Get a good teacher. Enroll in a high quality online course. Make a practice schedule. If you don’t get it at first, try again. If you “fall off the horse”, get back on. Just one more time, then one more, and then one more.
It all comes down to really just three things… get a good teacher or online course, start practicing, don’t stop. I know you’ve got this, but I’ll say it just one more time. Don’t, under any circumstances, give up!
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