I had to take a break from guitar practice to jot down a few notes. I was still in the thinking mode, having not entered the playing guitar mode. All of a sudden it hit me, who better to learn which online guitar lessons are the best ones from, than someone still learning to play the guitar? I’m an active intermediate guitar player, and you know what? The more I learn the more I realize there is lots more to learn.

Not every practice session is total fun. In fact yesterday I was struggling with excessive string squeal. Dang it. I try to make it fun. One of my tactics is to play the part I want to learn over and over, day after day, until it becomes innate. It is a proven learning strategy that repetition creates new neural pathways in the brain to perform said function. The more you do it, the better it becomes ingrained.

I’m a mid level guitar player working my ass off trying to advance. I have to really study every lesson to decide if it’s any good. Because I am a good practicer, I can usually find something good in almost any lesson. The most important issue and hardest one to correct is the problem of developing bad habits. I’m very lucky, My first teacher, in the ’60’s, made sure I developed no bad habits, and drilled me on how to practice the guitar, and make it fun.

My second guitar teacher was one of the best electric guitar players I have ever heard play. He had perfect technique, he was not a great teacher though. At least for most people. Because I am a good learner and work hard to learn new stuff, he was helpful and in many ways instrumental in me learning to play the way I do. He also was a student a Berklee Music school, so his knowledge and technique were flawless. But easier and more gratifying ways to learn guitar were available for someone like me at that time. A 52 year old guy dying for the fastest guitar lessons for beginners course to learn to play Hendrix in a few years.

Guitar Teacher-Richard

Guitar Teacher-Richard

Richard knew how to play Hendrix. Richard spent more time than anyone I knew of practicing the guitar as a kid. It’s very obvious how much he must have practiced when he was young. I had a lot of catchup work to do, and will never play like Richard. But I know he played his guitar almost 24/7, except for eating and sleeping, probably like Hendrix and Buddy Guy, and my other favorite guitar players.

Here is what I know from my guitar education regarding guitar lessons and guitar practice. You gotta have good guitar lessons in the beginning. Guitar for beginners, for any age group has to be taught with certain ideas in mind. Because lots of people teach guitar, there are many variations on how to teach. But, if you are not taught the correct habits regarding technique and how to practice, it won’t be fun or productive. It’s really important to make guitar lessons for kids fun, not a chore. Adults generally choose to play guitar electivey. An adults motivation is [usually] different from a kids.

If you can find the right teacher just down the street, and don’t mind paying a lot for guitar lessons, than go for it. What I notice is the amount of qualified private guitar tutors is very low compared to the amount of guitar students. The chances of a qualified teacher being down the street are not good. Did I mention that you can buy online guitar lessons? Some people don’t know that yet. Not only are video guitar lessons or DVD guitar lessons other examples of using technology to the highest degree, they are really inexpensive and you can learn at home.

First I choose songs I love and want to play, unfortunately I don’t have the common sense to pick easy songs. Why do we Repeat Musical Phrases? To build muscle memory. Which is a mental record of repeated movements that enable us to move without thinking. When Hendrix sings “Castles Made of Sand” while playing all the gorgeous chordal magic on his guitar, he’s not thinking much about his guitar playing. It’s all instinct. Probably why it sounds so great.

Muscles will Remember Mistakes just like it remembers the correct techniques. The process of building muscle memory is simple: The fingers move, and the mind records the movement. It records with no judgment, like a security camera filming the NY streets in the TV show 24 Hours. So when you perform mistakes, your muscle memory remembers those movements just as it records correct movements. When you mess up, you might think, “dang it”, but your muscle memory is recording the incorrect movement all the same.

Avoid Mistakes by Simplifying and Slowing Down. When I practice “Castles Made of Sand,” I specifically do not try long musical phrases, because it did not sound like what I wanted to play, and I could have dug myself into a hole because my muscle memory would have remembered all those mistakes. What I started to do was simplify the music by just choosing a couple notes, phrases or measures to work on at a time. Once I had them memorized, I could work that area endlessly until I was at least capable of making the correct sounds. Also, I slowed down enough to make correct playing fun and easier.

This is actually really hard to do. It’s not just impatience, it’s that people don’t realize how slow slow is. Slow is the correct tempo you need to play without mistakes. For beginner guitarists learning a lick, this could mean one note every three or five seconds. The slower you go, the faster you’ll get there.

Simplifying Also Means Isolating the Skill You’re Learning. Say you’re learning to strum a new song that has a new strum pattern and new chords. Your job is to build muscle memory both with your left hand (fretting the new chords) and your right arm (strumming the new pattern). The problem is, until you build muscle memory, you have to exert all your focus on the skill you’re learning, making sure you don’t make mistakes. So how do you focus on fretting those new chord shapes while making sure you strum correctly?

You can’t. So instead, practice the two skills separately. Fret the new chords and just strum once to make sure they sound good. Repeat. Then practice the strum pattern while fretting just one chord. Repeat. Once you have both skills in your muscle memory, you can practice them together.

Repeat Until You’ve Really Got It. It takes as many as 80 correct repetitions of a musical phrase—with no mistakes—to build primary muscle memory. If you make a mistake, simplify or slow down, and then start counting from one again. Whether it takes 20 or 80 depends on your natural aptitude. Stevie Ray Vaughan is probably one of those 1-reps guys. I am closer to being in the unlimited reps. club.

Learning strum/rhythm Patterns is different. I’ve found that you don’t have to be quite so militant about avoiding mistakes when you’re learning new rhythms, like a new pattern. While simplifying and slowing down is helpful, learning rhythms also involves the mysterious process of “getting into the pocket.” It demands that you loosen up, stop worrying about sounding bad, and try to feel the music. So don’t worry as much about mistakes. Once you get the strum pattern down, you’ll have plenty of time to obliterate the mistakes from your muscle memory as you strum that pattern over and over and over and over.

GuitarPlayersCenter.com for Online Guitar Lessons.

5 Responses to Guitar Practice and Technique Important Tips

  1. Yup. practice makes perfect–but it takes a lot of it!

  2. Dorothy Weinstein

    Muscle memory is a fascinating issue. Athletes (and non-athletes, too) often have to retrain muscles after years of incorrect practices…..same with any accomplishment between mind and body. It isn’t easy to change those neural pathways, so set in their ways. Patience, slow and steady! Nice blog, Danny!

    • I agree, muscle memory plays an big part in anything remembered. Because this is a guitar blog. Muscle memory really applies. and practice is the end all.

  3. nice article Danny, practice is everything.. I like the stuff about building neural pathways in the brain.

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