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Practicing To Get Farther Faster

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years. Yet, when I look back over time, I have probably wasted 15 years of that time. I cannot count the endless hours of exercises and picking drills that I played trying to be the next Yngwie or Nuno. In the last 5 years of playing my skills have skyrocketed! How did that happen? Am I putting in more time? Actually, no, I am putting in LESS time. Are there really “secrets” to becoming a modern day guitar god? There are certainly techniques that will improve your ability, but they are not really secrets. In this “Information Highway Generation” you can learn anything you want at any time. So, what made the difference in my playing?

First of all, throw away your exercise books. Yes. Do it. Let me tell you why. Exercises are GREAT for the coordination between left and right hands. They are great for getting your picking motions down. Yet, when you look at exercise books, how many of the exercises do not make musical sense? They do not make musical sense, yet we need to practice them for hours and this practice actually reinforces this non-musicality in our overall playing! I suggest that you practice musical phrases and isolate your problem areas. For instance, in 3 notes per string scales, there are exercises in books that use each finger, chromatically, across or up the fretboard. Instead of using the chromatic version, isolate the problems which probably include going from string to string, the finger stretches, and the actual scale patterns themselves. Once you isolate the problems and work through them, not only are you technically better but you also are more musically and harmonically advanced, due to spending more time than others on specific musical statements that you will use when playing.

Next, never forget why you are playing the guitar. What was your goal? Was it to become the next Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen? Was it to learn tunes that you wanted to know? I find it very hard to believe that someone wanted to get a guitar so they could noodle endlessly in their room! We all start out with the thought of either CREATING music, or RE-CREATING it. When did we become such tech-freaks that we would spend hours in our rooms wood-shedding and not creating? My students get lessons that include scale patterns and sequences, chord progressions and theory. This lesson can be worked through in 30 minutes a day. They will see improvement with that simple period of dedicated time daily. Yet, my expectation is that they play two or three hours a day to become all that they can be. Why? How? They put in the time through APPLICATION of their new skills. They are required to record their chord progressions and play over the top of them. They are required to either learn tunes or write them. Learning how to play the guitar is NOT fun. PLAYING the guitar is. Spend more time PLAYING after very good isolated practicing. Learn a tune or write one!! I actually spend my warm up and “practice” time learning something that I do not know. Then, I write and record for the remaining time that I have set aside to become a guitar guru!

Finally, remove the words “self taught by ear” from your mind. Nowadays, you do not have to “reverse the needle” or “rewind the tape” a hundred times to learn a song. There are endless guitar sites online that give “free” tab to anyone that clicks in. Most of it is not correct, and that is not a bad thing. It forces you to listen and make changes, just like our older generation guitar heroes used to do it. This helps you to create your own style, but it also allows you to pick up the licks FASTER than it did even 15 years ago. There are software programs that let you play right along with the CD. Some programs can isolate just the guitar parts or slow down passages for you. This is what guitar teachers did for people and now you can do it yourself faster and cheaper. Why do you need a teacher then? In this new information millennium, a good teacher will give you the musical tools that will help you to sort through the immense and intimidating information out there, and will keep you on a timeline or pace. I do not teach songs anymore in my lessons (usually) because of all of the information in other venues that is free. It is a waste of my students’ money! What I CAN do for them, though, is give them the tools that they need to create or re-create. I can give them their scales and hold them accountable. I can check their progress with certain tough technique related lines. I can teach them theory that will help them with the foundational building blocks and help them to apply it correctly so that all the information does not go over their head, unapplied. I can give them constructive feedback on their songs and ideas. I can recommend great reading material and introduce them to new and exciting artists and ideas. Getting a great teacher is tough, but again, it is the “secret” that many of the best guitarists keep to themselves.

See ya next time!!


Daniel Faustmann is the owner of Guitar for Life Studio (www.guitarforlifestudio.com) in beautiful downtown Waukesha, Wisconsin.  He studied theory under Troy Stetina at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.  He has played in countless rock and metal bands locally, and currently is working on his new project, “Still”, that will have their debut released in early 2010.  If you are interested in lessons, or just want to talk guitar, he is addicted to your progress.  Send an email to guitar4lifestudio@yahoo.com or check out the webpage.

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