I’ve been talking off and on with the guys at RedPhish here in Rocky Mount and a couple of the employees at the shop in Wilson, and have been picking their brains (whether they like it or not) about some of the simplest ways that guitar players (young and old can improve their playing. Being a guitar instructor, I’ll resist the temptation to shamelessly promote myself by saying “take more lessons” as that’s not really even the answer.
In fact, these ideas aren’t anything technical in nature; some musical, some just common sense, and a couple of them even “what? really?!” ideas. Nevertheless, they’re all excellent ways to ensure that you’re continually learning the instrument or aspiring toward excellence in various ways.
Idea #1-Invest in a Guitar Stand and Put It Where You Spend Your Leisure Time
This is primitive and dirt cheap… and incredibly effective. We’ve all heard the saying “out of site, out of mind” and the principle applies to children as well as adults. In fact, it could be argued that as adults, we’re more likely to forget to practice at the end of a long day unless we’re reminded by someone else than a child who has become obsessive in his learning. As a kid, I’d daydream at school about getting home to practice, and as such, needed no reminding. As adults, we rarely have anyone hanging over our heads to offer a reminder to put in a few minutes of practice, unless you’re paying your instructor a daily reminder fee. But I suspect that’s an idea that won’t take off.
Put it in plain sight-next to your recliner, hung up on the wall, next to the computer desk while you’re wasting time on Facebook (guilty as charged), out in the garage, or wherever. For younger students, if you’re at home and your parents have a problem with your guitar taking up floor space, simply say:
“But mom, in order to optimally leverage the financial investment you’re making in my music education, it’s vital for me to frequently impress on my conscious and subconscious mind the physical presence of the guitar. This recurring visual reminder will inadvertently result in increased frequency of practice!” Seriously, try it. Message me the results. (Please!)
Idea #2: Practice Dexterity Exercises and Scales During Leisure Time
This is somewhat of an extension of the previous tip, but it’s the practical version of it. If the above tip results in you picking up the guitar and pulling out your lesson from the previous week and all that, then that’s awesome. Keep it up.
But if you’re wiped out from a long workday and just want to zone out in front of a listless stream of YouTube videos or a riveting marathon of Jersey Shore episodes (lol), multitask a bit, and play the routine stuff while you absorb what you’re viewing. We all know the brain is capable of turning on autopilot, and there are some things in the world of guitar that are 100% muscular development once this autopilot is activated.
Scales and dexterity can be developed while your brain is shut off. I have no exact figures, but I know of at least a half dozen guitar players who can play the theme songs of just about any TV show you can mention. It’s a great way to get in some routine practice.
A word of warning though, if you’re trying to develop speed in your scale runs, apply focused attention and a metronome. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing some bad habits.
Idea #3: Record Your Practice Sessions
This is the most effective, obvious, and tragically neglected nuggets of musical development wisdom of our tech ridden age. We have all this technology, and we’re experts at wasting on the most superfluous distractions. Every iPhone, Android, and smart phone in existence has at very least, some kind primitive recording device that takes all of one button to activate, and the amount of storage space mp3 formatting occupies is next to nothing.
Unless you’re planning on doing home recording, there’s no need to go waste a bunch of $$$ on microphones, audio interfaces, and cabling (We do not call them wires in the music world, FYI. And mic “cords” and guitar “cords” are acknowledged, but often with a grimace. You play a “chord”. You don’t plug it into anything… ergo, cabling, is most unambiguous…hooray English language!).
However, if you’ve got the itch to spend some cash on some music gadgets, we’ve witness a deluge of fantastic simple recording devices that produce incredibly good quality recordings, are relatively easy to operate, aren’t unreasonably prone to breakage, and can store enormous amounts of (digitized) content. There may be reviews in the future, but above are some affiliate links.
In the interest of disclosure, should you choose to click through and purchase, I must thank you. Amazon awards a commission for affiliated sales.
Idea #4: Learn To Play At Least One New “Thing” Per Day
This is as fundamental as it gets, especially if you’ve managed to make it to this site, the assumption being you came here to learn something about the guitar. Some days, you’ll not be very interested in playing guitar. If you’re studying the instrument in a formal education setting, this doesn’t as much apply to you, since it’s really in your financial best interest to stick it out and play even if you don’t feel like it.
As for the rest of us, it’s a good idea even on the days you’re not brimming with motivation to spend at least 5-10 minutes, if not working on your current week’s assignment, then definitely something else.
It can be a new chord shape or progression, a new scale, a new lick, or a new strumming pattern. It doesn’t take a lot to stick it out for five or ten minutes, and by the end of one year, you’ll have an enormous sum of guitar related information stored up in your brain.
Idea #5: Find Another Person to “Jam” With (regularly is preferred)
While many guitar players are learning for the sake of learning and keeping their mind sharp, many are learning in hopes of finding and playing with a band of some type or other. Others are content just to play solo. While playing without other musicians is absolutely, 100% fine, and often understandable (music isdeeply personal, after all), one of the best things you can do is find another musician to just chord, strum, or pick alongside.
Some say “find someone better than yourself to play with!” I simply say “find someone to play with!”. Yes, from infancy, we’re wired to learn via observation. Nevertheless, you can learn a lot just playing alongside someone of equal skill to yourself because of what happens when two like-minded people get together and just “jam” (One of those overused musical terms that simply means “play music without the expectation or pressure of necessarily creating anything to be performed or recorded”. Otherwise, just playing music for the sake of music.)
If, however, you have no interest whatever in playing in front of another person other than your husband, wife, kids, dog, or mirror, then that is also just fine. These days, technology steps in where people once stood, and options are available to give you a similar experience. In the absence of a band, guitarists are taking to “jam tracks” more and more. Why? Because it used to be common knowledge that you get better, faster by playing with other musicians. Sometimes, that’s just not feasible. Jam tracks have made the band setting accessible 24/7 and are available in every genre since we were beating on drums and chanting. More on jam tracks at a later date.