Beyond the Fretboard: Choosing Your Battles on the Guitar, Part 2

by Chris Breen
Posted Jan 31, 2014 at 11:55am

In Part 1 of this column, we identified some options that can maximize the amount of quality information you receive when learning the guitar.

It's common knowledge that some websites and YouTube videos disseminate inaccurate tips and techniques. Avoiding potential bad habits can be accomplished in a few different ways.

To quickly review from the last article;

01. Always check multiple websites and YouTube videos to make sure the information being communicated is consistent.

02. Pick up a few books or DVDs that are professionally produced.

03. Join an internet forum to ask other musicians about confusing or challenging topics (Or ask some of your friends who play guitar).

04. Seek out private lessons at a reputable music store, a well-respected local musician in your area or online via video chats such as Skype.

The options above should put you on the right path toward proper technique and a solid understanding of music theory. For the moment, let's take guitar lessons out of the equation and see if we can identify some key points in helping a typical beginner or intermediate player who is taking a DIY approach. These players are mostly teaching themselves with the help of the aforementioned resources available.

With the wide availability of information, you'd think it would be a relatively simple process. But, as was mentioned in Part 1, the common (and often difficult) denominator is self-discipline. Here's a list of the most important things to keep in mind when teaching yourself.

CRAWL BEFORE YOU WALK (OR RUN)

We all know that what inspires and motivates some young people to play the guitar is seeing an accomplished musician rip up some impressive tapping lick, or sweep pick their way through a minor arpeggio. For many, those flashy techniques act as a gateway drug. However, even the best shredders had to learn open chords and basic alternate picking at some point. It might not seem exciting, but having a good handle on the fundamentals is never a bad idea.

BUILD A SOLID FOUNDATION IN RHYTHM

It can't be overstated how important rhythm is for every musician. In my experience, a surprising number of players are unable to successfully jam with other guitarists and drummers due to weaknesses in their rhythm. The most likely culprit is a lack of effective practice.

Practicing the guitar every day is definitely a good thing, but HOW are you practicing? Are you just sitting in your room perfecting chords and scales or playing fragments of your favorite songs?

The best way to improve your rhythm is to learn entire songs and play along with the actual recordings. They don't have to be challenging songs, but this type of practice will quickly reveal any gaps you might have in your rhythm. Other ways you can improve your timing are by playing to a metronome or jamming with a drummer.

INSTANT GRATIFICATION VS. DELAYED GRATIFICATION

The most important thing you need when learning an instrument is patience. Some concepts and techniques will come quickly, others will take a little longer. It's not uncommon for certain techniques to take many months (sometimes even longer) to fully master. That is why it's crucial to separate short-term and long-term goals.

Organizing a practice schedule can be beneficial in managing your ambitions. Learning power chords is an example of a short-term goal. Sweep picking is more long term. Does that mean you shouldn't start practicing sweep picking right away? Not necessarily. If that's a goal of yours, then start practicing basic arpeggio shapes and get used to the right-hand picking motion, which is often uncomfortable at first. Practice it very slowly every day, and constantly reinforce that muscle memory. Rome wasn't built in a day, ditto your guitar chops.

In many ways, this struggle between instant and delayed gratification is the biggest challenge you might face while learning an instrument. We live in an "instant gratification culture" to a certain degree. If noticeable results aren't produced immediately, then most people will abandon the whole endeavor. However, a successful goal that took months or years to accomplish will taste much sweeter.

SELF-DISCIPLINE

Coming full circle, self-discipline is your most vital asset in combating the occasional urge to give up on your ambitions. If you practice correctly and consistently, you will achieve whatever musical objectives you may have. Ironically, your largest obstacle might be a mental one. But this can be easily overcome by a healthy dose of patience and the right attitude.

As long as your goals are balanced and expectations are measured wisely, you will constantly improve. So, what are you waiting for?

Chris Breen is a New Jersey-based guitarist with 14 years of experience under his belt. He, along with his brother Jon (on drums) started the two-piece metal project known as SCARSIC in 2011. Due to a lack of members, Chris tracked guitars, bass and vocals for their self titled four-song demo (available on iTunes, Spotify and Rhapsody). They have recently been joined by bassist Bill Loucas and are writing new material. Chris also is part of an all-acoustic side project known as Eyes Turn Stone. Chris teaches guitar lessons as well (in person or via Skype). If you're interested in taking lessons with Chris, visit BreenMusicLessons.com for more info.