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Simple technique how to learn guitar solos (and songs) faster

Here’s the question:

Would you like to learn your next guitar solo faster?

I can’t hear anything. Did you say yes?

Ok. Here’s how you can do it. But first let’s examine what is the most common approach that aspiring guitar players use when learning a new guitar solo.

The process may look something like this: (assume we are going to learn solo from Stairway to heaven)

  1. You listen to the whole solo for a few times to get a big picture.
  2. You download a tab (hopefully not) or start transcribing (learning the solo by ear and creating your own tab or notation).
  3. Once you are done transcribing, you start practicing the first lick and continue until the end.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

For a long time this was the way how I approached any new song or solo.  Always from start to the end. I mean, it is not the worst approach in the world, but there is a better way how you can do it.

Why this might not be the optimal approach?

To answer this question let’s consider how are guitar solos usually (not always) built. Most of the times the solo starts with a simple melody to catch listener’s ear. After few repetitions and variations to this original theme, the solo may slowly evolve until it reaches the climax. At this point the guitar player would throw his flashiest and fastest licks in, usually incorporating the most difficult techniques. After the climax the solo would slowly fade away.

Now, it is not important that not all the solos follow this pattern; the critical thing is that often the most difficult parts are not at the beginning but more likely in the middle or at the end. And in order to learn the solo in the most efficient way, you should …

… start with the most difficult licks first. I call this “DF (difficult first) technique”.

It sounds really obvious as I am writing this, but for a long time this was not obvious to me at all. I always started right at the beginning and slowly moved through the solo (but not always reaching the end :-) ). I haven’t even thought about trying some other approach when learning new stuff.

If you are anything like me, you probably also may find it obvious and yet you have never tried to learn things the other way around. Continue Reading →

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I can’t get myself to practice guitar

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I was upset. It was 8:48 AM and I was still lying in bed.

Last night plans were little bit different: I wanted to wake up early, get my guitar practice done and do a little songwriting.

But none of that was happening since I was not able to get up.

“Screw that,” I told to myself and I threw the blanket away.

I was furious.

“This is ridiculous,why can’t I get myself to practice in the morning? “

You would not want to meet me that morning. I was a wreck.

Even though I had all the drive and hunger for learning and improving myself, I was not following through. The person that I met in the mirror every morning was not the same motivated person that went to bed the day before.

I knew that motivation was not my problem; I was eager to learn, practice and compose, but somehow I was not able to realize this in the morning. At that time, I loved my bed more than I loved my guitar. I used to be an early riser but then life happened and I found myself getting up later and later. And the fact that I was sleeping a lot was not helping much – I didn’t feel energized at all.

The problem was that by the time I was ready to start playing and practicing, it was too late to do what I had intended because there was all this other stuff that must get done. So instead of having a focused practice session, I was just rushing through everything; suddenly there was so much I would like to do.

As I was thinking about all this, I was finally calming down a little bit. I took few deep breaths to feel more relaxed. “Being pissed about this situation won’t help so I rather get myself together. It is what it is, if I don’t like it, I am the one who can change it.”

So I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a pen and piece of paper and started to think about my current situation.

Why am I not able to wake up when the alarm goes off? Why do I procrastinate on the stuff that matters the most to me? Where did I lose my discipline and commitment?

Answering these questions made me realize that in order to change my current situation I don’t need to make some heroic changes. I don’t have to wake up at 3 AM to get where I want to get. I just need to do a couple of changes to my daily routine so the important stuff gets done as soon as possible.

From past experience I knew that massive change can be accomplished by applying few small changes and improving just few things. That’s how compound effect works.

As I was considering what changes do I need to make, I remembered a quote by Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg:

There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

So simple and easy.

Instead of motivating myself, which would be useless in my situation since I had all the motivation that I needed, I started to look for ways how could I improve my environment in a way that would support my actions. And it didn’t take long to find bunch of them.

As you probably know, most actions that we do on a day to day basis are habitual, that means we do them on auto-pilot. If some of these actions are not helpful and we want to change them, the easiest way is to manipulate our environment so the unwanted behaviors are impossible to do. Think, not having internet connection in a place where you need to focus.

On the contrary, the behaviors that we would like to do more should be very easy to do.

Again, B.J.Fogg:

Goals are harmful unless they guide you to make specific behaviors easier to do. Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do.

Based on B.J. Fogg’s advice here are four rules that I’ve incorporated to get my guitar practice under control again:

  • Have a dedicated place for your guitar practice session
  • Decide WHEN you are going to practice in advance
  • Decide WHAT you are going to practice in advance
  • Make EVERYTHING ready the day before

Continue Reading →

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