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Simple technique that can radically change the way you practice (and play) guitar

guitar practice

We live in an era when almost all information we need is only few clicks


If you want to learn any song or any guitar technique or any scale, you can. And you can do it at any moment you like.

It doesn’t matter if you want to learn how to swim or how to solve a Rubik’s cube, you can find a guide for that in an instant. And usually for free.

But the question is: Is it making us better guitar players?

When I started with guitar playing, there was no internet. My only resources were books and recordings. And it was freaking hard to figure the stuff out only by myself. Photos in those books were not really helpful. And it was also difficult for me to find a decent guitar teacher because you just couldn’t google it.

But now it is different, everything is accessible. Video lessons for every song and every guitar technique are waiting just for you.

The problem is that if you are not careful with your information intake, you can easily end up with a massive information overload that usually ends up in frustration. There is always more stuff out there than you are able to consume. You start with one lesson on bending and end up with fifteen different lessons and hundreds of exercises. It is impossible to handle so much stuff.

Things have changed radically and now we have access to everything at anytime. In spite of this fact, I get a lot of emails from guitar players who just don’t know what should they practice, in what order and when. They have all the information available, but they just don’t know how to use it. They are not looking for another information, they are looking for a way how to use all the information available to their advantage.

And as you can probably think there are many ways how to do that. And because I don’t want to confuse you anymore, I just want to introduce you to one simple and effective technique that I use with myself and my students.

Introducing “Start with sound technique”

The idea behind this technique is very simple:

When you cannot decide which scales, exercises, arpeggios are important for you to practice, always start with the real music.

What do I mean by that?

Well, always start with good old songs. I strongly believe that all your musical knowledge should have its roots in real music. No finger gym and finger independence exercises. Sound has to be always supreme. If you don’t know how to use what you practice in a real world situation, it is just useless data.

Let the music that you love guide you to pick what you need to practice. Don’t just buy some random guitar book with the intention to practice exercises on the first page. That is not a good method if you want to become a great musician.

First step that you need to do is find pieces of real songs that excite you whether it is a lick, chord progression, technique, song structure, melody etc. Don’t just learn something because somebody told you, you should learn that. As I said before: What works for others, doesn’t have to work for you.

Always start with something that you like to listen to or otherwise you can end up with a bunch of useless scales, exercises and arpeggios that you will never use.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to always start with real world examples. Exercises and techniques come always second. As a musician you have to develop a vivid aural imagination so you can create your own music, your own solos, licks, and improvisations. There are not many things that are so important for musician as having good ears. But it is not possible to develop good ears if all you practice are some random exercises and scale fingerings. You need to go much deeper.

Transcribe solos, learn by ear, sing (even if badly as I do) . . . Practice slowly so your ears can catch up on your fingers. The better your ears will get, the better musician you will become.

Please test this technique, use it and overuse it and let me know what you think.

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Why learning more scales won’t help you with your improvisation skills?

guitar improvisationLots of guitarists want to improve their improvisation skills.

But most of them are not getting any better at it because they don’t understand how to do that.

Slowly they start to believe that they don’t have what it takes to become good at improvisation. Usually they end up saying that they don’t have enough talent.

But very often the problem is not in the people, but in the method they use.

With poor methods you cannot get great results.

Learning to improvise the wrong way …

Being able to freely improvise on the guitar can be very rewarding and fun activity, but learning to improvise is usually not much fun. And not because improvisation is that difficult (which it can be) but because improvisation is in most cases taught very poorly.

I was taught that I can learn to improvise by learning scales. And since my teacher was more experienced player than I, I believed him.

So I started to learn every scale in every position all over the neck. I learned melodic patterns and sequences. It took a lot of time and patience to do that but the results were poor. When I was trying to improvise over simple chord progression, it sounded as if I was practicing scales. Just terrible.

I knew that something was wrong with that approach, but it took me years to find out what.

I see this problem all over the web these days. Almost every advice on improvisation comes from scales and arpeggios standpoint. In other words, if you want to learn how to improvise, learn more scales and arpeggios and melodic patterns. That’s it. Take this scale, play it over this chord and now you are improvising.

But there is a problem with this approach . . .

Scales are just material from which you can build your musical ideas. It doesn’t matter how many of them you learn, if you don’t know how to use them. Learning something and learning to use something is not the same thing but two separate worlds.

Learning more scales won’t help you with your improvisation skills. You will just end up with more material that you don’t know how to use.

Guitar improvisation the right way…

Here is a simple solution to the improvisation problem. If you want to learn how to improvise on guitar, learn to play simple melodies. Simple melodies are the key to more complex improvisation concepts.

If you don’t know how to play a simple melody over some basic chord progression, how can you learn to play more complex stuff?

Take your favorite song and transcribe the main vocal melody. Learn how to play it on the guitar. Record a chord progression of that song and play the melody over it. Embellish the melody with slides, bends, vibrato etc. Change it rhythmically, add some notes or take some notes out. Change the key, change tempo and change musical style.

Learn how great melodies are constructed. Learn how to emulate them on guitar. Explore how great singers create melodies, learn from other instruments / saxophone, violin, …/ Please just don’t practice another bunch of useless scales.

If you take your time and learn few melodies over different chord progressions, slowly you’ll start to hear simple melodies over any chord progression that you play over. Melodies will create a basic structure upon which you can build more sophisticated ideas. This is where the real improvisation begins …

Photo by: mooney47

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