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Do shortcuts exist to learning to play guitar?

I haven’t found any shortcuts, and I’ve been looking for a long time.         Chet Atkinsshortcut

Do you believe that shortcuts exist to learning guitar?

Is it possible to learn to play guitar faster than most people think?

In spite of the quote I posted above, I am a strong believer that shortcuts exist in any field of human endeavor. Guitar is no exception. Some people may disagree, but I think that it is very possible to become better guitar player faster.

There are always possibilities how to do things in a more effective way. There is lots of strategies that can help you get better in a shorter period of time.

Over the last five years I spent hundreds of hours teaching people to play guitar. I have enough experience to say that students who progress the fastest were the ones who applied strategies for accelerated learning that I taught them.

None of them was more talented or lucky. They just worked harder and smarter. And that is the key to get exceptional results. That is the key to create shortcuts for yourself. Notice, that I didn’t just say to work harder. That’s not enough. You’ve got to be smart and learn from people who are successful and you also have to find what works for you. Test everything and use what works.

In this post I would like to share with you 4 strategies that can jump start your progress. The only thing that you have to do is use them regularly.

Set a very specific, crystal clear goal
When I asked students what are their New Year’s resolutions, most of them said that they want to become better guitar players. What? This is the worst goal ever. This kind of statement is absolutely useless. Every guitar player wants to become better. We know that. You have to break it down. What does that means specifically to you?

Crystal clear goal means that you know exactly what you have to do to accomplish it.

Here is an example:
” My goal is to play this solo 10 times in a row without a mistake by the end of this week.”

Famous business expert Peter Drucker once said: “What gets measured, gets managed.” If you want to know whether you are on the right path to accomplish your goal or not, you have to measure your progress somehow. Be sure to measure something that matters (usually it is not time).

Setting a very specific goal means creating a laser focus mindset. Quality of your goals determines quality of your playing.


Learn how to practice
Learning to practice properly is a game changer. Here lies the greatest potential of your progress. By learning to practice properly, you can double or triple your productivity. If you apply principles of deliberate practice, you will be amazed how “talented” you are.

Spend some time every day learning about different aspects of deliberate practice session. Learn how your brain works, how your energy levels change during a day, learn how successful people practice.

Here are few resources for you to start with:

Articles by Anders Ericsson (the father of deliberate practice)
The Making of an Expert
The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance
Expert Performance

Books (affiliate links):

The Talent Code

The Power of Full Engagement

Outliers: The Story of Success


Choose your learning material wisely

“What you study is more important than how you study.” Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Chef

This third strategy for creating shortcuts comes from Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Chef. Even though I am not planning to become a chef, I bought this book because the whole first chapter is about meta-learning. And since Tim is a very clever thinker and student of many different things, his insights on learning are priceless. This first chapter is worth much more than the price of the whole book.

Material beats the method. If you want to learn faster, you have to find the highest-frequency material. Simply said: If you want to learn to play blues, learn from a player whose playing excites you. Don’t simply learn from tabs, learn from  recordings.

No matter how hard you practice, if you use only tabs and youtube guitar lessons, you will never get to the master level.

Think about it this way: If I want to learn John Mayer’s solo from Gravity, I can learn it from the recording, or I can learn it from tabs, or some video lesson. And I think that the first way is the best one because I am learning directly from the artist that I like and I can listen to every detail of his playing. No numbers, no meaningless symbols . Just pure music.

There is one principle that I have learned while I studied philosophy – if you really want to understand somebody’s philosophy, you have to read the books in the original language and not in translation. Every translation is filtered by the interpretation of the translator. The more filters are between you and the original source, the more biased is your understanding.

And this same concept also applies in music. The closer you can get to your guitar hero, the faster you can progress musically.


Do the 80/20 analysis
You have probably heard of Pareto principle. If not here it is:

“The Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”

Once you narrow your studying material only to high-frequency material, then you have to find the most important 20%. If you learn the most valuable elements and concepts (20%) you will get 80% of results you are looking for.

You can apply this to any style of music. For example if you want to learn how to improvise in jazz, first thing you have to learn, is to improvise over II-V-I’s. If you master II-V-I’s, you can play almost over any jazz standard.

This 80/20 analysis will help you find out what is really important to learn and what is not. You can save yourself a lot of time and energy by focusing only on high-quality stuff.

Let me  know, if you plan to use any of these strategies. And if you like this article, please share it with your friends.

Photo: Dade Freeman


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3 Responses to Do shortcuts exist to learning to play guitar?

  1. agatzebluz February 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm #


    Nice article.
    There is a typo in the title.

    • Lukas February 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

      Thanks for noticing that typo 🙂

  2. Juan Rivera April 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    Hey this is really cool and I am going to put it on my Evernote. I’ve been reading a lot of that deliberate practice stuff. I am so busy and also have two young children, but until I have more time, I’m spending five minutes a day so I don’t forget. I’m going to add this to my blog roll because I am a big fan of meta-learning.

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