Finding the right balance in your practice routine
Take small bites. Divide the material you’re trying to learn into easily digestible chunks. Don’t try to learn an entire guitar solo or song at once. Take it a few measures at a time and really try to get each section clear in your head and under your fingers before moving on.
If it’s taking you too long to get through an entire piece, maybe you’re setting your sights too high. Find something a bit easier to play. Also remember that simple little pieces of songs can be just as satisfying to play as more complicated things. That little five-note guitar fill on “Nowhere Man” is just as cool as any 164-bar Jimmy Page solo.
Share your knowledge. Once you’ve got something down, go play it for somebody. You may not be ready for the local open mic, but chances are there is someone around who will enjoy hearing what you’ve been working on. And overcoming that nervous energy that goes with even the smallest performance will help you.
It may be harder at first to play for others, but if you can pull it off, you’ll know you’ve really learned that piece. And don’t wait until you’ve learned the entire Korn songbook. Any cool little piece of music is worth sharing.
Play with others. The guitar is a very social animal. And playing music with other people is another great way to really test whether you’ve learned something or not. It will also teach you a tremendous amount about music and your own playing that you can’t learn from a teacher or a book.
You may get that little bass run just right every time you play it at home on the sofa, but if you can’t figure out where to put it during your bluegrass jams, you haven’t really learned it, have you?
Be clear about why you’re learning a particular riff or chord. For example, if your primary interest is bluegrass, you shouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to master barre chords, because bluegrass guitarists rarely use barre chords.
And if you’re learning blues licks, make sure you know whether they’re supposed to be played over the I, the IV, or the V chord. Learning a bunch of licks without any context for them isn’t going to help you very much. It will just clutter up your brain’s musical storeroom.
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Train your ear. In a lot of styles of music–folk, blues, rock ’n’ roll, bluegrass, etc.–a good ear is much more valuable than the ability to read music or tab. Start training your ear by learning your favorite licks and riffs from CDs.
It’s usually easier to hear single notes than full chords, so start with something simple, like a song’s melody or a simple repeating riff. Like anything else, this takes practice, but the ability to play what you hear is a great asset, and it will give you the opportunity to learn any piece of music, not just those things that come with a tab book.
Above all, have fun playing the guitar. And if you do decide to get serious and devote your life to the instrument, always try to remember that thrill you got when you picked up the guitar for the first time.