10 Things I Learned About Guitar the Hard Way!
This is one of these silly lists of 10 random things that I learned while being a guitar student.
I wanted to share this with you because I figured you might be interested in avoiding some of the pitfalls I fell into.
This list might potentially save you a great deal of time and talent, and make you enjoy guitar even more than you already do.
- “Playing” Is Not The Same Like “Practicing”
We’ve all heard the fine arts joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!” There will never come a point when you no longer need to practice. Talented musicians might be able to play fairly well without regular practice, but not practicing means settling for being a mediocre musician at best.
And yes: this is regardless of how much talent one possesses. You will find that guitar is much more fun when you practice more regularly. You will only feel like you’re in a rut with guitar, when you have not learned anything new in a while. Moreover: “practicing” is not to be confused with “playing”. You don’t hone your skills playing; you hone your skills practicing. “Playing” is having fun doing things you can already do. You are then in your comfort zone and not growing as much. “Practicing” is when you spend time working on the things you suck at on guitar. That is where you really become much better.
- Don’t Skip a Guitar Lesson
Many guitarists will skip or cancel an upcoming guitar lesson intentionally, thinking they need more time to practice before they are ready for another lesson. Think about this: a 4-year degree program at a music college would turn out into a 20-year project if you would skip a week because you don’t have everything down yet from the previous week. I have news for you: “you will never master guitar”. You will also never become as good at guitar if you meet irregularly with you guitar teacher. After all, human nature dictates that skipping lesson weeks won’t buy you more time: it will only make you procrastinate more.
When you skip a guitar lesson, you are wasting your time and talent. With more time in between lessons, you will forget part of the material covered, might have bad habits creeping in more easily, and could lose a chance to gain valuable insight on where you need further improvement. Every guitar instructor knows out of experience that the student who switches from meeting weekly to 2 –weekly, drops out within 2 max 3 months time after that. Months later that student typically starts up again: with huge regret over having dropped out.
- Practice New Material at A Slow Pace.
Einstein said half a century ago, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” Yet: it is amazing how often guitar students persistently keep retrying to play something they can’t play yet, at a pace that is way beyond what they are capable off.
The fastest way to master anything is by doing it really slowly at first. This gives your brain and muscles the time to feel the motions, put all actions and decisions in the right order and process it all. This instills patience, self-discipline and control. Then you gradually speed up the action in small increments with a metronome, and keep pushing your dexterity, coordination, speed and control.
- Make Extra Copies of Your Charts
You will see this happening over and over again: your band decides to add 10 cover tunes to the set of originals, and you will be the only one who is prepared and who comes with the chord charts written out. Not only that: they will all try to have a look at your charts. Your charts will pass through everybody’s hands at the rehearsal, and you will find that there are pages missing when you come back home after rehearsal.
Or a new band you auditioned for, hires you and you have your first rehearsal. You’re nervous, and you forget your charts there after rehearsal, or spill a drink over them. It never hurts to have an extra copy of your charts in your guitar case, and one in your house. You can never accidentally forget to bring your charts to rehearsal when you always keep a copy in your guitar case, and anything can happen with those charts, you know you always have a copy at home still.
- Don’t Travel on a Plane With a Hard Case
If you think air travel is easier with your guitar in a hard case, think again! Hard cases don’t fit in overhead compartments. If you travel with a hard case, you might be forced to check it in as regular luggage.
When your guitar is checked in through baggage claim, there is a higher likelihood that it might get damaged, even if it is in a hard case. The solution: always take your guitar with you in a soft case, also called a gig bag. Those are smaller in size than hard cases.
As a result: they fit into the overhead compartments. Walk through check in, airport gate and on the plane without saying a word about it, carrying your gig bag on your back or over your shoulder. Nobody is going to give you any fuzz about it.
- Cut Down The Variables In How You Hold Your Guitar.
Always practice holding the guitar the way you would be holding it as if you were performing in front of 50,000 people already. You want to do so even if your goals on guitar are not that ambitious. More often than not, guitar students sit with their guitar resting on the leg that is on the side of their strumming hand.
Meaning: right-handed guitarists rest the guitar on their right leg. In other words: the guitar is positioned on the outside of your body, instead of centered. However: if you have your guitar naturally hanging from your shoulder with a strap when you’re standing up, your guitar naturally wants to be in the center of your body.
When then you take a seat, your guitar naturally always wants to go on the leg that is on the side of your fretting hand, the other leg (or in other words: centered with the guitar body between both legs). You will save yourself a lot of time when you get used to holding your guitar positioned between your legs when sitting, which is in the center of your body at any time. This cuts down the variables: your guitar will feel the same whether you’re sitting down or standing up.
Time and time again guitar students have found out that they had to relearn or practice things when skills they had acquired practicing seated with their guitar on the outside leg, could no longer be performed as flawlessly standing up in a real life performance situation with other musicians.
- Always Keep Spares
Take spares of everything with you at all times because you never know what you might encounter or need in the moment. Keep an extra set or two of strings, extra guitar picks, maybe even an extra capo, cable, extra wrenches or string winder. It’s funny how that works: but you will find that you will only break a string, that one time you actually forgot to bring a spare set. It’s always good to be prepared.
- Put Your Cable Behind Your Guitar Strap and Use Strap Locks.
One of the more embarrassing things you can go through as a guitarist in front of an audience: is suddenly going dead quiet in the middle of a guitar solo because you pulled your cable out of your guitar by accident. This would be the case when you step on your cable. That is not as embarrassing as having the hunch down to pick your cable up from the floor with a red face, followed by loud cracking noises as you nervously fumble to try to find the input jack on your guitar while your amp is still on.
When that happens: I can assure you that you will never again forget to put your cable behind your strap. Doing so makes it impossible to pull the cable out of your guitar by accident. And trust me: you will most likely end up stepping on your cord at one point or another in every show you play. Not quite as embarrassing, but not really fun either, is when your guitar drops off of your shoulder because the strap somehow became unfastened.
It’s annoying when your strap unhooks during a performance and you have to fumble to keep you guitar in your possession and not on the floor. There is simple solution: strap locks. They are cheap and make that your strap cannot unhook from the guitar without your intervention.
- Being Prepared is Better Than Being Talented
Bach supposedly said in his time: “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Now if HE said it: there probably must be something about it worth considering. The same can be said about talent. Talent does not get you anywhere without development and training of that talent.
You might be the most talented guitarist ever but if you’re not prepared, your talent will get you nowhere. Being prepared means: having charts ready before going to rehearsal, having the material mastered, having practiced enough, having your act together, having answers to questions that might arise, and being organized. People like it when you show up prepared.
Being prepared by the way: also makes you appear smarter. I can’t begin to count the times people mistook my being prepared for being talented. You are and feel more confident when you are prepared. Everybody mistakes this for being more talented.
- You Will Never Fool Your Teacher
Your teacher can always tell instantly how much you practiced in past week. Not only that: a great teacher will also be able to tell by your vibe, whether you’ve been slacking on practicing because you were exceptionally busy or because you tend to slack and procrastinate.
He will also feel your nervousness, even you if you try to hide or control it. A pro teacher is trained at reading people and their energies. He more than likely understands and knows you much better than you think he does.
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