Common Misconceptions People Have About Learning & Practicing Guitar

Common Mistaken Beliefs About Taking Lessons & Practicing Guitar.

This blog wants to go over some beliefs and opinions which students oftentimes screw themselves over with.
One of these opinions you sometimes hear as a teacher is: “I want to master first what I am working on before I’ll learn something new”.
Always a bad move, for reasons that will be explained.

This blog in other words, is about “efficient practice” and about “the major benefits of having regular lessons”.

Following excerpts are compiled from email communication through the years with students.

… but I also agree that you don’t want to build a house on a swamp

(This student used my “building on a swamp” analogy out of context after I had used it in his lesson to point out that he was trying to learn from too many resources all at once, which fragmented his focus)

My response….

Well you wouldn’t! You’d only slow your progress down tremendously if you took a break from lessons to spend more time on what we covered so far.

Part of a job of a top teacher, is constantly evaluating a students results and growth, and as a result of that, knowing when to push and when not to.
That is why people who learn through self study progress so much more slowly.
They don’t have that accountability and guidance.

If we would be building on a swamp, I would know it way before it ever gets to that, because it’s my job to know.
At the great pace you are going, and keeping in mind that I evaluate your results week after week, you will not improve all that much or become all that much better from taking a break to practice more at this point. (Even if you feel strongly that you should take a break to practice more).

it will break your great momentum. In addition: it will lead to unfocused practice without the weekly evaluations and corrections of your teacher.

I need to make sure I have gotten pretty good at the homework before moving on. I’d rather be really good at a few things, than crap at a bunch of things.

My response….

“Effective music training doesn’t work that way”.

If I had waited and taken a break every couple of weeks during my time at Berklee, to get better first at everything that was thrown my way every single lesson (and I had 16-17 of them every week), I would now, 12 years later, still have been at Berklee and probably still would have had 3-4 years to go by now haha.

More importantly: I would not have been half the guitar player I am today… so many years later now.

People then often make the comment: “yeah, but you had the luxury to be able to practice non stop, but I have a regular day job”.

The thing those peeps forget though: is that I was 17 hours a week at school just having lessons, and I spent about 20 hours a week writing papers, essays, classical arrangements, horn charts, music business class projects and other projects for all classes… most of which didn’t have anything to do with playing guitar, but with overall musicianship and music business training.

THAT… is the same like a regular day job right there haha.

Super important point being made:
The amazing progress wasn’t as much from regular practice as it was the result from having non stop lessons. 🙂

Which leads to following:

Getting really good at everything I am capable off on a guitar, everything I know about music, and me getting there in a reasonably short amount of time; only happened:

  1. because I didn’t break my flow and momentum in my education with occasional breaks.
  2. because the continuous lessons made up for weeks where I didn’t have as much time to practice. (no better rehearsal and practice sessions than the ones under the guidance of a teacher)
  3. I kept learning and being exposed every week to new ways, new colors, new sounds, new challenges, which… because everything in music is related, had as a result that I kept improving on previously covered old material even if I didn’t have time to practice on that old material.

Here’s a quick example of how this works and why this works:

Being introduced to for example the new concept of “single string soloing” (exercises in my teaching plan, improves never ending scale times, and pentatonic soloing skills.

How is that?

This is due to the fact that all musical knowledge is connected and crosses over in all directions.
The “single string soloing” exercise that I cover with my students, is a soloing technique and approach that also greatly enhances fretboard knowledge and soloing skills.

That one exercise brings on benefits that improve your performance of previously covered exercises even if you don’t have time to practice on those previously covered exercises.
so…
you simultaneously keep getting better trained and stronger at things that you still need work on, AND are expanding into new fields of knowledge, skills and territories simultaneously.

If however, following your reasoning… you take a break to just practice more on old stuff….
you get a very 1-dimensional approach where you ONLY get better at that one thing, instead of getting better at many things simultaneously that are all connected and interwoven.
Moreover: you get the law of diminishing returns hitting you, as you’re choosing to work hard instead of working smart.

As a result: you develop yourself very incompletely, and you basically slow down your progress tremendously.
Hence, it actually takes longer to get really good at that one thing you take a break for, than if you had continued to learn the new stuff that makes the old stuff click much faster (which it does because you learned to see more connections, etc.)

In a great curriculum with a very structured approach: new things you learn, further improve and train old things that still need work, while at the same time expanding your knowledge and skills.

In other words: You’re then killing many birds with one stone.
On the other hand: waiting to progress till you have 1 thing down perfectly first… barely kills half a bird… if any. 🙂

At what point then would i be building a house on a swamp? what are the signs?

My response…

The moment I see any sign that you are getting lost. None of these signs are there yet.

One indication for example, is not seeing progress anymore, which is clearly not the case here.

Another indication would be if there is no structure in your training (which is not the case here obviously, UNLESS of course… you spend too much of your time on things you are trying to learn by yourself from books.
As I already pointed out, doing so can only confuse, slow you down, and defeat the whole purpose of learning in a structured approach.
If you try to learn from too many different resources all at once, you confuse yourself with random pieces of information you get from a random number of resources, which all give incomplete information.
Moreover, all these resources giving incomplete information, usually also neglect to teach and show how the few things they cover in their books, connect to the bigger picture of everything else, which is what a curriculum does.

A music book talking about arpeggios is not a curriculum or a guitar learning plan.
Such a book is very limited in scope and usually fails to teach why you would want to learn this, how it fits in with other things, how to use it, in which situations you can use it, etc.

Another sign for example is when the student doesn’t understand stuff that had been previously covered, and the same stuff has to be re-covered over and over again, which is totally not the case here either. You are keeping up really well and very clearly understanding all the covered subject matter.

Another sign is when a student can’t keep up with the information.
That is a non issue in your case.

I remember you mentioning in your last lesson that you were starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.
Remember, in this case and for this particular example: there is a difference between the story a student tells himself and the objective, evaluated assessment of the education professional.
A student might “feel” he is overwhelmed, while the educational expert might assess that that student is not as much “overwhelmed” as he is simply being disorganized in his/her practice, or procrastinating, or not following teacher’s practice directions (or whatever the teacher’s assessment might be).

In your particular case: I think, as I pointed out, that you would overcome your feeling of being overwhelmed, by using a timer and diligently sticking to ONLY doing the exercises as outlined in your home work page I gave you. This would require you getting rid of all the self study you’re trying to do from books.
You could divide your whole practice schedule/list over a 2-day period if necessary, so you get everything on your home work page practiced at least once every 2 days. )

Also: You got to make sure that you dont’ stare yourself blind on my analogies that I am using. (Even more so, if an analogy is pulled out of the context of where I used that particular analogy in your lesson).
You can’t build on a swamp if you have a teaching expert as your architect leading you through the building process.
That’s kind of the point of learning with an instructor.

Which leads to one more quick point about this:

Self-Study Is A Waste of Talent.

There are very few exceptions to that.

It’s people who do self study, who typically run the danger of building on a swamp.
They don’t have a solid foundation they are building from.
They’re just working with random pieces of info they gather from random sources, meanwhile wasting time trying to figure out ways to practice and learn that info.

A great, truly fantastic example of this, would be practicing arpeggios, without first practicing where all the notes are on the guitar neck first.
It’s mind blowing to me, that a book on for example scale fingerings, or arpeggios, would not first give a student exercises to learn where all the notes are first, and THEN teach scale or arpeggio fingerings from there.

AND YET; not one book on scale or arpeggio fingerings does that.
They just show… a billion fingerings.
This is pretty much useless information without knowledge of what the notes are in these fingerings and why it’s these notes.
Yet… EVERYBODY who’s really good at guitar, KNOWS that the best, easiest way to learn tons of scale or arpeggio fingerings, is by thinking notes, not thinking fingering shapes and patterns.
THAT, right there my friend, is an amazing example of why learning things from books through self study is not as effective as learning with a trained music coach who has a very structured guitar curriculum.

So yeah; it is indeed easy to see how one can get overwhelmed and loose sight of the forest through the trees if one scatters his attention across too many resources and approaches.

There’s a reason why you wouldn’t build a house without an architect.
Could you??
Sure…
but why would you want to?

Well… to save the money maybe?

Till you went through the whole house building process, and then wished you had paid the architect, when you realize he who would have saved you thousands of hours in time (which is money haha), and thousands of dollars in mistakes you had to fix because you were going the whole trial and error route.

Conclusion: The more you put all your time and energy, in what you are covering in your lessons with your teacher, the faster and the sooner we will get to all the stuff you are now also trying to learn by yourself from books on the side.
These side, self study things you are doing, are slowing you down, and prob are contributing to the feeling of being overwhelmed, because it is in some way, unstructured practice.

Conclusion

The above beliefs and opinions are unbelievably common.
Every private guitar teacher hears these things very regularly from students.

There is nothing wrong with the mistaken belief that “you will progress more quickly if you spend more practice time on 1 particular thing first” or “that you need to master one thing first before you can move on to new things”, except for the fact that these are inaccurate beliefs that hurt your progress.
Large part of the fun learning guitar, is seeing really good progress.
People who hold on to or act on such beliefs, miss out tremendously on that fun feeling of achievement one gets when seeing fantastic progress.

Fact of the matter is that it is the students who meet regularly for lessons, even if they don’t have enough time to practice, who get the best results and who don’t get overwhelmed.

Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.

Meanwhile: give this blog a rating and give me your feedback in the comments section below. I believe everything can always be improved, and I gladly would implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.



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