The Best Way To Practice When You’re A Complete Beginner

Different Coaching Rules Apply for Complete Beginners.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a talk with a beginning student who admitted in his 2nd lesson that he had practice differently than what I had advised him to do in his first lesson the week before.

In the very first lesson with students who start out on guitar from scratch, I always start with the C, F and G chords.
In that past week, his first week of practicing guitar after his first guitar lesson, he had spent all his time practicing the chords VERY slooooowly focusing first on “accuracy in switching between chords”.

I always tell my students that their guitar lessons with me, are a perfect blueprint of how their practice time at home should look like.
If I push a student hard in a lesson, convert to a fast-paced approach and have the student play tons of songs in those 60 minutes with me, then the student should also practice at home EXACTLY the same way as in the lesson.

“Slower” Isn’t Always “Better”.

When you are a complete beginner, you don’t benefit from taking things slowly.
You want to push the boundaries, playing along with songs at tempos faster than you can physically handle.
The reason why that is the way to go, is that the main focus in the very beginning should be on developing the muscles in your hand.
Accuracy in the beginning stages, is the result of improved muscle strength in your hand.

So focusing on accuracy first, is a bit like putting the cart in front of the horse.
It’s a bit of a waste of time, as the accuracy is gradually going to improve as a result of your hands getting stronger.

That isn’t to say of course that you should just completely ignore good posture, good hand position or good technique.
All these things are important and should continuously be corrected.
However; what I am specifically referring to is that no time should get spent in the first couple of weeks of practice, on correcting the occasional muted note that will occur in certain chords every once in a while.

A beginning student hence, should approach learning guitar, the same way he would working out with a private trainer.
If your private work out trainer would have you lift 1 pound in your fist work out session, and have you do tons of reps, you would fire the guy after 1 session.
That approach wouldn’t get you to achieve your goal of building strength or muscles very effectively.

Same with learning chords: your hands aren’t going to get stronger any time soon if you just play the chords very slowly.
The best way to approach this: play along with songs and try to keep up.

A good song that I always start my total beginner students with is “Give Peace A Chance”. (We’ll get to that later)

The Very First Beginner’s Lesson at ZOTZinMusic.

When working with a complete beginner, I first teach the C chord, and give the student a couple of minutes to get used to that shape.
While the student is getting used to that shape, I have the student strum, so that student also gets used to rhythm playing while getting used to the C chord. That student of course just starts out strumming quarter notes: 1 chord hit per beat.

Within 2 maximum 3 minutes of having learned the C chord, we move on to the F chord.
I have the student learn the easier F chord fingering: F on the 3rd fret D string, A on the 2nd fret G string, C on the 1st fret B string, all the rest open strings.
That way, the student only has to move 2 fingers to move from a C chord to an F chord.

We practice that transition.
I lead, playing along and counting out loud ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR. When I say “ONE”, we switch to the next chord.
We play downstrokes (quarter notes) only.
I play just a tiny bit faster than what the student is capable off.

This pushes the student to have to keep up with me, which results in really fast progress in the student’s ability to switch between the chords.

Once the student gets very comfy with this, which usually takes about 10-12 minutes, I teach the next rhythm: “down downup down downup”
(quarter – two 8ths – quarter – two 8ths)

We slow down the tempo and stay on 1 chord for a minute, to give the student time to get used to that rhythm.
Then we get back to switching every bar between C and F while playing that rhythm.
We gradually speed up as I see this getting easier for the student.

This takes about another 10 minutes.

Then I teach the G chord, and start all the above over again.

After about 35-40 minutes, the student can switch quite comfortably between C, F and G with both rhythms.
At this point: the student is ready to start learning songs.
This is where the fun really starts now for the student.

We start with “Give Peace A Chance”, because that song only has 2 chords, C and G.

The song is really fast.
I put the song file into Amazing Slowdowner and slow it down 30-40-50% (depending on the student’s comfort level)
Find out more about Amazing Slowdowner: Click HERE for Amazing Slowdowner.

As the student plays along with the slowed down recording of “Give Peace A Chance”, I very slowly and gradually speed the song up in 2-3% increments. I only speed up every time I see the student improving, which is typically about every 30-40 seconds.

We then move on to the following songs in that order:

Mustang Sally
Paperback Writer
Thank U (Alanis Morrisette)
Great Balls of Fire.
Teddy Bear (Elvis)

Of course: the student always gets the chord charts to read from so he/she can follow the music.
I also made sure on all my hand outs I developed, that the chord is always positioned precisely on top of the syllable where the switch to the next chord has to be made.

I slow down fast songs, but just enough for the student to be able to play it.
If the student messes up about 30% of the chords, always getting to that next chord, but just a tiny bit too late, that is a good tempo.
If the student only is too late on 10% of the chords, the tempo is too slow and the student isn’t challenged enough.

Remember: your focus is on building muscle, not on playing everything accurately and not on switching all the chords nicely on time.
You build muscle in the struggle of having to fight to keep up.
Accuracy and the ability to keep up, are going to come automatically as a result of your hand muscles working hard.

Conclusion.

For most other things: slower is always better.
When you’re learning an intricate rhythm pattern for example: it’s more effective to slow it down as it will then take much less time to learn that rhythm.
Same when learning an intricate, technical guitar solo: you benefit from practicing every difficult phrase very slowly.

However: for reasons explained above, different things and different approaches work better in some fields, and are lesser efficient in other fields.
Specifically when learning chords as a complete beginner: the most effective progress in your learning will happen if you push your muscles, going slightly faster than you can handle.

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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