How To Play Whatever You Want On Guitar – 3 Steps For Effective Guitar Practice

Author: Tom Hess

Author: Tom Hess

Have you ever practiced something on guitar (such as a technique, song or solo) for several months only to make little or no progress? No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to improve… Then you end up becoming extremely disappointed and start to question your ability to ever play guitar the way you want to.

Before I help you solve this problem for good, you have to understand that you CAN become an incredible guitar player, just like your favorite guitarists. If you aren’t achieving your guitar playing goals, it doesn’t mean you have no potential, or that you lack natural musical ability. It just means one or both of these two things:

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1. You haven’t learned the proper steps to follow while practicing what will give you the ability to play whatever you want (I’ll tell you these steps in a moment).

2. No one ever correctly taught you HOW to practice the aforementioned steps. This isn’t easy to grasp for most guitarists (in particular, self-taught guitarists) because it requires a detailed understanding of how to effectively practice guitar. It’s simple to understand WHAT to practice (since these things are often rooted in common sense), but implementing them correctly is not so simple.

The 1st thing you need to do is see your guitar playing as a battle between two forces: the practice you do to make your playing feel easier, and the challenges that make your guitar playing much more difficult than necessary. Whenever one side wins over the other, your goal splits into two halves:

  • To keep practicing in the most effective manner possible, in order to make fast progress (I’ve explained many approaches to this in my previous guitar articles).
  • To move beyond certain challenges that keep you from playing the things you want to play as well as you’d like to play them (this is what I’ll show you below).

To help you completely understand the practicing process explained below, watch this video that demonstrates how this approach makes your guitar playing better. Do this now before you read the rest of this article.

Although the video above shows how to effectively practice guitar in a single circumstance, the general approach to solving problems can be applied in the same manner to any technique/style (from speed picking to blues double stops to chord transitions for acoustic guitar).

Start playing whatever you want on guitar by following these steps:

Step One: Act As A Doctor While Practicing Guitar

The fundamental mistake guitarists make while practicing is attempting to solve symptoms (things they believe to be problems) in their playing, instead of focusing on ROOT causes (the real problems). This applies in particular to the majority of self-taught guitarists, who were never shown how to effectively practice guitar. As you observed in the video above, it’s easy to misdiagnose a problem and falsely assume you know its cause, only to waste tons of time practicing the wrong things (all while making slow progress at best).

The most effective way to avoid wasting time on symptoms of problems and really take your guitar playing to another level, is to apply the feedback you get from an expert electric guitar teacher who knows how to analyze your technique and tell you precisely what keeps you from reaching your greatest potential. In addition to giving you the solutions to your guitar playing frustrations, learning with an expert teacher will help you be your own guitar teacher and solve your guitar playing issues by yourself. This is easily the greatest benefit of guitar lessons, and is the reason why guitar players who learn with a great teacher quickly become killer players.

This is not unlike going to a doctor with some symptoms of not feeling well or having certain aches in your body. Rather than prescribing medicine for the top level symptom of any issue you have, a great doctor tracks every symptom down to its root causes and treats it, causing you to feel much better (getting rid of all the symptoms at the same time). Of course, doctors aren’t born with knowledge of how to solve health problems – this knowledge is gained and learned. The same can be said about your guitar playing: even if you have a difficult time correctly pinpointing the causes of your worst guitar playing problems right now, you surely CAN learn to fix them and (over time) be your own guitar playing doctor.

Step Two: Transform Any Problem Into A Self-Sufficient Guitar Playing Exercise

Once you’ve identified the problem that is preventing you from playing what you want on guitar, your next move is to find out how to correctly isolate and fix it. As you observed in the video above, spotting the specific issue (the hammer on and pull off in that particular example) was NOT enough on its own. The next step is to place the problem into the original context to transform it into a self-sufficient exercise. “Self-sufficient” meaning: you do not have to look for more guitar playing exercises to fix it – the problem itself BECOMES the exercise you must work on.

To understand more about how to correctly perform this step of the process, read this article about how to practice guitar correctly.

Step Three: Don’t Stop Drilling…Until You Strike Gold!

Once you identified the exact problem that must be solved to move your guitar playing forward and you correctly transformed it into its own exercise, you now have to practice the problem until it’s solved.

The mistake that most guitar players make in this part of the process is not performing enough quality repetitions of the exercise in order to start good guitar playing habits to replace the old one. This mistake shows up in one of 2 versions:

Version One: Some guitarists simply give up on practicing the exercise too early – they get disinterested after practicing for only a few minutes… never to practice the exercise again. In the end, they just don’t do enough repetitions of the exercise to improve their guitar playing to begin with.

Version Two: Others will move forward through strong discipline and willpower to end up practicing the exercise for many hours at a time. Although they perform many repetitions of the exercise, the quality of each repetition begins to decline as they play the exercise over and over, eventually losing focus. Read this article about practicing guitar mindlessly to learn more about this.

The right way to create a good habit is by continually practicing guitar in bursts of concentrated effort for several minutes at a time. Instead of practicing the same exact exercise for many hours on end, practice it for several minutes at a time, many times throughout the day, gaining tons of volume (repetitions) over the course of a week.

Version one of the mistake above happens often to guitar players who practice randomly (without any kind of schedule). Their practicing is completely unorganized and messy (directly affecting their guitar playing).

In contrast, version two of the mistake above happens frequently to guitar players who don’t know the nuances of correctly training the body and the mind to play guitar. Rather, they try to build their practice schedules using a linear guitar practice method with a spreadsheet or a calculator (huge mistake!).

To steer clear of both mistakes, you must be aware that teaching a human being to play guitar is much different than programming functions into a computer. This is why you have to use a highly effective guitar practice schedule that is created specifically for helping guitar players get the best results out of every second of a practice session.

Now that you know what is required for playing whatever you want on guitar, begin applying the advice provided in this article (and in the additional resources given throughout) to make your practicing more effective and your guitar playing much more easy.

If you still have a hard time attaining the results you desire from your practice time, you will achieve your guitar playing goals faster by working directly with me. Check out this electric guitar lessons page and tell me about the biggest guitar playing struggles you need help with.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and virtuoso guitar player. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.

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