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How beginners can get consistent results on the guitar

Once you pass the initial beginner stage of your guitar playing, you’ll realise that in order to grow your skills, you need to do more than just play the same songs over and over again.

You might think that just by simply playing the guitar you will get better, but will you? Of course, your chord transitions for your favourite songs will get smoother and it will feel a little bit easier to strum these songs, but after a while, you may have this frustrating feeling that you are actually not progressing anymore.

Here is my point of view – you need to challenge yourself regularly so that you keep getting consistent results.

Make it a goal to learn a new song every few weeks. It should be something out of your comfort zone, something that will make you think, focus and should feel difficult.

Now here is the important thing to remember – it is our practice song. It means that you can’t get frustrated simply because it takes you a long time to learn the new chords or the transitions between them because even the rhythm will be unfamiliar.
You might start working on your new songs by analysing the first few chords in the intro or the verse. These days, guitar tabs and chords for the songs are readily available, so use them to your advantage.

This exercise will force you to do things in a different way. Now here is the truth. It will be difficult, but that’s where the value is. Trying to learn a new chord or the transition between a group of chords that are out of your comfort zone, will stimulate and strengthen your memory and help you develop memorisation techniques.

 

Once you have a few new chords to work with, you can build a new practice routine:

  • CHORDS – warm up by playing simple chords that you already know (practice changing between them)
  • RHYTHM – do some simple strumming with simple chords such as A minor or E minor (try to get a consistent sound from your strokes).
  • SCALES – practice the A minor pentatonic scale or do some chromatic exercises
    (as an example)
  • NEW CHORDSMEMORISATION – memorising is about learning and forgetting – in my case, it takes me a good few days to get familiar with a new chord or scales – that’s just how it works. So every day you need to try to memorise it again until you finally remember it 🙂
  • SONGS – switch to something you are familiar with – play one of your favourite songs from start to finish.
  • NEW CHORDSMEMORISATION – repeat this step, again, don’t get angry if you don’t remember the shapes. It’s normal; you will need to repeat this for a few days.
  • HAVE FUN – enjoy playing your favourite tunes

Once you are familiar with the chords you are trying to memorize, you can replace the MEMORISATION steps with the CHORD TRANSITIONS and then swap those out with STRUMMING/RHTYHM practise.

Remeber not to get frustrated with yourself. It is a long-term process and just an addition to your routine. Enjoy it and try to feel excited that you are going to learn something new.

As a final word, I want to say that working on more difficult or challenging stuff will boost everything else you have learned up to that point. This is a great way to accelerate your progress on the guitar. Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you.

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How to practice when you do not have time to practice?

One of the most asked questions that bothers beginner guitarists, is how to practice. You have heard stories about musicians practicing for hours every single day, hour after hour, until their fingers bleed.

A no-pain no-gain approach, almost like some kind of army training. The problem is that, with that frame of mind, you will not survive for too long.  Eventually you will burn out, lose motivation and stop playing the guitar. But it does not have to be that way. Let me show you my approach, where you can practice, have fun, have results and a social life outside of the guitar.

A week has 7 days. If you divide it by two, you will have 3.5 days. My philosophy is simple; practice for 4 days every week. To be clear, this article is for beginners only.

I would not recommend practicing for 4 days in a row and then taking three days off. Try to spread it across the week. There is no difference between going to the gym to workout and practicing the guitar. In order to progress, you need a good workout and reasonable recovery time. During your recovery time, you will give your mind time to digest the information and structure it in a way that will be easy to retrieve needed skills. The skin on your fingers
(calluses) and tendons also require some time to recover from the practice session. You need to learn to walk before you learn to run. You would not try running a marathon before trying to walk, right? So why would you do this on the guitar? Having too high expectations may kill your passion.

Now lets get into the details. I would try to do 10 minutes of practice each time. Some people may say that this is not enough! Let me explain.

Imagine this scenario. You have decided that you are going to practice every day for 1 hour. You have had a very busy day at work, you need to cook dinner, walk your dog, do some paperwork and practice for 1 hour. PRACTICE FOR 1 HOUR! Your mind will say “no way mate, tomorrow, not today, you will be fine …“

Now imagine the same scenario but you need to practice for 10 minutes. This becomes easily manageable, right? You may force yourself to do it, but it is a realistic goal. And maybe you will be so happy after the 10 minutes that actually you will play for 1 hour!

At the beginning everything is extremely exciting. It’s easy to think we can do everything that we planned. The problem is, that after some time we lose motivation, the once new and exciting things, are not new anymore, and we lose our passion. This is not always the case, but I know that it definitely happens to the majority of my guitar students. Tricking your mind is the way to go. The bottom line is, it is easy to do 5-10 minutes of a workout than 1 hour.

Which brings us to the second part of the article; the quality of the practice session, in other words, what to practice? This is the key to understanding how yon can be effective in 10 minutes rather than in one hour. Just to remind you, we are talking about beginners right now.

In order to be effective, you will need to focus on four areas:

  • Chords and how to transition between them
  • Strumming hand, rhythm – being able to make sense in a musical way
  • Learning new songs (integrating the two previous points)
  • Basic knowledge of the instrument – reading articles and watching instructional videos

I would always start my practice session with tuning the guitar . It is very important that your guitar is in tune. You will train your ears to recognise and understand what you play if you are in tune. Secondly, I would focus on the chords. Let’s say I know 2 chords. On every session you will need to refresh your memory, take things very slowly and do not rush. I would try to remember the shape of the first chord. Put your fingers in position, strum it. Does it sound ok? Relax your hand, and try again, find the chord, play it, relax your hand. Now we repeat the same steps for the second chord.

Take some breaks, shake your hands, do some stretches and remember to relax your body. Then, I would try to change between the two shapes. In other words, transition from one chord to the other. Slowly, make sure you always land on the correct chord. Repeat it a few times. Now you have warmed up and you remember your chords. You are ready to work on your strumming’s.

Try to do some sequences of down strokes and up strokes (for example: down, down, up). At first, try doing this without any chords. I know it sounds terrible, but, you will give your fretting hand a break and time to recover.

Now you are ready to integrate these two things together, you can try to play simple chord sequences. For example, strum the first chord twice and then the second chord twice. Then repeat. Or if you know three chords, strum the first and second chords once, and the third two times.

This is a nice easy way to gradually warm up your hands. Work through the chords and finish with something really musical.

If you have very limited time, you can try to practice in front of the tv, so at least you can benefit from both. I would do this only with the content that I am confident with and know well (mainly because you don’t have to concentrate too much on remembering the chords). This is a controversial way of practising, but sometimes it may be the only way to get your work out done that day. We are only human, and we need to live and have fun.  The last thing you want to do is feel guilty that you haven’t practiced at all or that you have to practice in a particular way.

Happy practicing!

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3 Ways To Fit The Guitar Around Your Lifestyle

It is not always that easy to fit learning how to play guitar around your busy lifestyle. Long working hours and a busy life make it quite tricky to practice regularly. On the other hand, if we don’t practice we don’t get any results, which is a cruel truth. Let’s try to find out what these 3 ways that we could fit the guitar into our lives could be.

Before we discuss these 3 ways to fit the guitar around your lifestyle, its a good idea to remember that even 5 minutes of playing the guitar is better than nothing. A lot of guitarists don’t see any value in playing for 5 minutes, but in my eyes it is still better than nothing and at least you will remember how your guitar looks!

Keeping your guitar visible and out of the case is an excellent way to remind you that you actually play the guitar. Once you notice the guitar in the corner of your eye, you can always pick it up for a few minutes.

Remember to make it fun and social. Play for your friends, don’t be embarrassed! If your friends don’t know how to play the guitar even strumming 3 simple chords will make you a guitar god in their eyes and think about how enjoyable you find it listening to someone play the guitar.

So what are 3 ways to fit the guitar around your lifestyle?

  • Play in front of the TV.
    I have written an article about this subject, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, you can check it out HERE. Playing the guitar for just 10 minutes when you sit down in front of the TV is a really cool way of finding extra time to play the guitar. You can do silent chord change exercises or practice simple strumming patterns and work on your tremolo picking (tremolo picking is a way of picking very fast). I teach similar things to my online Academy Guitar Members, CLICK HERE if you are interested in finding out a little bit more.
  • Split your sessions.
    Try to practice for 5 minutes before you go to work and again after you come back. I used this technique for years (actually I practiced for 2 hours before and after work). This method really works and will give you truly awesome results. You can practice chord changes in the morning and strumming (playing songs) in the afternoon. It is also a cool way to trick your mind. Since you picked up the guitar in the morning, it will be much easier to practice in the afternoon, as it will feel like half of the work has already been done!
  • Take your guitar to work
    How about some lunchtime practice? It may sound a little bit crazy, but you could keep your guitar at work. Many of you have a 30 minute or an hour long lunch break. Why don’t you use it to play a few chords and or entertain your colleagues. I have quite a few students who practice that way and they really love it. BONUS POINT – you will also probably become very popular in your office!

We all love the guitar, but we don’t always feel like practicing. I hope these 3 ways to fit the guitar around your busy lifestyle will help you practice some more.

Have a great practice routine today!

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You should practice the guitar in front of the TV… sometimes

Holiday season is always great because I have a little bit more time than usual to play the guitar … but in front of the TV! This is my perfect holiday emergency practice. I simply sit on my sofa, watch the TV and practice the guitar! It is my little secret to finding extra time to practice the guitar and be more social at the same time.

When I practice in this way, I only work on very simple exercises, such as scales or chords and watch the TV with my family. My goal isn’t to learn anything new, it is just about being more in touch with my guitar, so I only ever play what I have already memorised in the past.

For example, I might be struggling with some chord changes, so I just try to do some silent transitions between two chords. I also do simple chromatic runs up and down the neck. These are really simple exercises, but they give your hands a really great workout, especially if you are talking and you can’t concentrate fully.

If you are into soloing, watching movies and playing the guitar is an awesome way to train your improvisation skills. These days, movies are full of music. I use them as my backing tracks for improvisation and it really is awesome! If you try this, it will train you to find the key and corresponding scales.

For example, if there is a new song playing in a movie, I try to identify the key of the song and then I will try to match it with the scale. I don’t try to use any fancy scales, I simply use the pentatonic scale. So after I find the key, I then ask myself whether the song is in a major or minor scale. I usually play the minor scale first and then the major and my ear will tell me which one it is. After that, I just play some simple licks to the music I hear! It is a great way to train your ear, gain knowledge about scales in different positions and also improve your ability – all just by watching TV! (By the way, if that sounds a little bit blurry to you, I explain all of this in detail in my Online Guitar Lessons at guitar couch).

I found this to be my perfect ‘NO TIME FOR PRACTICE” practice routine. It keeps me motivated and gives me the feeling of achievement. My family is also happy, as I spend more time with them and my hands feel like they did a workout, so I feel more motivated to play! It is a great win-win situation. So don’t forget to go get your guitar and have a practice session, even when you are watching the tv or sitting on the couch 🙂

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Long breaks in between practicing the guitar

A lot of guitar players have phases of very intense focused practicing and then long breaks of nothingness. They have moments when they play and practice a lot and then it drops. A lot of times, it is caused by our day to day life. We have additional work to do, it is spring and we have to work in the gardens and so on ….

But a lot of time, it is caused by setting our achievement bar too high. Our excitement for practicing may be triggered by seeing some very cool live performance, or some gig you watched on TV. We feel inspired and make a decision that we are going to be really good on the guitar by practicing from today for 2 hours a day. The problem with that is, that it may work for the first week, or even the next three weeks but after this time we may be disappointed with our results.

The guitar is a beast that brings awesome results but … very slowly. As a result, we feel that we are not reaching our full potential and we drop our practice regime. Then a few months later the circle repeats again.

One cure for this problem is trying to practice for less but more frequently. A lot of times we feel like we need to practice for significant amounts of time. It feels like if we don’t practice for 30, 40 mins, or one hour it’s not worth picking up the guitar. This statement can’t be further from the truth.

Even picking up the guitar for 5 minutes will bring you results. Not amazing ones obviously, but it will give you something. You will progress at a much slower pace, but you will still progress. Isn’t that better than not doing anything?

I have noticed that the guitarist who picks up the guitar with the intention to play for a little bit ends up practicing much more than the desired amount of time. Also, if you practice like that, you will be more connected with what you’re working on. You will remember strumming and chords better and you will be in much better overall musical shape.

One of the reasons that I have structured my online guitar lessons into small chunks, is to help you with your guitar playing by presenting the knowledge in manageable portions. You may aim for one unit a day, or one unit every second day with one revision day in between.

I always repeat that the guitar should be this nice addition to our life, not something that you feel obliged to practice. One of the ways to reinforce this feeling is by playing a little bit every day, or every second day. Keep your guitar outside of the gig bag, in a place where you can see it. You can alway pick it up for 1 minute to play one song, then put it down. Even that way, you will feel good about your guitar skills!

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Sometimes I just want to play the guitar

Sometimes I’ll have a day when I don’t want to practice the guitar, I just want to play the guitar. I found out a long time ago, that it is sometimes better to just twang around or doodle on the guitar than not to pick up it up at all. This article is not about replacing your regular practice schedule, it is a little rescue approach on those tougher days, where you are finding it a little difficult to get motivated.

Some days, just the sound of the word “practice” may turn your eyes away from the guitar. You know where your guitar is, but you just don’t want to look there. On those days, I just forget about the word “practice” and I just play the guitar.

Very often, I just sit in front of the TV or my computer, watch some movies and play the guitar. What is important however, is that I only play the things that I know very well, things like; chord progressions, scales, arpeggios … The goal is not to learn, the goal is to be in touch with my guitar and have fun. The great thing is that I still keep my fingers in a good shape and I still do something musical.

After a while of playing the guitar like that, I may actually feel like practicing. It can somehow trick your mind by pretending that you are practicing. If it works for me, maybe it will work for you 🙂 Recently, many of my “playing sessions” have turned into proper practicing sessions, but even when they haven’t, the job is still done. I made contact with my instrument and that is what counts. Of course, I can’t have too many days of just playing the guitar, I would not learn anything new.

But I found a solution to that. Let’s say there is a very cool guitar lick that I want to learn. I would memorise the first few notes, then I would put my movie on and practice those notes watching the movie at the same time. It doesn’t feel like practicing at all, it is still fun. After a while, I would pause the movie, learn another few notes, put the movie back on and try to connect the new notes with the notes I learned before. This is a really cool way of learning guitar licks. And the good thing is, it doesn’t feel like practicing, as I still have fun watching TV.

This really is an emergency practice routine, but it does do one thing – it keeps you in good musical shape.

Now grab your guitar, put your TV on and have some fun 🙂

P.S. Don’t over practice this approach!

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How to practice the guitar during Christmas

Finding the time to practice the guitar during Christmas may be very difficult. The holiday season can be a real killer to our musical progress, due to an endless number of end-of-year parties and never-ending celebrations, which don’t help with our guitar goals. Let me give you some tips on how to practice the guitar during Christmas time.

  1. Less is more.
    It is a funny saying, but in this case, it may work. Shorter but more frequent practice sessions will help you stay on track. If you normally practice for 1hour, try to do 10 -15 minutes. Your progress will be slower but … you will still have some results. It is much better than not practicing at all. It will also keep you on track with your goals.
  2. Only play songs.
    Instead of practicing scales, strumming, arpeggios and having detailed sessions, just try to play songs. Basically, pick up the guitar and literally enjoy it by playing all of your favourite tunes. Don’t worry about mistakes, or how good or bad it sounds, just enjoy the moment with the guitar. It is a great “cheat” alternative guitar practice session.
  3. Keep your guitar out of the case in a visible place.
    This point actually applies all year round. Having the guitar in a visible place will make it easier to pick it up and just play. You will also be more motivated and it is a great time saver. Avoid the situation where you have to get your guitar out of the gig bag, tune it up and then start. Just thinking about doing all those things may be enough to stop you practicing at all!
  4. Play for your friends and family.
    I know that a lot of you treat guitar playing very personally. A lot of my students say something like this: “I play only for myself”, but how about you try to force yourself and share your skills with your family and friends. You don’t have to play anything complicated, even the simplest chords and strumming will do the job. Most people will never get to the level where you are right now, so don’t be afraid to play the guitar during Christmas for others. It is fun and motivating.

I hope this short article will help you stay on track and will motivate you to pick up the guitar during Christmas. Don’t forget that music needs to be shared, so do it. Don’t worry about how it sounds, everybody will love it. You will have a great time and it will still count as a practice session.

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Don’t look at your strumming hand

Are you struggling with your strumming hand and chord changes? Welcome to the club, you are not alone. Let me give you a tip on how to improve chord changes and improve your guitar strumming skills.

My advice is: stop looking at your strumming hand. It is as simple as that. If you are a beginner guitarist you may be tempted to constantly rotate your attention between the strumming hand and fretting hand. This is normal. I need to clarify that this advice applies to complete beginner guitarists or people who are very fresh with learning the guitar. It could be you studying with a local guitar teacher or doing online guitar lessons. At some same stage in your guitar development, it will be crucial to watch your strumming / picking hand, because it will become a weak link. But for now, focus on the fretting hand.

Here is a typical scenario, you look at your fretting hand trying to find the chord, once you have got it you switch your attention and look at your picking hand, then you are ready and start strumming. After you have finished the sequence you look again at your fretting hand, you try to find another guitar chord and you repeat the cycle.

By switching attention from one hand to the next, you lose a lot of time. The gaps between the chord changes and strumming get bigger – simply because every time you switch attention it takes some time to assess the situation. As a result, your strumming and song that you want to play will sound inconsistent.

For some reason you may feel like it is necessary to watch your strumming hand but maybe it is not. The guitar strumming you are performing are usually just simple repetitions of the same movement (a sequence of up and down strokes), so there is no need to constantly check what your strumming hand is doing.

You might be afraid that you will not hit the strings properly, or you will miss the strings. Don’t worry, guitar playing is always full of inconsistency, sometimes we may strum harder, sometimes we may miss some of the strings, this is what makes our guitar playing alive and dynamic.

You can always practice your strumming technique in isolation – without any chords at all, just by strumming empty guitar strings. That way it will prepare you to strum in a more relaxed way. But once you are integrating it with the chords and chord changes – force your full attention on your strumming hand.

So remember try not to look at your strumming hand. At least test if it works, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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