A Method to Learn Guitar

Despite there being so many resources available these days for people wanting to develop their acoustic or electric guitar skills, the majority of guitar players end up progressing at a rate that is often much slower than it needs to be. This is due to several factors including:

  • Attempting to interpret mixed information from many different online sources when learning the guitar
  • Not receiving feedback in real-time from a competent coach or guitar teacher
  • Not clearly understanding that the skills we are working on should be practised in the right order
  • Not recognising the importance of certain sub-skills and failing to learn them

Over the years I have found that there are two basic principles that really guide my own practice and coaching of students learning the guitar. They are:

1. Our goal is always to build complex skills out of separate sub-skills that must be worked on individually

2. The way we build any skill is to persistently train a specific action until it happens automatically for us. Only when skills go on auto-pilot is it time to work on the other components involved and not before!

Why Use This Approach?

While these two principles are basic, they certainly aren’t always obvious when you try to learn guitar by yourself. I have seen so many guitar students whose progress was slowed or even paused because they either didn’t recognise the significance of just one sub-skill OR they spent years unknowingly trying to run before they could walk. When this paradigm really clicked for me and I started to emphasise these two points to students learning guitar, I found that their rate of progress over time improved dramatically. It really helps to know what to be working on and the progressive stages that lead to where you want to go.

This approach also allows you to build good habits from the beginning and manage to avoid the frustration that so many guitarists encounter along the way during plateaus or periods of feeling stuck. For a much deeper look at how I apply these principles to my guitar lessons, check out this article on Common Questions from People Learning The Guitar to see how we can tackle the common obstacles that we are all likely to face along the way.

This Method Has Informed How I Teach:

Starting From Scratch

I know that in the beginning the process of learning guitar can be very daunting. I actually started to learn left-handed a few years ago just to remind myself what my students were going through and it was humbling! Fortunately you do not have to be stuck in these early stages for a long time. By breaking down the tasks required in the beginning (changing chord shapes quickly and strumming) into simple actions, you can be proficient within several weeks. I have worked with many beginners to get quickly through this phase on the guitar and the rewards are worth it.

Understanding Theory

Many guitarists feel that music theory is an elusive and difficult subject but it really doesn’t need to be. In fact, understanding theory is empowering and can open up a whole new world on the guitar for you. This method is particularly good at breaking down the process into simple steps and targeted exercises that really show you how theory works and how to apply it. This is particularly useful for those who have been learning guitar for a while but feel that they would like to properly understand how it all works.

Learning To Jam and Improvise

Once you understand a bit of theory, the first thing you want to do with it is to be creative! There is no better feeling than jamming with other musicians- all of you using the understandings you have gained to create music at the same time together. And yes, ANYONE can learn it. I have taught many students how to improvise creatively and be responsive in a musical situation.

Learning Specific Songs and Techniques

Let’s face it, it’s almost always a certain song that inspires us to learn the guitar. For me it was Under The Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers! This process of dividing skills into a sequence of simple actions really makes its mark when applied to learning songs. If we get the order right and practice the components until they happen automatically, we can build up the complex skills required. For example, the song Neon by John Mayer seems like an impossible technique on face value but in fact, it can be learned quite quickly by learning 5 simple steps in the right order.