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Guest Article:  Robert Callus

Are you Practicing the Guitar but Not Getting Better?

Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut in your guitar playing? That no matter how much you practice you don’t seem to see any significant improvement?

Periods like this are very common for people learning the guitar. Times where you really desire to get good on the instrument, actually put in the hours, but see little or no results.

These periods are called plateaus.

The good news is that all guitarists who persist in practicing, rather than quit during plateaus, eventually overcome them.

And the quickest way to get out of a plateau is by making changes in your guitar practicing habits.

In this article, I will point out areas in which you may need to make changes to get unstuck.

1.  You’re not learning what you need

Is your guitar practice time focused on one or two things and you’re neglecting important areas that can help you reach your goals?

Guitar playing, rather than one skill, is a set of skills combined together.


If you’re say, practicing scales, or trying to improve your speed, and neglect other important areas such as technique, phrasing, learning the fretboard, music theory, and learning songs among others, no wonder you’ll get stuck.


Make sure you’re not putting most of your efforts on things you don’t need so much while ignoring what really matters.


2.  You’re learning things in the wrong order


In the age of the Internet it’s easy to get lost in the information.

There are many cool lessons and videos out there, which is great, but without proper guidance you might easily end up trying to learn things that are way above your weight.

For instance, if you search for information on arpeggios on the Internet, you may find a lot stuff about sweep picking – since this technique is used mostly together with arpeggios.


However, while arpeggios are something intermediate guitar players should be learning, applying sweep picking to them is a very advanced technique mostly used by virtuoso guitar players.


Thus, if you’re trying to sweep pick arpeggios, rather than learn how to use them at a normal speed you will feel stuck since you need to gain other skills before you’re able to sweep pick, while you’re missing out learning how to use arpeggios right now.


3.  You don’t try learning things slow enough

This is a very common occurrence during my guitar lessons - until I teach the student how to practice properly.

The student plays a piece of music – horribly – and I ask him to play the same thing at a much lower speed.

Thus, he plays it some 20% slower than the one he was playing it horribly in.


In reality I would have meant, way, way slower than that, but in his mind, just slowing it a bit, is enough.


What I’m saying is not that you should be practicing slowly all the time, but at times, to learn something challenging, you have to switch off the metronome and play as slow as necessary – where your fingers seem to be moving in slow motion.

4.  You don’t isolate enough

It’s uncommon that you’ll find an entire piece of music challenging, and if you do, you may consider learning easier songs before.

Usually there are parts of the song – which can be as little as two notes or chords – that give you most of the trouble.

Rather than practice the entire piece of music over and over again, you should zoom in on that chord change, or that 5 note run, practice it very slowly as suggested above, and once you get it right, repeat doing it correctly at that speed for a number of times.

Then put it in a wider context.


If you do this, you’ll learn much faster than if you didn’t zoom in your attention on the specific problem that was holding you back from getting it right.


5.  You’re not concentrating

Do you ever start practicing the guitar and after a few minutes you and up doing whatever comes to mind without a specific purpose?


The more you do that, the slower is your progress.


Every single time you practice, have a specific aim/s in mind and all your concentration should be on achieving that aim.

Conclusion: Improve faster by making changes

Now that you have an idea of what may be holding you back from achieving your musical goals faster, what change, or changes, are you going to make?

Because once you improve the quality of your practice time – whether you increase the quantity or not – you will, in a short time, see a significant change in the rate you’re improving on the instrument.


Robert Callus is a guitar player, songwriter and blogger and gives guitar lessons in Malta.

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