There’s No Substitute for Practice When it Comes to Learning the Guitar

The other day I saw a promotion for a new mobile phone app, supposedly created to help you master the guitar. I left a comment in which I said that an app won’t do you any good unless you put in your time, work at it, and practice on a regular basis. That comment immediately got some very predictable responses: “I’m sure it will help some people.” “It can’t do any harm.” “There’s some good stuff in that app.”

All of that is probably true, but when it comes to playing the guitar I doubt there is a magical approach or an app that will make the task significantly easier. So why waste your time discovering what so many have learned before you?

Learning to play the guitar is just one of those things that takes dedication, and lots of practice. Many of us have bought lots of teaching aids to speed up the process. Most of those aids are sitting in drawers or on our hard drives unused.

None of that is to say that good guitar instruction isn’t valuable. A good teacher – whether in person or on video – can show you things it might otherwise take you years to stumble upon. Insights, suggestions and techniques you get from a teacher can make a big difference to your journey as a guitar player.

But that doesn’t reduce the importance of regular practice. As with most fairly difficult skills you can be almost guaranteed of these two things: First, if you don’t practice your guitar playing you probably will not get better. And, second, if you do practice you almost inevitably will get better.

What sort of practice routine should you use? Here’s a suggestion. First, spend at least a few minutes every day working of scales. Play the main major scales and a few pentatonic scales at different places on the neck. Get hold of some exercises that will help you develop the dexterity and flexibility of your fingers.

To develop rhythmic picking and strumming you could play along with some background tracks. Work on a small number of songs until you have a good feel for them.

Beginners should work on a few simple melodies. This will give you a feel for the relationship between strings, and also give you a sense of accomplishment as you learn to make something that actually sounds like music.

You may never play like Chet Atkins or Jimi Hendrix, but you’ll be better than 99% of the rest of us, and you’ll ultimately have a lot more fun doing it.

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