For most of us, when we pick up the guitar to play on any given day we are hoping to get three things out of it:
- Improvement in our abilities to play
- Actually making music for the sake of making music (for ourselves or others)
Pretty simple, right?
These desired outcomes should guide what we play when we pick up the guitar, which I refer to as "The Guitar Practice Rule of 3."
At any given time, you should be working on:
- Something that is challenging
- Something that you want to play (for yourself or others)
- Something easy (for you) that you just love playing
Again, seems pretty obvious, right?
The key is to be working on each of these 3 things, all the time. Not just purely challenging pieces. Not just songs you want to play or perform. Not just easy songs that are always fun.
Rather than tell you why this is so important, I'm going show you three hypothetical guitarists who are having problems you may identify with. Be honest with yourself - if any of this sounds familiar, follow my advice below!
1. Super-Challenged Chester
Chester loves to push himself. He's always looking for the hardest things to work on, and loves racing to the next song or technique as soon as possible.
If you're anything like Chester, you're probably pretty focussed when it comes to practice. You definitely get in the hours, and you're very critical of yourself when you don't get the results you're after from your guitar playing.
Typically, Chester practices a few challenging songs and techniques each week before moving on to the next challenging songs and techniques. He doesn't spend long on each song if he can help it.
Eventually, constantly pushing yourself with super-challenging pieces will kill your motivation.
On top of that, Chester isn't really learning how to master any songs or techniques, as he stops practicing techniques once they become challenging.
Reduce the number of challenging techniques or songs you're working on in favour of easier stuff that you know but would like to master. It'll be more fun, you'll build a better foundation and you'll maintain your motivation to play into the future.
Also - don't be too hard on yourself. If you're following the right process and you're putting in the practice, the results will come. Enjoy the journey.
2. Song-Loving Sally
Sally has a bunch of songs she absolutely loves to play and perform, and has dedicated all of her practice time to working on these songs.
If you're anything like Sally, you're super motivated to learn a song when you know and love it, and that's the biggest driver of your practice.
Purely focussing on songs you like will limit your progress. You need to move outside of your comfort zone to develop yourself as a guitarist and a musician.
One day, you'll get to a point where you're dissatisfied that you've had years of playing behind you but just haven't really improved.
Actively search for new challenges that you like the sound of. Heard a cool fingerpicking song that sounds challenging? Dive in! Feel like exploring lead guitar for a change? Embrace it, and push yourself.
3. Comfortable Carl
Carl likes to really get something down 100% before moving on. Since he first learnt how to play his open chords, he can't stop playing easy beginner songs because it's so fun and easy now.
If you're anything like Carl, you strive for perfection and often play through lessons you first learn years ago.
It's impractical to work on songs or techniques until they're perfect before progressing to the next level. Hell, if I had that approach I'd still be playing nothing but minor pentatonic scales in my bedroom!
This approach leads to no progression, and you'll quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of material you still "haven't quite mastered yet".
Keep some of the songs you're working on in your practice routine - the ones you really enjoy.
Then, accept the face that you're never going to be perfect and get outside that comfort zone! Find the songs you really want to perform, seek out the next challenge for you as a player, and dive in!
So here's the biggest secret for you to take away - we are all a little like Chester, Sally and Carl. Walk the middle path between them all and you'll get the best of all worlds and you'll be a guitar master in no time.
Remember the Rule of 3:
- Challenge yourself with something that pushes you
- Play and perform the music and techniques you want to play and perform
- Relax with easy stuff too
Every week you should feel like you're progressing, you've got great skills as a guitarist, but ultimately - there's always more to learn.