YOUR #1 OBSTACLE TO GUITAR MASTERY

In order to be super motivated to practice you must:

  1. Imagine a reward much greater than the work you have to put in to get it
  2. Believe that you can actually achieve it

Motivation comes from the good bargains in your life. Whenever you want something and you act on it, it’s because you think the effort to get it is a small price to pay for the reward you get.

In other words: When great guitar skills become what you desire and you perceive the work involved to be a small price to pay for them, then you will be super motivated – if it wasn’t for the number two on our list: your internal doubt as to whether you will get the reward after having put in the work. This is, by far, the most common killer of guitar dreams that I have come across and we’re born with it.

If I told you that I would give you a million dollars if you ran 10 miles every day for a year you would probably do it, depending on how much a million is to you and the pain you would associate to running ten miles every day.

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The most successful chain of burger restaurants isn’t the best…

But if I changed that offer slightly and said, “maybe I will give you the reward and maybe not” then how motivated would you be? It would make quite a difference right? Human beings do not like uncertainty when it comes to bargains. We like to know what we’re getting for what we are putting in. That’s why the most successful chain of burger restaurants isn’t necessarily the best – but it’s the one that delivers the same quality of experience every single time.

If you doubt your own abilities you don’t necessarily know that you do. Because this doubt seems to be based on proof. You say things like “I’m an old dog, I will never get that good.” So you have a reason that seems real. Or maybe it’s more something like: “My fingers just can’t do that sort of thing” So it’s a physical limitation – Or so you believe. What ever it is, it will seem very real to you and that’s why it has so much power. 

Everyone has this doubt in their own abilities. We believe something when we see the proof of it. Until then, we’re merely hoping to get those skills. You might be enthusiastic, passionate and full of expectation, but you won’t be truly convinced that you will succeed until you actually experience it – unless something very powerful has been installed in your psyche:

A total faith in yourself that you can learn to do anything.

This faith is built through the creation of solid proof that you can do anything. You build this proof yourself as you gradually remove any doubt in yourself completely. But you can’t remove this doubt by pretending it’s not there or by saying affirmations out loud to yourself in front of the mirror each day. Doubt is only removed completely by one single thing: Proof of the opposite. Nothing can replace hard evidence in the courtroom.

Please keep that connection locked in:

  1. Doubt in your own abilities is the number one reason for lack of motivation
  2. The way to remove doubt is to prove to yourself you can do it
  3. The only way to do that is to focus on mastery now.

“Kill the snake of doubt in your soul, crush the worms of fear in your heart and mountains will move out of your way”

Kate Seredy


THE ANSWER IS MASTERY

My previous blog post is only about the concept of mastery. The discipline of mastery is a core element in developing your skills so please read it if you haven’t already. The trick is to show your brain that you can learn to do a little part of the magic at mastery level. Everytime you truly master something it becomes proof that you can master other things. And when you make mastery your primary focus you will collect proof after proof that you can learn to do anything.

Instead of practicing something to the level of “good” you take it all the way to mastery. You become as good at it as the best in the world, right away. Instead of creating a mediocre skill that only servers as a demotivator, proving that you can’t really learn anything really well, you take small things all the way to mastery, with no hesitation.

If you keep moving your skills into the mastery level area then you will accumulate an overwhelming amount of proof that removes all doubt from your mind. And that is magical. Now you absolutely believe with every part of your body that you can do it and that any effort on your part leads to rewards much greater than the effort you put in.

1KILLERa
If someone said “You can’t learn to do that!” you would hear it as complete nonsense.

In fact, you don’t have to focus on believing it all the time because every experience you have tells you that it is so. It’s not a matter of “having faith in yourself” anymore. You just believe that you can do it on the same level that you believe that you’re a human being. If someone came along and said, “Hey, you’re a dog” you wouldn’t even consider whether that statement was true or not. When mastery is your ever-present focus, you feel that way about your abilities as well. So if someone said, “You can’t learn to do that!” you would see it as complete nonsense.

When there is no doubt left your passion can develop freely. There aren’t any limitations anymore. Everything is just a matter of following the same path you are following now: The path of mastery. If anyone asks you if you could learn to master the violin as well you say, “of course!” with no hesitation. Because of course you can. No problem. Really.

But this reality doesn’t become true until you decide to go for mastery instead of “good”

WE LOVE OUR EXCUSES

It’s easy to fall in love with our excuses because they maintain the status quo. And even if mastering our instrument at an incredible level would lead to all kinds of great things, the safest and most comfortable place is always here. Changing things are always potentially painful since we don’t know what we will get in the future exactly.

Your perceived limitations allow you to do nothing other than what you are doing now. If your fingers are too short, then why bother practicing right? If you don’t have the time anyway, then why would you start? If you’re too old to suddenly develop world class skills, then there really is no point in trying to change that?

Any imagined limitation will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you don’t have the time, you really won’t have time because the actions you take from this belief will show you that you really don’t have enough time! If you believe your fingers are too small they will be, because the decicions you make on the basis of this belief will create results that confirm that “fact” that your fingers really aren’t long or big enough. No one has put it more accurately than Henry Ford:


“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”

Henry Ford


There is no excuse. That doesn’t mean you have to go for mastery. It just means that there is no excuse not to, other than: I don’t want to.

So do you want to or not? The game starts when your love for your instrument overshadows the love you have for your excuses. And there is no right thing to do. There is no choice that is of higher quality than the other. It’s only about what you want. 


YOUR #1 OBSTACLE TO GUITAR MASTERY

THE SECRET TO MASTERY

DO YOU STOP WHEN YOU’RE GOOD AT IT?

People usually stop practicing something when they are competent. When they can play or remember the thing, they usually go on to something else.

But “being able to” is not what any of us wants. We want to create musical magic and that can’t happen if we are merely able to play something with no mistakes because at this level we still use conscious brain power to make it happen.

If you want to play like the guys we all admire, the mechanics of what you do must be automatic and effortless. This frees up your mind to focus on how you play what you play – and that’s where the magic happens.

A BELOW MEDIOCRE PLAYING STYLE

If we never take what we practice all the way to mastery, we will gradually create and solidify a below mediocre playing style. Some of us then dream of reaching the level of mastery after using those skills for a decade or two – but it will never happen.

(Unless we are “talented” of course which will give us mastery with no extra effort. Not!)

Mastery does not appear by itself and people who are masters did not practice things to a mediocre level and then “matured” these skills over decades. This is not the way it works. Instead you take key things to the mastery level right away.

COMPLETE THE THIRD LEVEL – IT’S EASY

When you reach the point of being able to play something with no mistakes, your real work is not done. At this point you have the ability to take your new skill all the way to mastery, and this is where practicing becomes fun: You’re not struggling with it anymore and you can play it quite easily. What you need to do now is practice it so much that it becomes absolutely automatic and unconscious.

MasteryLevels2
Your fingers should move right to their destination with no effort

Instead of being able to play those two chords at the right tempo you need to be able to play them with no hesitation at all. None. Squat. Zero. Your fingers should go right to their destination with no effort on your part whatsoever. I’m not exaggerating to make a point here. You need to be able to play those two chords back and forth while talking to a friend and watching TV at the same time. And much faster than you really need to for a normal playing situation.


You effectively master more than fifteen thousand building blocks and are able to put them together with zero effort, in real time, with no hesitation.


YOU ARE A SUPREME MASTER ALREADY

According to Wikipedia the average adult has a vocabulary of more than 15.000 words. Fifteen thousand individual little sounds with meaning attached to all of them. That’s an incredible amount of information, but still only a tiny, tiny portion compared to what the brain can really hold.

But that’s not the most astounding thing. The real miracle is that we master all these words: When you speak there is no distance from the urge to say a word and saying it. It’s one happening. You effectively master more than fifteen thousand building blocks and are able to put them together with zero effort, in real-time, with no hesitation.

And how did this happen? Well, you learned one word after another, and then after you were “good” at them you kept using them over and over again until you mastered them. Simple stuff. There’s no excuse, you are a total master already and you used a simple formula to get there.

THE THREE LEVELS

OK, so now let’s get really practical and specific. I go through three distinctly different phases when I practice anything:

MasteryLevelsPracticing anything to the point of mastery involves these three phases

A. Learning

This is where I am slowly getting comfortable with the fingering for new chords or a new sequence. There is no rushing in the phase, I focus on remembering the sequence, fingering or pattern so I have it in my head instead of on a piece of paper. Once I can play or remember the thing easily, I go on to the next phase:

B. Competence

In this phase I focus only on reaching the level of competence. Of being able to play it easily or remember it easily. The key word here is “easy” this is the level I would aim for if I had to practice a song for tomorrow’s gig. I am not focused on total mastery, but I want to be at least competent before I show up to entertain people. Once this level is reached I am excited because now I can enter into the final race for mastery:

C. Mastery

This is the phase most people never get to. All I do is repeat whatever it is I am trying to learn and I am talking thousands of repetitions depending on what you are practicing of course. This phase takes as long as the other two put together, but don’t let that scare you. This phase is easy since you are not struggling to absorb and learn something new, you are merely repeating something you know over and over again.

There is no frustration anymore. Your brain isn’t working much to make the thing you are practicing happen. The worst challenge you face is boredom, but that is easily fixed by making sure you are entertained while your brain absorbs all the repetitions.


“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.”
George Halas


Sometimes you can do this in front of the TV, when talking to friends or doing other things. Sometimes you have to re-focus on what you are doing to get the work done. But since you are so close to the ultimate reward it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Anyone can do this. But you need to aim for mastery instead of competence. But not necessarily every time.

MASTERY YES – BUT NOT FOR EVERYTHING

I do not take everything I practice to the level of mastery. Doing so would be a waste of time. I do not need to master the songs for tomorrow’s gig where I am filling in for a friend – and I do not need to master all sequences, licks, chord progressions I practice.

When I have practiced something to the point of competence I usually make a decision of whether to take it to mastery or not. The more fundamental a skill or the more widely useful what I am practicing is, the more reason to take it all the way to mastery. Get it?

MasteryLevels3 copyYou don’t have time to take everything you ever practice to the level of mastery.

For example: Alternate picking is the technique I use the most and even when I am using other techniques alternate picking plays a role in them most often. So taking that technique to mastery level was essential for me. Mastering the most used scales across the fret board has been equally essential.

When I practice sequences I usually stop and make a decision when I have reached competence. If the sequence feels really comfortable to play and if it is highly useful in a lot of different areas, then I will take it all the way to mastery. If not, I won’t. That doesn’t mean that I will not use it in the future, it just means I will not make it part of my mastery vocabulary.

MASTERY IS THE SECRET

The more things you master, the easier and faster it seems to master even more things. This is the true source of what we usually identify as “talent.” But magical inborn abilities has nothing to do with it. What takes you beyond mediocre skills is a commitment to mastery. A decision to go for a higher level of mastery instead of mere competence. NOW.

If you are practicing a riff or a lick from a favorite artist of yours then push all the way to mastery right away. Keep practicing it even though you can play it. Put in the thousands of repetitions in front of the TV until you can play it as well or better than whoever you look up to.

HOW TO PUT THIS INTO PRACTICAL ACTION OW

Learning something to the point of competence is what most people do. The urge to practice simply disappears when we are able to play or remember what we were practicing. But the secret of alien-like guitar skills is completing that third step and that is just a change in what you aim for.

MasteryLevels4 copyTake a little piece of the whole and bring it all the way to mastery now

If this is new to you, start with a simple challenge: Master playing two chords to the point where it’s easier than breathing. I mean this literally: So easy that it is automatic. Then, decide to add two more chords to that.

If you are working on learning scales then, by all means, continue doing that. But you might want to take one or two scale shapes and decide to master those at an incredible level. This means practicing them for hours in front of the TV. Playing them, Improvising in them. Jumping around from different far away notes within the shapes and so on.

If you’re working on a technique like alternate picking you might want to choose one aspect of it and bring that to the level of mastery as quickly as possible. Like playing triplets on one string for instance. You can work on all other aspects of the technique as well, but this tiny challenge will now be your primary focus.


“Though you can love what you do not master, you cannot master what you do not love.”
Mokokoma Mokhonoana


Getting two chords to the level of mastery can take you as little as a couple of weeks and the key is to constantly be working on something small so you constantly get new results in this area. The more you do this the more momentum you will get and the easier it will seem to master even more.

Pretty soon everyone will start calling you “talented” but of course you will know that it’s just the incredible momentum of mastery that has kicked in.


THE SECRET TO MASTERY

The worthiness trap

What really determines whether you are going to reach the level of guitar playing you want? Is it how much you practice? Is it how you practice? Or is it both? Or maybe there is an underlying reason we don’t see?

If practicing was the only key to great guitar skills, then everyone who really wanted them would have them, or they would at least be in the process of creating them.

Think about it: Your ultimate guitar fantasy is like other people’s fantasy about flying. Imagine if you could spread your arms and just take off whenever you felt like it. That’s how I felt about the guitar skills I wanted back in the hairy eighties and it’s still how I feel about the skills I am building now: I am learning how to fly in a musical context.

Worthiness02
Your ultimate guitar fantasy is like other people’s fantasy about flying.

GETTING TO THE SOURCE OF GREAT GUITAR SKILLS

If people could learn to fly if they practiced it a lot, how many people would be able to fly do you think? Just about everyone right? Well then how is it that not everyone who sets out to become a great guitar player becomes one. The answer is simple: Because it’s not about practicing! Practicing is like the flour in the cake: It’s the big and very visible main ingredient, but it is in no way what makes up the cake.

So what determines whether you develop great guitar skills? Well, there are many reasons, of course, but the deeper we can go the better a chance we have of focusing on something that works instead of what doesn’t. It will serve you better to get to the source of what you see happen instead of the superficial reason why.

It’s all about establishing a true connection between the effect we want and the cause that creates it and this article is about a pattern I have noticed in people over the years that I recently put into words.

It seems that what separates the ones who make it and the ones who do not, is a pattern of how you look at achieving things in your life. There seems to be two distinct patterns that people use when ever they want something. The first one I call “The worthiness mindset” and the other “The cause and effect mindset”

THE WORTHINESS MINDSET

If we get the idea early in life that “to get good things I have to suffer bad things” we are prone to develop a worthiness model of how to achieve things. “If I want something good for myself I must figure out how I become worthy of it, do it and then I will get it” It’s the “no pain no gain” mindset that seems to asume that we have to suffer some kind of pain in order to get something pleasurable.

So when we look at great guitar players through the veil of the worthiness mindset, we erroneously see people with an enormous amount of self discpline. A person that went through years of tedious practice and great personal sacrifice to finally win through and get the ultimate price of being worthy of great guitar skills. A guitar “saint” in other words. A human being worthy of admiration.

Even though this mindset is the least effective when it comes to developing great skills or achieving anything in life, it is the most common one. We develop it when our parents make everything we want a reward for suffering some kind of pain. “If you want that bicycle you must take out the garbage for six months” or “Do your homework and then you can have the candy”

This is of course not being an unreasonable parent but it does inspire us to develop a sense that all great things in life are brought about by some kind of sacrifice. And sacrifice implies pain of course. This creates a way of thinking comprised of two destructive beliefs:

1. “I must suffer to get pleasure”
2. “The pleasure will be given to me by an outside authority”

THE OUTSIDE AUTHORITY

The outside authority for the child can be the parents, the teachers or an even higher authority like a God. For grown ups its usually God, the universe, the world, or some other outside power that grants us access to what we want once we have “earned it”.

Worthiness01
You don’t have to be worthy of great guitar skills to get them

But there is one very serious flaw in this mindset: God, the universe or the world does not care about your guitar skills and there are no parents to reward the pain you go through. All there is, is the reliable mechanics of your body and you guitar. That’s it. You don’t have to be worthy and you don’t have to be a good hard working person. Those things has zero to do with developing guitar skills.

If your brain is running the worthiness mindset, you are probably not aware of it at all. It works in the background of your life because as soon as it is conscious and seen for what it is, it loses most of its power. But you can look for clues that you are operating on this false assumption.

TWO CLUES THAT YOU MIGHT BE RUNNING THE WORTHINESS MINDSET

1. You feel “let down” when you don’t get results.

Every practice endeavor involves plateaus where your development seems to go nowhere even when you practice intensely. These plateaus are the real test of whether you are serious about developing your skills. But a person with the worthiness mindset will not just feel frustrated at these points, he or she will also feel “let down” which generates a feeling of sadness and of being unworthy of the result.

What happens next? Well what happened if the authorities in your childhood didn’t give you what you felt you “deserved” for going through the pain? You became a victim. And with that identity came the desire to be destructive. But because you felt powerless and small compared to the grown ups, you engaged in self destruction in an attempt to hurt the ones that loved you by hurting yourself.

“Then, I will run away and I will die of starvation and then they will find me and be really sorry they didn’t give me what I deserved”

As adult victims we might go:

“Well then I just won’t practice anymore, then see how you like that (Take that external imagined authority!)”

2. You often explode into an intense practice regimen and then give up shortly after because the results didn’t show up. Then some time goes by and you do the same thing again, never really achieving anything worth while.

This is the same pattern many people run when they want to lose weight. Because they are convinced that anything pleasurable must be created by enduring something painful, dieting seems like a solution.

“If I deprive myself of the food I love the most for three months then I will get what I want”

As long as the worthiness mindset is in place any long term change in eating habits and health is virtually impossible. Because the person with this mindset will walk away from any lasting solution to their problem because it doesn’t involve suffering and pain. No pain no gain right?

And, to entertain an idea that might suggest you don’t have to suffer to get what you want will seem ludicris because that’s just not how results are created right?

The worthiness mindset is a dysfunction. It is a strategy that produces the opposite of what it is supposed to produce. (Which is the definition of the word “dysfunction”) It effectively keeps you from being intelligent about figuring out what you need to do (Cause) to get what you want (Effect)


Instead of being passionately absorbed in developing your skills, you will be passionately absorbed in suffering and you can only take the pain of that when you are hyped up on what you want. As soon as the hype disappears so does the energy to practice.


Please note that people who run this pattern of trying to be worthy don’t know they are. Instead it seems really REAL that you have to sufffer to get god things. It really seems like that this “truth” is in the actual world and not just in our heads.

THE CAUSE AND EFFECT MINDSET

The cause and effect mindset is really just your natural way of thinking and acting. This mindset brought about every modern invention that we have to day. You don’t invent a car because you suffered enough to finally win through. No, you invent a car by using your #¤%#¤% brain and intelligence! You carefully study the relationship between your actions and the result you get and then you do the following on a continuing basis:

1. You do more of what works
2. You do less of what doesn’t work

That’s it. That’s the cause and effect mindset.

But the thing that can speed up this process is of course to learn from others. If you are plaigued by the worthiness mindset you will have an urge to do everything in exactly the same way as an idol of yours and you will achieve very little because of the simple fact that you are not your idol. You are you. And you need to figure out how you get there.

If you switch to the cause and effect mindset, you will learn from what other people are doing and then attempt to apply it to your style of learning. Things seldom work the first time. Most often you have to tweak and adjust any method or strategy until it fits you perfectly. At other times you must discard of what worked effectively for someone else because it just doesn’t seem to work for you.

This makes for a bumpy ride full of confusion, frustration and hoping but it’s the most fun in the whole world. Just imagine: You are learning how to fly! The music starts and bam! There you are, squeezing out the most amazing solo in the most relaxed and pleasurbale way possible. Hallalujah baby, you commaned and control a language that speak directly with and to emotions. Flying without the use of wings or machines takes a second place for me.

Making your way to that and putting layer upon layer is like building your own Christmas presents. You walk around with butterflies in your stomach all day because you’re working on something amazing continuously.

You’re like a scientist uncovering the causes of great guitar skills and you are constantly trying out new things. In this process you are curious to what works and how well it works. You ask yourself questions like: “I wonder what will happen if I practice this one tiny thing in front of the TV for four hours every night for a month” Or how about “I wonder what will happen if I practice playing these three notes on one string all weekend”

You constantly become more and more knowledgeable as to what gives you results and what doesn’t. Everytime you do get results you become more happy about that fact that you’ve found a strategy that works, than you do about the actual result. Why? Because now you can do more of that thing that works and just imagine what results you can then get in the future! It is such an exciting voyage when the mindset of “no pain no gain” disappears.

IT’S NOT EITHER / OR

We are all able to run both mindsets so it’s not an “either or.” The worthiness mindset is a natural consequence of being a child and getting everything you want through and by the mercy of an outside authority like your parents. Becoming an adult means shedding this mindset and taking control. But it’s very easy to stay in it by replacing your parents with another authority like God or “The universe”

Worthiness03

Would you ever approach a broken engine with the mindset of “Well I don’t know what’s wrong with the thing and I don’t know how to fix it but if I just work hard on something it will eventually come together” Of course not.

Instead you would first figure out what the problem is, then get a manual or a book so you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself, and then you would try out each and every suggestion in the manual until you found the thing that solved the problem right? It’s not rocket science. It’s using your intelligence.

HERE’S THE DEAL:

No one is coming to your rescue. No one is going to feel sorry for you and finally give you what you want. Instead, it’s all up to you. Your brain and your hands are the most advanced tools there are on the planet and they can learn to do almost anything you ask of them.

Everyone is a potential guitar master. It’s not about inborn talents of gifts and it’s not about “earning” your skills – It’s only about the mechanics of your body and brain – and what you choose to do with them. Cause and effect. You work the cause and you get the effect. That’s all. End of story. Simple stuff.


The worthiness trap

Fast & Effortless Fluency – Part one

DownloadVideTabs copy

I used to believe that if I kept practicing the picking techniques and the sequences, it would eventually come together into this effortless and fluent playing style. But it didn’t happen. Quite often I hear guitar teachers say something like this to their students – and with some amount of pride:

“I can teach you all the tools, but you have to figure out how to put them together and what to do with them because no one can teach you that”

And then we believe that the reason we can’t be taught the last bit is that it’s so magical and mysterious that we have to wait for it to come from above. It never does.

DOING THE RIGHT THING – ACCIDENTALLY

Some people are lucky to do the right things when they “fool around” with their guitar with no agenda or focus on what to practice. They intuitively practice integrating several different techniques and putting multiple sequences and licks together, simply by playing around with them on the fret board. ( I will show you exactly how in my next post)

And the not-so-lucky-ones like myself never knew how to get there. Eventually I got tired of waiting for heavenly powers to fix my playing and started developing insights and exercises that brought about this effortless way of playing.

integration01INTEGRATE: “to put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole” 

INTEGRATING TECHNIQUES

One of the things you must be able to do after having learned a particular technique is to mix it with other techniques as you play. Until this is mastered there will be an invisible fence between the different techniques you use. Going from sweep picking to alternate picking will require you to “shift gears” and you will be forced to take a tiny break when going from one to the other.

They way out of this is to practice all the sequences and licks you know already using as many different techniques as possible. Throw in as many hammer-ons and pull-offs as you can into the alternate picking sequences you already know and practice going from one technique to another in real-time.

You might want to select a simple loop-able sequence that doesn’t go anywhere for this in the beginning. Practice playing it with alternate picking, then with hammer-ons and pull-offs. Then, practice going from one technique to the other without stopping at all. If you can’t, slow down and spend five minutes playing it at a tempo where it is more than possible for you.

ONE RUN USING MULTIPLE TECHNIQUES

The video gives you an example of a decending run in E-Harmonic minor that you can play using multiple techniques. In this case we are looking at alternate picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs and directional picking. The more ways in which you can make the sequence happen, the more relaxed and free you will be when you play and the more effortless fluency you develop.

In my next post I will show you an enjoyable way to work on this while you watch TV. It’s a little “practicing game” that I have refined over time and it will absolutely change the way you play.

“Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune”

Kin Hubbard


Fast & Effortless Fluency – Part one

Best guitar pick for building your picking skills

CHOOSE A PICK THAT WILL HELP YOU INSTEAD OF HURT YOU

A very fat pick with a well-rounded tip is the best tool you can invest in if you want to build your picking skills to a very high level. Picks like these enable you to get away with a higher degree of inaccuracies, which again means more progress faster.

Whenever you are faced with a larger challenge you might find it useful to look for a way to:

  1. Divide the challenge up into smaller challenges
  2. Decrease the size of the challenge

Using a thick pick with a rounded tip will decrease the size of the challenge, allowing for faster results, more enthusiasm and motivation.

ChoosingPick copy

THE TWO STAGES OF SKILL DEVELOPMENT

Any technique is developed in two main stages: First the developmental stage where you build the actual raw skill or technique and then the refinement stage where you create the ability to control your sound even very high picking speeds.

Choosing the right tool for each stage can be crucial. If you start out with a very sharp pick, the challenge of building the basis of your technique will be huge. Thereby increasing the likelihood of you getting frustrated and impatient many times. And, there is no good reason to make it harder on yourself than absolutely necessary.

Here’s an old and very dear friend of mine:

ChoosingPick2 copy

This is the pick I used during the two years I really focused on developing my picking technique. It not only has a thickness of two millimeters and a rounded tip, it’s also very slick and slides across the strings with a minimum of surface resistance. There are other picks that will do the same for you, but now you can pick this up at the store and both see and feel what I mean.

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything”
Wyatt Earp


Best guitar pick for building your picking skills

How to create the perfect practice schedule

So much to learn, so little time!

When you take an overall look at all the things you need to become good at, in order to be a well-rounded, capable guitarist and musician, the project of learning it all can seem overwhelming. The fast way out of overwhelm is to hire a teacher and ask him or her to tell you what to practice and in which order, but this method isn’t always the most effective.

THE CHALLENGE OF FIGURING OUT WHAT TO PRACTICE NEXT

Though it feels really nice to put this responsibility on someone else, it might actually slow your progress down measurably. Just think about it: No top guitar players reached their skill level by taking weekly guitar classes. They were all driven from within – faced with the frustrating challenge of figuring out what to practice next.

Mastering the guitar is a never ending project because total mastery of this instrument never occurs. There is always something you can become a lot better at. And anyone who disagree might benefit from taking an extra look. This means that you can keep learning and growing all your life without ever arriving at “the final destination.”

So, we really need to develop a way of choosing what we should focus on at any given moment to keep us from floundering and achieving very little with our time and effort.

“Anything I’ve done that really worked happened because, either by sheer will or a lack of options, I was incredibly focused on one problem.” – Evan Williams

PRACTICING A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING CAN BE TOXIC

The most common way of approaching the enormous mass of stuff to learn, is to practice a little of each skill every day: Some chords, scales, techniques and some theory. Baby steps in all areas, moving forward bit by bit until YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND WITH IMPATIENCE AND FRUSTRATION! (Sorry for shouting)

This approach is actually very useful for the beginner: In order to be able to have some amount of fun with your new found interest, you need to get some basics in place. And, that involves practicing a little of everything.

But if this is the way you proceed once you can play all the camp fire chords, do some steady strumming and crank out a couple of successful blues scale licks, then I can assure you that you will learn at a catastrophically slow pace. The strategy of “a little of everything,” is perfect for the beginner but toxic for the intermediate.

Darts
A consistent focus creates mastery – No focus creates mediocrity.

THE ESSENCE OF FAST PROGRESS: FOCUS!

Mastery is the opposite of this. A little of everything will ensure that you consistently take steps away from mastery and towards mediocrity. Again, there is nothing wrong with being average if that is the game you feel like playing (And why the h …  not play that game it might be more fun and a lot easier?) but if you want to reach mastery level in anything, YOU NEED TO FOCUS! Paradoxically, taking in less, is the answer to coping with a mountain of things to learn.

WHAT YOU WANT  TO PRACTICE AND WHAT YOU SHOULD BE PRACTICING

Whenever someone asks me what they should focus on I usually ask them these two questions:

1. What do you find the most exciting right now?
2. What is your weakest key skill right now?

The first question will bring out what you most feel like practicing based on your enthusiasm. If you find sweep picking enormously exciting right now, then focus on that all you can! Learning in a state of enthusiasm and excitement will speed up the learning process many times. As opposed to hacking away at some area that does not excite you, but that you know you “should” be focusing on. (You know, like school)

The second question is based on logic and strategy. And, while it’s a good idea to bring the awesome powers of your brain to the table, logic is not always the clearest beacon to follow, simply because it’s a poor motivator.

WHAT IS YOUR WEAKEST KEY SKILL?

If you look at the key skills of being a great guitar player you might come up with a list that looks a bit like this:

1. Rhythm / Strumming / Fingerpicking
2. Soloing / Techniques / Scales and arpeggios
3. Chords / Riffing / Theory

If you imagine yourself performing and using all these skills, which one skill would you say is the weakest? Which one skill would bring your total skill level up the most? Look at your skills as an engine in a car with the different parts working together. The engine will only be as efficient as the weakest part in it and there is no point in working to improve the fuel injection if the fuel pump isn’t working and there is no fuel to inject.

Working on the fuel pump first will give you the best results. Once the fuel pump is up to level, there is another part of the engine that is the weakest and that you can start optimizing. This never ends, only when you do.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?

Practicing the thing you are the most excited about right now, is often the right answer to what you should be practicing. Since passion and enthusiasm are scarce resources we must feed them and act on them whenever they appear.

Figuring out what your weakest key skill is and then working to get that up to the level of your other skills, is the logical way of determining the most effective path to take. But your weakest key skill might be strumming, and you might not find that exciting at all. So any plan to practice it intensely over the coming weeks might not be such an effective idea.

Instead, you can reserve the 25% of your practice time for these not-so-exciting skills and then focus on what you are the most passionate about for the remaining 75% of your time. And, if there is nothing you are particularly excited about right now, go for the weakest key skill and start bringing that up to level.

Notes
Perfection is not in the plan, but in the fact that there is one.

CREATE A PRACTICE PLAN IN ONE MINUTE

OK, so now we know what to practice. Let’s take a look at the how. Here are four steps that you can use to create a simple plan for the coming week of practicing:

1. Decide on a small and primary target for the week
– This could be a sequence, a lick, a set of chords or a riff.
– Decide on something so small that you can easily make noticeable and measurable progress on it, in a week.

2. Practice this primary thing for at least 75% of the time
– Measure your progress either by metronome or by simply recording yourself at the beginning and at the end of the week.

3. Use the remaining 25% of time to practice more general skills
– Continue the general plan of practicing a little of each, but do it “on the side”

4. When the week is over, decide on a new (or the same) primary target and continue

In this way you can shift your main focus every week while still practicing the generalities of playing guitar. Having a clear focus for seven days or more and spending most of your time on this focus, is the way to build your skills fast. You can decide to have the same primary target for more than a week. You can go for four weeks or more.

But keep your commitments to yourself at a level where you can deliver. If you decide to do a week of focusing on a specific legato sequence, then follow through on it. If you can’t follow through on your own commitments it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, it just means that you need to scale down the commitments until you can easily follow through on them.

“Gather in your resources, rally all your faculties, marshal all your energies, focus all your capacities upon mastery of at least one field of endeavor.” John Hagee

If all you can commit to is one day of practicing X, then start by planning only one day ahead. Then go for two and so on. This is a matter of practice like anything else. I personally find it difficult to commit myself beyond four weeks in general. Simply because the excitement and passion evolves and changes and so the practice plan tends to become obsolete when I plan too far ahead.

DEVELOPING A PARALLEL FOCUS

Another idea I take into consideration is having a parallel focus. Learning fretboard shapes, chord shapes or understanding and remembering theoretical concepts, requires you to learn and forget as many times a day as you can during the day or week. In other words: When you practice technique, hours is required – but when you practice “remembering” minutes  or seconds is all you need.

When you practice remembering something like a fret board pattern, you learn them and quickly move on so you can forget as much as possible and then re-learn it again. This means short practice sessions of a few minutes as many times a day as possible. And, these combine perfectly with your primary target for the week.

In this video I’m going into more detail on this principle

You could start every practice session with just two minutes of learning scale or arpeggio shapes. This could be a rule you followed from now on which would virtually guarantee that you constantly get better at scales and arpeggios. And, because it takes so little time per practice session, it combines amazingly with your primary target.

So combining one type of practice with another can give you equally effective results even though the time spent on each practice routine is far from equal.

PERFECTION IS NOT IN THE PLAN – BUT IN THE FACT THAT THERE IS A PLAN

Deciding what to practice and when – is not easy. But doing your best to find the most effective path will give you vastly better results overall than if you do nothing. So don’t be too concerned with the quality of your choice, just do your best and I promise you, clarity will improve as you grow and it will become increasingly easier to make the best choices for yourself.

The world is not perfect and will never be. The same thing applies to your practice schedule. The best you can do is attempt to create the ultimate practice plan and then attempt to follow it. It’s not the perfect practice plan that gives you results, it’s the constant trying to create an even better plan this time.

So try. Now. Trying is the perfection you’re looking for!

How to create the perfect practice schedule

10 Note Alternate Picking Sequence In A-Minor

DownloadVideoAndTabs

Accents keeps your alternate picking action synchronized and in time. They are the most important element to focus on when you practice this technique.

This alternate picking sequence will mess with your accents. It has ten notes in it before it repeats itself in another position on the neck. So where should you put the accents?

Since the sequence has ten notes in it, it makes good sense to create an accent for every fifth note. This will divide the sequence up into two exactly identical parts. But no matter how much sense that makes, it doesn’t really work.

AcousticPicking

Your first accent appears on the first note so that couldn’t be simpler. But then the second accent would appear just after a string shift. And, if you have been practicing alternate picking triplets for a while you are probably very used to playing an accent as you go from string to string. Moving that accent to the note just after requires a lot of practice.

Instead I place an accent on the first note of the sequence. That’s a no-brainer. But then I place the second accent right where the position shift happens. This gives me two very nice “points of synchronization” that I can keep an eye on as I practice this ten note sequence.

The accents are illustrated with this symbol:  >

Look for it above the notes and make sure to play those notes at least twice as loud when you practice. You can download the tabs here.

10 Note Alternate Picking Sequence In A-Minor

How your idols hold you back

The super stars of the music industry inspires millions to start playing. But they also inspire millions to give up. Most people are completely unaware of what happens when we idolize our role models. But I have encountered the destructive effects of this emotional pitfall time and time again:

THE PEDESTAL

We put our role models on a pedestal. We look up to them and view them as special and unique. That’s how they became our idols. But we can’t do one thing without also doing another:

We rarely think of someone as stupid without also seeing ourselves as intelligent.
We rarely think of someone as evil without also seeing ourselves as good.
We rarely think of someone as special without seeing ourselves as less special.

And we can’t put someone on a pedestal without putting ourselves at ground level.

There is absolutely nothing bad about having someone to look up to. Our idols are leaders that show us what’s possible. They show us what we humans can do when we apply ourselves.

IS IDOLIZING HURTING YOUR PROGRESS?

The challenge occurs when the looking up to someone becomes a looking down on yourself. This doesn’t mean that you consciously see yourself as a human being of lesser worth, but merely that you don’t expect yourself to ever be able to build the skills of your idols.

And you cannot celebrate the idol and still see yourself as equally capable. Simply because that’s what the idolizing is about: The idol being more and better than you. Instead you practice regularly but never really apply yourself a hundred percent and your passion for music is experienced through your idol’s achievements, not your own.

In this way, we become a special kind of fan to our idols. We don’t just enjoy listening to Elvis, we dress up like him, act like him and sing like him and we enjoy celebrating our idol and the specialness he represents.

Through creating and believing in a special and eternally unique human being, we become a little special and unique, but only because we are his fans. Only because his light shines on us. Not because of us at all. Because of him.

And that is all good! – if you’re an Elvis fan…

Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley
Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House, 21st of December 1970

HOW YOU KNOW IF YOU NEED TO CHANGE SOMETHING

The massive sales success of signature model guitars confirms this point. This is our way (guitarists) of dressing up like our idols. Instead of wearing Elvis clothes we wear Joe Pass or Stevie Ray Vaughn guitars and enjoy the magic that seem to rub off.

But it does not build the skills you want, instead it keeps you from them…

[The only way in which our musical role models remain a clean source of inspiration and motivation is if we avoid idolizing them]

And how do you know if your favorite guitarist is a role model or an idol to you? That’s really easy:

If you can listen to people explain why they don’t like your role model or idol, without you getting the least bit upset or defensive, then you know it’s truly a role model and not an idol to you. If you spend a lot of time arguing and defending your role models, you are really defending yourself and your ideals when you could be practicing instead!

“I like avocado, but they have nothing to do with me so I don’t defend avocados when people say they absolutely hate them. Avocados are not idols to me.”

“I also like Elvis since he represents everything I value in life and so I defend him fiercely when someone says they hate him. There’s my idol…”

But this article is not about not being upset of defensive when someone mocks your role model and is not about not buying signature guitars. It’s not even about not turning your role model into an idol. It’s just a description of what tends to happen if you do.

FAKING IT DOESN’T WORK

What usually happens when we hear something like this is that we immediately start faking it. The next time someone says something bad about an idol of ours we feel the irritation and the urge to defend him or her, but then we pretend to be unaffected. But we are not! So no real change happened.

The productive way of making a change in this area is to manipulate your brain a little bit. You want to turn your idols into role models and here are some ways in which you can accomplish this:

1. Call them by their first name

From now on, turn Eric Clapton into just “Eric”. Turn Paco De Lucia into just “Paco”. If you do this enough this will move this person closer to your personal world and make them more down-to-earth thus removing some of the specialness. Because we normally call our friends by their first name and our idols by their full name, we can trick our brain to move them towards the friend category.

2. Think of them in everyday situations

Because we only hear from and watch our idols when they are “on” and not when they are “off” – the brain creates an unrealistic image of what this person is like. These people still look like s… in the morning. They still do the things that all mammals do and that does not look very attractive. Take a moment to imagine your favorite idol in everyday, ordinary situations in order to draw them closer to your world, the real world.

3. Imagine yourself sharing tips with your idol

Imagine yourself talking to your idols, but like friends, not like a god and her admirer.  Like two friends exchanging tips on guitar playing – in the future. This future image can both serve as a motivating future situation that might occur when you reach the right skill level, but it also turns the idol into a possible friend. A human being with the same interest as you.

Right now, you can spend 30 seconds on each of the points, take some action right away and start the process. Then write them on a post-it-note and place it so you will notice it when you’re doing the mammal thing in the powder room. One simple two minute action right now – and you have made a real change for the future.


How your idols hold you back

The split second self discipline boost

The correct use of self discipline can easily double your rate of development if you are passionate about playing and practicing guitar. But if you use it in the wrong way it will sabotage your development completely.

HAVE YOU EVER DREADED THE PRACTICE?
– but then found yourself enjoying it once you got started?

Have you also dreaded the practice, knowing it would be enjoyable and productive once you got started, but then failed to start anyway?! Have you ever done such an irrational thing? Welcome to the human race.

The next time you are comfortably sitting in your sofa, not really feeling like practicing, but wanting to practice, then think about how silly that really is: That no action happens even though you want to.

YOUR THREE BRAINS AND WHAT THEY WANT

Homo Sapiens is the only species that can want something and at the same time not reach out for it  (practice = Reaching out) And the reason is to be found in the complex structure of our brain. We basically have three brains built as a work in progress over millions of years: A reptile level, a mammal level and the uniquely human level consisting of the frontal lobes placed right behind your forehead.

The reptile and mammal levels of the brain have zero understanding of the benefits involved in developing great guitar skills. All they want is survival and reproduction. If you think of the mammal level of the brain as the level of the chimpanzees then you are not too far-off. Monkeys have no interest in practicing guitar.

So it’s all up to the uniquely human part of the brain to make that choice to practice. When you’re sitting comfortably in your sofa with all your basic needs of water, food and oxygen met, there is no reason for the lower parts of your brain to move anywhere, much less go practice and build skills you can enjoy for the rest of your life. The reptile and monkey brain is all about RIGHT NOW and has no concept of past or future.

GorillaMonkeys have no interest in practicing guitar (Gorilla)

A SPLIT SECOND IS ALL YOU NEED TO GET GOING

But this is where self discipline comes in: When you know that the practicing is quite enjoyable once you get started, but your internal lizard and monkey are too simple minded to understand the complex pleasure involved in working towards something you want in the future.

Then you push yourself to get moving. You don’t push yourself to practice for one hour, you just push yourself to get going. Just get going! Ok, now you’re standing up, now you might as well go get that guitar.

Self discipline is breaking through that resistance we feel when the lower parts of our brain doesn’t want to move, but the higher part do. But, self discipline is not what keeps us going. When you exercise your will power you only do it for a split second, just long enough to create a change. If the going isn’t pleasurable once you’re started, then stop doing it.

DROP THE DISCUSSION WITH YOURSELF

It’s absolutely impossible to develop any worth while skills using self discipline as your primary source of motivation. It’s like trying to drive a car on the batteri alone (It’s not meant for driving – just for starting and it will run out very quickly and then you can’t start again, duh)

Self discipline is short circuiting the lower parts of the brain for a split second, just long enough for your frontal lobes to make an uninhibitted decision. That short circut is simply you refusing to go into a discussion ABOUT acting, instead you ACT. This takes no time. You think about practicing and then you act.

Once you are moving, you stay in movement because you like it, not because you have to. So you basically, drop the internal talk with yourself about whether to do it or not – and instead you just do it. Does it sound too simple? Well sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can’t:

The trick is to not bitch and moan about your own perceived Inadequacies every time you don’t succeed, but instead allow yourself to be human and try again next time.

CarBatteryUsing self discipline to get there is like trying to run a car on the battery alone

PRACTICAL WAYS TO APPLY THIS INSIGHT

1. It’s much easier to keep moving when you are already moving
Isac Newton’s first law of motion: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”

When you come home from work practice right away.
When you finish dinner, go get your guitar before you sit down.
When you are already practicing, keep going if you can!

2. More pleasure means less need for self discipline
The more pleasure involved when you practice, the more your lower brain will want to do it.

Drink the coffee and eat the cookie while you practice instead of after
Practice while watching your favorite sitcom
Think about how great it will be to master what you are practicing
Create a better, more pleasurable practicing environment

3. Decide to practice for just two minutes
This is a trick I use all the time and it works amazingly if you keep your word to yourself.

After two minutes has past, you can go back to doing nothing
It’s much easier to make the decision to practice when you already are, so chances are, you will continue once you get started. And, if not, practice for two minutes and stop. You made a deal with yourself. Keep it.

Passion combined with a little planning and self discipline is a potent mix. Your passion is the fuel of your engine. Self discipline is what ignites your engine when it’s not going already. Practice using it as often as you can just for the sake of practicing more and becoming a better guitar player.


The split second self discipline boost