by Jeff Scheetz, TrueFire’s Director of Education
1. Practice Smarter.
They say “practice makes perfect,” but they’re wrong. Only perfect practice makes perfect, which is why you must find ways to practice smarter. I used to have students come in and say they had been “practicing” a lot. But after some questions I would find out that what they really meant was they had some buddies over and jammed for a few hours. While that is good for your playing too – it is not really practicing. The next few points will help with this.
2. Keep a Practice Journal.
I break this down into two steps: First write down everything you know. All the scale shapes – all the chord shapes – every exercise you can play – every song you can play. Then, make out a schedule. It could be as simple as “Monday I will practice my modal scale shapes” – “Wednesday I will practice 7th chords” etc. You can always check on your master list of things you know to see what it is you should practice, and just having some things written down gives you a place to start from. Think of it as your guitar “to-do” list and once you’ve crossed one off, head on down to the next one and add on as you go. If you’re doing it right, this process will never end, but your improvement as a guitar player will be significant.
3. Use a Metronome.
With all the smartphone apps available there is no excuse to not have a metronome handy. There is even a free metronome right here on the TrueFire site. Use it. It not only will teach you to play in time, but it is a great way to chart your progress in your journal. If you can play that triplet exercise at 120bpm this week – bump it up to 125 next week – and keep track of it!
4. Work on Your Weaknesses.
You can use your master list to see what things you are not as proficient at. That is where you should focus a good chunk of your practice time! We have all heard the cliché “A chain is only as good as its weakest link”. That is the same for your playing. My version is “A player is only as good as the worst thing he plays”. So if you know your picking is really sloppy and slow, well, work on that.
Maybe your band thinks you solo just fine and the girl with three good teeth in the front row that comes to see you every Friday night thinks you are the 3rd Van Halen brother… But… Deep down you know you are just stuck wanking on the same pentatonic scales you have been playing since High School and really need to learn how to solo with modal scales and spice things up. So work on that. Most players sit down and play the things they can already play well – so you can get ahead of them in the New Year by working on the things you DON’T play well.
5. Step Your Gear Up.
I am so guilty of this one. I’ve never been a gearhead, although you couldn’t convince my wife of that. Even though I still have more gear than a human would ever need, I would rather just grab a guitar and play. I hate to change strings, don’t want to tweak on pedals, just want to plug in and create. However, eventually this catches up with me and I have to “tidy up” my rig. So make a commitment in the New Year to finally throw away that cable that has been cutting out on you for 3 years, organize your pedal board, and have your guitar set up by a professional to play better. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on new boutique stuff, just shine up what you have – you will be happier and even play better afterwards! A good place to start is our Gear Buzz section, which features only top notch guitar gear that we use in house at TrueFire.
6. Book a Gig!
This might seem counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do is book a gig before you are ready. NOTHING will make you get ready like knowing you have a gig coming up. Even if you are a player who only knows a few chords, plan now that the 3rd week in July you will get up at open mic night at the local coffeehouse and play a song. Or that you will go to the local jam for three months without your guitar and see how it works – then on the 4th month you take your guitar and play! While it is awesome to work on our playing in our bedrooms and basements, getting up and connecting with other musicians and sharing the gift of music with an audience is like nothing else. Make this the year that you get out there and play!
7. Take Some Guitar Lessons.
Michael Jordan had a coach. Everyone needs a little outside guidance now and then. We live in a world where there is more information at our fingertips than in any other time in history. And yet often we still wonder what to do next. That is because sometimes you can’t see the whole puzzle when you are one of the pieces. That is where a little direction can help. Whether you take lessons from a local cat, study guitar online, or commit to working through a learning path at TrueFire, there is no reason not to learn, learn, learn! Make this your best guitar year yet!
Have any other tips to add or want to share your own New Year’s resolution as a guitar player? Feel free to chime in below!