There are many categories you can look at when analyzing your guitar playing. Some are general and others can be very nuanced. The key to consistent growth is to recognize where your weaknesses are within these categories and first work on them in isolation, then integrate them into your playing. Although this may seem simple on the surface level, it is not always the case. Everything we perform on the guitar is a combination of multiple actions all happening simultaneously. Some of which we are conscious about and others we might not be. Even something as straight forward as picking a single note and letting it ring out involves fretting on the right area of the fret-board, using the right amount of pressure when fretting, often we would add a vibrato to the note, when and how to use vibrato, using the right picking hand position, picking technique, pick angle, and picking position. That’s a lot of things to focus on just for picking a single note.
Although a great teacher will be able to identify the weaknesses you might be unaware of, it is crucial for your long-term progress as a guitar player that you learn to critically breakdown and analyse each element of your playing. Once you do that, the specific areas holding you back will be more apparent.
Another point to consider is when does the problem occur. Some problems only show up at a certain speed and disappear when you slow it down. So, depending on the problem you are trying to fix, you must know when they occur so you are able to replicate that situation and isolate those motions.
For example, if we look at the three note per string scale, most players encounter a problem switching from one string to the next. So, when breaking it down into an exercise, you need to isolate the motion of switching from one string to the next, in other words, the last note of the string you start on to the first note of the string you move to. That is where the change occurs. By isolating this motion, you can create entire exercises from this one motion. This allows you to repeat that motion only and will drastically shorten the time you will need to overcome the problem.
There are a few areas you should pay attention to while doing isolation exercises this way. The first thing is to have a laser like focus when practicing it. You do not want to fall into the mindless exercise or mindless practice trap, where your mind is completely disengaged to what your hands are doing. This is very inefficient. You want to make the best out of the time you have. Separate your practice time into smaller chunks of focus, like picking hand efficiency, transitions from one string to the next, fretting hand tension, cleanness of string changes, etc. Also make sure you are completely relaxed when practicing by constantly paying attention to any part of your body that starts to tense up while practicing. Spend a minimum of 5 minutes on each area of focus.
As you work more on isolating these problem areas, you will start to notice them feeling more natural and effortless. This is when you should integrate them into your own playing.
The key point here is to turn your weaknesses into exercises, so you should do this over all pairs of adjacent strings. Also, come up with ideas of your own which exclusively involve these motions. This is a great way to make you sound musical and keep your mind engaged. The example presented in this article is isolating string changes, but you can apply this same approach of turning your weaknesses into exercises to any challenge you face, such as messy chord changes, unwanted string noise, bends and vibratos, slides etc.
Apply this approach to any obstacle and fast track your progress!
Learning to play guitar on your own can be frustrating and challenging, especially if you don’t know what to do. Having a great teacher makes the whole process more fun, enjoyable and gets you real results fast.