How To Master The Guitar

Woman's hands playing acoustic guitar, close upThe question of how to master guitar is often thought of as purely a technical one when in fact the technical aspect makes up 20% or less of your eventual success. We instinctively think that all that is required is knowing the steps involved as if we were piecing together a puzzle.  
The 80% that determines mastery
What gets overlooked is motivation. Sustaining motivation for a short time is easy which is why we like puzzles that can be solved in a matter of minutes. Maintaining motivation for years is a very different story and this is where mastery resides. To master anything one must first learn how to sustain motivation. No amount of technical understanding will make up for a lack of motivation to put in the time required to develop the skill of a guitar master which leads us to the next question. 
How do we sustain motivation for years?
Focusing your attention on this question will be a better investment of your time especially in the beginning. There are plenty of great ideas out there on motivation but few will actually sustain you but here are a few that I have found to work.
Think long term
Mastery should be thought of as something you will achieve in 10 or 20 years from now, not 6 months. One of the big reasons people quit guitar too soon is because they expect too much in the short term. Thinking long term from the very start improves your chances of staying motivated. When you resolve yourself to a 10 year horizon you will also be more likely to practice the skills correctly rather than rushing headlong into songs you are not ready for and thereby compromising good technique which reduces your chances of ever reaching mastery. 
Focus on your practice not your performance
Many students practice with performance in mind. In other words the reason for their practice is simply to prepare for the next performance. This is fine but it tends to lock them into the idea that they only need to practice when they have a performance coming up. It also causes them to cram and therefore compromises their technical development. Good practice should be the goal. What I mean is you should be treating your practice as the main game. Every time you sit down to practice look for ways to improve the quality of your practice. When you make practice your focus you will actually come to enjoy the practice which in itself becomes the motivation. 
Make ‘deliberate practice’ a habit
Practice needs to become a part of your daily routine. Most beginners don’t realise that practice if consistent, will eventually become a habit. Once ‘deliberate practice’ becomes a habit you have set yourself on a path to mastery. By deliberate practice I mean practice that is challenging you and ensuring improvement. Playing what you can already play well is not deliberate practice. It’s what I call performance. We perform what we know and practice what we can’t yet play well. When practice becomes a habit the motivation is built in because a habit by it’s very nature is something we feel automatically motivated to do.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Andy Blaney says:

    your comments are, I think, spot on. I am 53 and have wanted to learn how to play the guitar for many many years. I finally started taking lessons, once a week, which would usually be the only time I touched my guitar. My tutor was performance orientatated a disappointed when I couldn’t play a song complete.. I learnt a great deal from him, how to change strings, tune, play chords, even to understand my Washburn in many ways. I would tell him that while slow, I was learning, that a 53 y/o brain does not have the plasticity of a young brain…. Long term rather than short…. My tutor moved away and I’ve probably only touched my guitar 2 or 3 times in the last 5 months.. I need to make practice a priority, thank you.

  2. g4guitar says:

    Thank you Andy for your comment. It’s true that a younger brain tends to learn new skills faster. There is a process our brains go through called ‘synapse pruning’ which means our brains literally prune back the number connections. The interesting point though is we actually become wiser through the process as our brains become more efficient. We are slower to learn new skills and ideas but our ability to grasp complex ideas improves. It’s an interesting topic but all I can say is to hang in there and enjoy the ride because while age may present some disadvantages it offers just as many advantages. Thanks again.

  3. I played years ago and recently picked the bass guitar back up again. I also can see how age is playing a role in my progression. I’m not grasping as fast as I use to. My hearing has also been a challenge. I think it’s declining slowly but surely. The good part is that its been like riding a bike so I remember a lot but my fingers don’t want to corporate,lol. This time around I decided to learn to read music to keep it interesting. Staying motivated has been a challenge because I can still somehow play after all these years and I try to play at the level I once did. Again, that’s when my fingers don’t want to. That falls into what your were saying about trying to progress to soon. My mind still thinks it’s 25 plus years ago.
    So even though I have no plans of being in a band or making recordings. If the opportunity presents itself then we’ll talk about it then. I just love guitars and playing them. Its interesting to know about the brain and how it prunes itself. I never knew that. Thanks for shinning some light on this subject and also allowing me to share.
    I kinda needed this.
    Thanks Again, Peace !

    1. g4guitar says:

      Thank you for your comment. It’s always good to hear from other guitar players. I think we all have our own unique challenges but what we share is a love for guitar/music.

  4. Belinda says:

    Hi there! I’m a guitar teacher & pianist, & I find a LOT of responsibility lies with the teacher you ‘acquire’; they can ‘make you or break you”! I had a jazz teacher yonx ago; his theory was unbelievable; he took me through ‘GEORGE RUSSELLS Lydian concept of tonal organisation; the lot!! BUT: he couldn’t play!! He sat on his laurels for years, & even said to me ‘those that can’t play, teach!!!’. He never practiced. I stayed with him to pick his brain; I practiced! The student caught up; I ended up replacing him! He was about to quit anyway. He was in his 70s; had lost his mojo. My MUM took up alto sax at 60; got a teacher, was doing great…. UNTIL things got harder for her to understand; her teacher was giving her stuff beyond her ability; she stopped practicing! I keep saying ‘MUM, even 15minutes a day! Finger memory locks in!’ AND DONT BE THREATENED BY OTHER MUSICIANS! Which is a problem I have seen too. Anyway, that’s the end of my ‘novel’. Thanx for the great site! Have a good one!

    1. g4guitar says:

      Thank you Belinda. Great example about your Mum. Teachers often have good intentions but can easily overwhelm students with material outside their skill range. So many students are casualties of teacher overload. We have to constantly put ourselves in the shoes of the beginner. Not easy mind you but its what separates the best teachers from the rest. Thanks again Belinda and hope all is well in your world.

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