Charles West – The Pickers Circle
Pick up your guitar every day. Five or ten minutes is a good place to start. That amounts to about an hour a week but thirty minutes twice a week is not nearly as good as 10 min a day and an hour once in a while is nearly useless. Realize that you will only improve by forcing yourself to do things that you presently find impossible. This is not always fun — but it is effective. The key is to focus on your most important problem. What are you really trying to learn?
When I was becoming a Level II ski instructor I was taught there are four levels to learning a physical skill. Level one is unconscious incompetence. You suck and you don’t know why. This is the ultimate problem, no improvement is possible. Level two is conscious incompetence. You have listened to a recording of your playing. Your best friends let you in on the truth. There is hope. You know you have a problem so you study and practice. Level three is conscious competence. You focus on the issue. When you really concentrate it works. You can make a recording that sounds pretty good. Level four is unconscious competence. You can play scales and talk to someone at the same time and your fingers just do their thing without any input from your brain. You can actually sing and play at the same time. These levels of learning apply to every skill you ever hope to master. To sing and play on stage you better be at level four. Level three is possible but often embarrassing.
Their are limits. On the one hand, less than a minute doing scales, technical studies or learning bar chords is fruitless, on the other, few people expect to spend more than two or three minutes doing something frustrating and impossible. One minute of really hard work every single day will give you noticeable improvement. Use an egg timer — 60 seconds every day.
Some A type personalities will tend to over do it. If you are one, take a rest every 30 min when you are working really hard. Once you can manage bar chords and play mostly on time you are no longer a beginner.
The point of technical studies are to address specific issues. The usual list of problems for beginners includes: dexterity, hand strength, sensitive fingertips, and timing. The list of guitar techniques on these pages should give you a place to start. To improve you need to spend a few minutes every day on your most important problem. It is up to you whether that is learning new material or new technique. Work on one thing at a time and focus on what you are trying to fix. After one to five minutes of sweating out some technical problem turn to learning something new or do something you enjoy. The last third or half of practice should be review of material you already know.
If you know where your are and where you want to go a schedule is a plan to get there. Make a practice schedule. Start with a warm up. Continue with a technical exercise. Move on to learning something you can already play. Review your set list. Keep this schedule up to date. As you improve technical problems will be replaced with more difficult exercises and you will learn new material. Keep you plans up to date and save the old ones so you can reflect on your progress.
For people wishing to learn classical guitar the list is pretty standard. Start with Guilianni – 120 studies for the right hand and follow up with the 20 Segovia Sor studies, these are all on you tube and the Sor studies are great music. I won’t live long enough to do all of this but even the first page or two is worth the trouble. The Sor studies are most useful when looking for a teacher.