How to Stop Wasting Time & Start Winning with Guitar

timeYou finally did it.

You finally bit the bullet, got that guitar, and decided to actually learn how to use it.

I mean, actually use it. Not just strum a few chords, learn a few riffs, or cop a lick or two here and there. Not just learn the major scale or pentatonic minor “box” scale pattern in one position, and then magically make that into something useful.

You decided to actually play the guitar, and play it better than most people believe you’re able.

 

Sure, there’s the guy at work who plays, and supposedly “knows a lot” about guitars, but you know he’s mostly full of shit. There’s the neighbor who has a few guitars, and while he might talk a good game, you know he’s mostly blowing hot air, too.

The guys who get together and jam on tunes a couple nights during the week aren’t bad, but  when you’re hanging out or sitting in with them, you notice the guitar player does the same things, over and over again. Yeah, they’ve been playing for years, but you’ve pretty much soaked up their whole catalog of songs and skills within an hour.

What happened to those players, and why aren’t they any better than they are?

 

I should mention these are often the same guys who will downplay guitarists who really know their stuff, and who tell us we don’t need to know/do/learn/play whatever it is we’re working toward, simply because they don’t have those things.

That’s really pretty telling.

You should stay frustrated and stuck; always settling for close to “good enough”, just because they aren’t able to do and become more with their own playing. How’s that sound to you?

Even if you’ve been playing for a while, there are still gaps in what you know, and limits on what you’re able to do, relative to where you’ve been and where you want to be. Truth is, we all have limitations, and we’ll always have them. We can’t know everything. Perfect doesn’t exist. Never has, and it never will.

But, some of these knowledge gaps and playing limitations are unnecessary. They don’t need to be there, and they probably shouldn’t be there, especially when you’ve been working on your guitar skills for a while now. Maybe, instead of asking what happened to the players we talked about before, the better question is what happened to you?

What happened to your guitar-playing plan, and why aren’t you closer to where you want to be?

 

I mean, the plan was there, right? You made the decision to do it. Like we said at the beginning, you finally did it.

So … what happened? Why don’t you understand how chords are formed, or how and why chord progressions work? Why don’t you know the relationship between scales, chords, and arpeggios? Speaking of scales, why aren’t you using them effectively to create meaningful melodies and kickass solos? Why aren’t you maximizing your practice time, and why do you still have doubts about what to practice in the first place?

The good news is, those players we’ve been talking about have the same issues, and probably worse than you do. The bad news is, it still sucks, we don’t want to be like those folks, and we don’t need to be.

That isn’t how it was supposed to go, and I’m speaking from experience here. I’ve been on that same hamster wheel, with all the frustration, confusion, and out-and-out anger that comes with it. We’ll never be able to do it all, but we should be doing more than we are.

Being stuck in a playing rut sucks.

 

Here’s the thing: of all the reasons your playing isn’t where you want it to be, there are two main opponents we face, and they’ll always be there. Fortunately for us, they’re also the two main areas over which we have the most control. Those two adversaries are …

Mindset/Mental Positioning and Time.

 

How do these areas oppose us in making the most of our playing situation? The answer’s pretty simple when we break it down:

  1. We’re busy, and strapped for extra time needed for playing improvement and enjoyment. The less time we have, the less time we’re able to devote to developing our skill set.
  2. Incorrect mental positioning or mindset keeps us from making the best use of the time we do have; reinforcing the idea we need more time.

You can see how this process creates a negative loop; feeding off itself as it perpetuates itself. In order to truly break this cycle, both areas need to change, or you’ll soon find yourself locked back into the same circle of frustration, mediocrity, and complacency.

You can also see how the players we’ve been talking about have been affected by this: they’ve embraced mediocrity by denying the importance of consistent improvement, and they’ve become quite comfortable in their complacency.

Let other players live in their comfortable complacency while you break those barriers that keep them stuck.

 

If you stay trapped in this, and just accept what other players feel they’re unable to overcome, then you’re responsible for what you don’t get. If this is the case, then you’re wasting time and pissing opportunity for positive transformation down the proverbial drain.

We can break that cycle and escape the hamster wheel, and it isn’t complicated when we get clear on things and do it. This is going to really help you make more of the practice and playing time you have, and get much better results without needing several extra hours per week.

Sound good? Here’s how, and we can follow a simple, short list:

1. Stop listening to people who don’t know, and who might actually want you to fail.

Most people don’t know what they want, let alone what you want, or the best way for you to get it. Yet, everyone seems to either be an expert, or they “know somebody” who is. I’ve learned from over 20 years of professional teaching experience in the real world (i.e.: stuff that works), that most of the really great and knowledgeable players everyone seems to know are rarely great or knowledgeable. Instead, they appear so to people who don’t play, or have limited experience with guitar playing, so they seem advanced by comparison. Again, this usually isn’t so.

Tune them out.

Also, the truth is that many people won’t want you to progress beyond the limitations they’ve set for you in their own minds, and in accordance with their personal world model. This doesn’t mean they’re conscious of it, or that they’re bad people, but they’ll often resent and envy the great strides you make by taking control of your own playing trajectory and results.

Remember those nice guys who are eternally stuck in their own playing? Yeah. They’re nice guys, but they don’t want you moving beyond what they’re ever going to do.

Believe me.

2. Stop jumping from one thing to another because you’re bored or otherwise unmotivated.

While it’s natural to feel like moving on with something after you’ve worked with it for some time, and you need to learn and understand different aspects of theory and technique in order to grow and transform your guitar playing, moving around too much can set us back by years in some cases.

The expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies here, because it’s damn near impossible to really nail down one style, set of techniques, or particular elements of theory if we’re too busy skipping from one thing to the next.

Information overload is likely during this jumping around stage, as you’re bombarded with different messages from different sources; many of which are conflicting, or just terrible ideas and advice to begin with. Trying to solve a problem by burying it with new potential troubles never works, so we’re better served by digging in and going deeper into whatever we’re working with instead of always looking for that fresh, new thing.

The more we explore and experiment with what we’re already doing (going deeper), the better we understand and can use that material, and the more interesting it becomes. The problem we face usually isn’t that we’ve got too little going on, but rather too much, without enough focus on what’s immediately relevant to our personal playing situation.

Dig deeper, stick with one or two things, then apply the same process to new material when you do move on.

3. Stop wasting time on YouTube and other sites, watching hours of video and tricking yourself into thinking you’re being productive as a result.

This one’s big, and it’s something that pisses off a lot of people, too. I guess some folks get their hackles up when you imply spending a lot of time watching their videos isn’t a great way to spend the day (actually, I’m not “implying” it, I’m stating it as a fact). I don’t care if people don’t like it, because it’s the truth. Every minute spent watching somebody’s stuff, even if it’s instructional, is another minute you’ve spent not developing your own skills.

Don’t get me wrong: video can be great, and I’ve got those resources available, too (you can find the Guitar Antihero stuff on Vimeo here). But, and this is important, so pay attention … it’s much, much easier to fool ourselves into thinking we’re making great progress by taking in as much of it as we can, when in reality, you’re just getting sucked deeper into the ever-widening vortex of the hellish YouTube comment section, or bouncing around from sweep arpeggio tutorials to bluegrass strumming techniques, and gods only know what else in between.

Talk about information overload!

This also ties into #1 and #2 on our list, as both of those issues are rampant online (in case you hadn’t noticed).

Admit it … you’ve done it. More than once. It’s happened to you, and it’s happened more often than you’d like. Hell, it’s happened to me a lot, and I’m writing this warning against such activity. So, I get it. We have to exercise discipline here, because it’s such an easy trap to fall into.

If you must check out those vids (and who doesn’t?), then restrict it to only what’s immediately relevant to your playing situation at a given time. Said another way, if you’re not doing it now or in the immediate future, don’t watch it. Yeah, I know … you’ll be doing it sometime, so you just want to get a head start or whatever. Still …

Don’t do it.

4. Develop focus, and avoid information overload.

This is so important, it’s got it’s own number on the list. If you do the previous three things we’ve covered, you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing big #4 here. If you ignore this one, you’ll never achieve anything lasting and worthwhile in your playing, and probably never get anything else done in your life, either.

This can include creating specific battle plans for each practice session, and following through with them, rather than noodling around with whatever comes to mind for the time you’ve got the guitar in your hands. Keeping a practice log/journal is a great way to go, provided you stick to it, and it allows you to check your progress at a later date, since you’ve recorded your goals and results for each practice session.

Also, breaking your practice sessions up into smaller time frames is highly recommended. If you’re going for an hour a day, work it in four 15 minutes sessions. If you’re only able to do 15 minutes, then work that into three 5 minute periods, and so on. This helps cut down on frustration and burnout, and reinforces habits of consistency and discipline over time.

15 minutes of focused, concentrated practice beats 8 hours of random dicking around with nothing in particular.

5. Develop a solid path to conquering your guitar battles, along with the Will and mental positioning to see it through.

Most of us think of playing the guitar in the “physical” sense, with hands to instrument, and that’s where they put most of their attention. That’s obviously important, but I’d say good guitar playing is at least 90% mental, if not more. Learn to accumulate short-term wins, but play the long game. Nothing worth doing, with any lasting results happens overnight, and it’s no different here.

It’s not always going to be “fun”, regardless of what some people will tell you: getting good at anything worth doing is never all sunshine & rainbows, but the dividends your diligence will pay are worth those moments of wanting to bash your guitar against the wall. And, the capacity for fun increases with the ability to do and play more of what you want. Strange how that works, huh?

You need to know where you’re going, or else you won’t know how to get there, and likely won’t know if and when you’ve arrived. You also need the force of Will and mental positioning to cultivate the attitude and perseverance of a winner, in order to finally achieve what you want and know you can. This stuff doesn’t happen by accident, and it must be developed, trained, and practiced over time.

Follow these guidelines, and we’ll see your playing goals we talked about earlier become reality faster than you know.

 

Go out there, do what’s outlined here, and keep working this plan. I guarantee you’ll start seeing quicker, more reliable, and longer lasting, positive results in your playing almost immediately if you’re diligent.

Hey, maybe you’ll even get under the skin of the players we talked about in the beginning here, which is always a great bonus, too. Don’t give up, and work smarter; making more effective use of the time and other resources you’re given. Just think of all the extra time you’ll seem to have as a result!

Onward and upward.