I’ve had a number of discussions in recent months with experienced guitarists who say they play regularly but don’t seem to improve, so they want to take some lessons.
Naturally I’m pleased about this because my business depends upon well motivated people coming to the studio. What I find interesting is that their lack of progress is nothing to do with their ability to develop as guitarists and all round musicians; and their experiences resonate with my own.
My own problem in my younger years was that I picked up my guitar and played it in a passive relaxed way. What’s wrong with that? Well nothing is wrong with that if you just want to relax and let your mind wander. Improvement can still take place but it happens in a hap-hazard kind of way, and somewhere along the line progress slows down until you hit a wall. It’s at this stage many people seem to stagnate and for some it is dispiriting because the satisfaction and joy that comes with genuine improvement is gone.
Some folks actually stop playing. I know this because it happened to me in my early twenties, and a twenty year hiatus began where my guitar gathered dust in a corner. The odd thing was that from time to time I would look at it and sigh, then find ways to rationalise why I wasn’t playing anymore. I still puzzle over this behaviour, but somewhere in there was a desire to play and I suspect the frustration was that I didn’t know how to improve.
I suppose at some point my background in education and training plus my love of music came together. I had an understanding of the processes that go into effective learning and when I finally did pick up the guitar again I was better equipped to move forward. Yet I still found that I spent a lot of time in what one of my students describes as “noodling around”. Again I emphasise there is nothing wrong with this, but don’t expect to make rapid progress.
I eventually took the plunge and found a teacher. He put more structure into my practice by making me focus upon specific exercises and pieces which stretched my abilities. Improvement happened rapidly at first and then in steady increments over a period of years. Motivation came from doing, satisfaction came through measured improvement. Reluctantly I also took exams and this added a further layer, in my own case I also finally admitted that this love of the guitar and music generally was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and it led to an “eleventh hour” decision to change the focus of my working life.
Now I’m not saying that’s how it will be for everyone, but I do believe that if you practice with specific targets in mind and make it a conscious effort rather than a passive period of relaxation -you will make more progress.
Do you need a teacher? I don’t know-it depends what type of person you are, but for many of us a little external motivation helps keep us focussed on what we really want to achieve.
So think about how you structure your practice and make sure that at least for some of the time you focus on the things you want to work on in your playing. Because it isn’t about the quantity of practice you do, it’s the quality you put into it that really matters and having a structure will enhance that quality…and you will improve.