You don't have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become good at guitar.
If you want to master the guitar, then you will definitely need to embrace a longer-term journey, as there is simply too much to know and learn. But when it comes to improving, there are really just a few habits that you need to form and follow on a daily basis.
Here are four things you can do to improve your guitar skills.
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Hire A Professional Teacher To Teach You
How do you shortcut your way to success? You work with a mentor.
A professional teacher can help you identify problem areas in your playing and give you exercises to improve upon your weaknesses. They can help you figure out what you need to work on next to take your playing to the next level.
You should be open to studying and practicing on your own, but at the end of the day, self-directed practice doesn't work for everybody. There are a few self-taught geniuses out there, but they are the exception and not the rule. Personal practice should be seen as a supplement to proper instruction, especially in the early stages of your development.
Finding the right person can take time, so don't get frustrated if the first teacher you talk to isn't the right fit. An experienced teacher should be able to lead you based on your goals and create a plan for how to get you to where you want to be as a player. Look for these qualities when you're seeking out professional help.
Listen To Players You Admire
Is music about your technical ability as a player, or is it about your ability to listen? At the end of the day, it's a bit of both, but arguably the more important skill is listening.
Why do I say that? Because theory and techniques can be taught. But listening is a skill that can only be taught to a certain extent. You can be encouraged to listen, but you can't necessarily be physically shown how to listen.
If I were you, I would spend more time listening. Pull up YouTube or take out your iPod and become an active participant in the music. Don't just listen passively as you do something else. Actively listen to the players you love and admire.
Then start to break things down. How do they phrase their solos? What notes and scales are they using? What key signatures do they tend to play in? What chord progressions do they seem to favor?
There's a lot of learning that can come from listening.
Watch Players You Admire
You've been able to listen to the best players ever since the invention of recorded music (though it wasn't always convenient until CDs came out). But today, thanks to YouTube and video streaming, you can also watch the best players in the world. This is a luxury we didn't always have.
Early in my guitar development, I had to buy VHS tapes and DVDs – and even then, I couldn't always find what I was looking for. There's little need for that now. Most of what you're looking for can be found online.
Want to watch Van Halen play the intro to “Mean Streets”? No Problem. Want to see Nuno Bettencourt blaze through “Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee“? You got it.
And it's easy to take for granted, but today there's nothing you can't search up to see how someone plays it. This can take away from other aspects of learning. You should try to figure out things by ear whenever you can. When you do this, you will develop you own personal approach to guitar and style much faster.
But I can recall just watching Jimi Hendrix on tape over and over again. Sometimes I had a guitar in hand, sometimes I didn't, but the goal was always to understand his approach to the instrument. This was a valuable learning experience.
So make sure to take the time to watch other players. Study them. Observe them. Absorb their approach.
Practice Often, Practice Regularly
Whether you're working with a teacher or not, practicing is absolutely essential to improvement. You will never get better unless you take the time to invest in yourself.
If at all possible, establish a regular time on a daily basis to practice. If you're new to guitar, set aside 15 to 30 minutes per day for personal practice. If you're beginning to feel comfortable with the instrument, and you're not in pain in any way, then extend your practice time to one to three hours per day. Once you've gotten a feel for what that's like, and you haven't overdone it (i.e. you haven't injured yourself), then you're welcome to go for as long as you like.
Also remember to take breaks. I used to practice guitar seven days per week, and then started limiting my time to five days per week. Interestingly enough, this did not impact my progress. When you give yourself time to rest and recover, you'll also give your brain the opportunity to absorb and assimilate what you've been working on.
Make sure to take a conscious approach to practicing. It is not helpful to repeatedly go over the things you already know well. Every session should be used to review what your teacher has shown you, what you've been listening to and watching, and new material that stretches and challenges you.
“Noodling” on the same riffs, chords, and licks you already know is not practice. Real practice is a focused, concerted and dedicated effort to improve, to become better, to challenge yourself and go beyond what you're currently capable of.
If you're working with a teacher, don't be afraid to go above and beyond. Realistically, a teacher only has 30 minutes to one hour per week with you. And even if you have hour-long lessons with them, that's 167 hours until you see them again!
What this means is that your progress is up to you. Everyone can afford to take some time to practice on a daily basis, but very few actually do. This is because they're not taking ownership over their growth.
When I was studying with a teacher, I would often go and learn another song or two before my next lesson, because I was hungry for more! Don't lose that hunger if you really have the desire to improve.