By Tom Hess
If you really want to learn music well, you will do so much faster with a good guitar teacher. Imagine an 8th grader saying he doesn't need to go to school anymore because he thinks he has already learned what one needs to know in life. Sounds ridiculous right? Well it is, but that is the exact same attitude that many guitar players have about music. Before I go on any further, let me clarify to you that if your goal is to play a few simple songs around the campfire your need for a teacher is not really needed. For those of you who want to reach a higher level of guitar playing than where you currently are, this article is for you.
Most of us can think of some good guitar players out there who never had a formal music lesson in their life, and yet they still seem to have done quite well for themselves. Many people look at a guitar player like this and think "Hey if that person can succeed on his/her own, why can't I?" It is a valid question, and sure you can learn some things on your own without a guitar teacher. But why take the risk of doing it on your own when it usually doesn't work, when you could find a guitar teacher that can make things work for you? Most people who choose not to work with a teacher either:
- Have significant financial problems (that make paying for guitar lessons impossible).
- Don't care enough about one's own musical progress to invest the time and money in himself/herself.
- Just doesn't understand how much a great teacher can help a student in more ways than one may have realized.
Most people who don't take guitar lessons fall into the last category. So it is to these people specifically that this article is written for. Let's go over the obvious. Without a good guitar teacher, you may spend hours, days, weeks, months and even years trying to learn things with limited results, when a teacher might be able to show you in as little as a few minutes. Your progress is going to move much more rapidly (and correctly) with a teacher than without one.
Let's think about other types of people (non musicians) who try hard to make extensive progress in their area of interest. Even the greatest athletes in the world still NEED coaches and trainers so they are able to do their best and improve. I know that some of you are thinking "Hey this is music, not the Olympics or some other type of competition." Of course music shouldn't be about competition against others, but it IS a competition (at least with yourself) if you want to improve your skills and reach your true potential. If you want to reach your own goals and those goals are at a higher level than where you are right now, it's a competition, a challenge, a quest, a journey, or whatever else you want to call it. Think about this, the head coach of a professional football team is not the athlete (in most cases) the players are, but yet, the coaches are more than capable of teaching and coaching the athletes to be the best they can be. Think about the Olympics and the coaches that teach and train the athletes in gymnastics. Those coaches can't do (with their own bodies) half of the things the gymnasts can do with their bodies, and still they are extremely successful in training athletes to compete in the Olympics. It's clear to see the athletes depend on their coaches and trainers heavily. Now you may be thinking that my analogy of athletes and coaches is not applicable to music students and teachers. Music teachers are like conventional teachers in that, they pass along information, knowledge of music theory, aural skills, composition, improvisation, chords, scales, the elements of music, etc. It is somewhat true that you can find some of this information on the internet, but you can also find a lot of wrong and incomplete information there as well! But what about performance practice, work ethics of practicing, physical techniques, finger independence, economy of motion and tension control. These are all things that are almost impossible to learn on your own via the internet. A trainer/coach/teacher can help you not only learn them, but master them.
Many self taught guitar players just don't know WHAT they SHOULD be learning. Some do have well defined goals and that is great, but too often guitar players don't understand the best strategies to achieve those goals. It can be extremely frustrating to practice aimlessly and never truly reach those goals, or if they are reached, it may have taken 10 times longer than it should have. Good guitar teachers can spot weaknesses that need improving and bad habits that must be corrected. Many guitar players may be totally unaware of these habits or their very negative affects. More importantly, the guitar players may not know how to correct them. This is exactly what coaches and trainers do for their athletes and that is why these people (trainers and coaches) are so valuable to the sport and are made huge sums of money.
In addition to the obvious musical benefits that are gained when taking lessons with a teacher (such as learning techniques, theory, songs, etc.), there are even more nonmusical benefits. Many of these nonmusical benefits are worth their weight in gold! When I was a music student taking private lessons in guitar and music composition, there were times when I wasn't able to practice the current lesson materials as much as I needed to for the next lesson. But I knew I had to face my teacher at the next lesson, which gave me more incentive to practice harder and longer to master the previous lesson. Even if I felt like I wasn't learning as much from a specific guitar teacher as I would have liked to, the subliminal pressure of having to practice each lesson was worth the cost of the lessons because it made me a better player by forcing me to strengthen my work ethic. Had I not had a teacher during these times, I probably wouldn't have reached the level I have, at the rate that I did.
When Mike Walsh and I were music students, he was taking guitar lessons from a jazz guy in college (because shred guitar was not offered at the college) in Chicago and he said to me, "I don't need this guy, I could really do all the things that he has me practice on my own." But we both knew that even though Mike could do these things on his own, he probably wouldn't spend time on that (because he had other musical things to do). Because of his lessons, he had to study these things and it forced him to master those things sooner rather than later.
Guitar teachers can give you many good opportunities that you might not be able to obtain so easily on your own. Experienced guitar teachers have so many more connections, because they are already in the music business (some more than others) and that can make a big difference in your musical life. Whether you want a successful career in music as a guitar player, guitar teacher, songwriter, studio musician, etc. or just want to do it for fun. I had two guitar teachers in particular whom I had established a very good relationship with over time and that paid off for me in my music career. I can't begin to explain to you here how much I owe much of my own success to them! Much of what I have now would not have been so easily obtainable had I not taken lessons from them for a long time, and developed a very good relationship them.
After becoming a guitar teacher myself and getting into the industry, I have been able to give many opportunities to my students, many of whom are now professional or at least semi professional musicians. In many cases I was able to help them get their first teaching gig, recording work, music business internships, record, release and sell their own CDs, get better paying gigs, etc. Some of the other guitar teachers who I know personally also have done similar things for some of their students.
Do you really have to study with a guitar teacher? Well, I'll just add this, there was a period of time when I didn't have a teacher (for about 18 months) in the 1990s and I can tell you that I was just aimlessly drifting along not getting the same results I was when I had a teacher. So I went to college to study music and it changed my musical (and personal) life forever! It was worth everything to me in terms of getting me where I wanted to be musically.
By Tom Hess
Do you know how some guitar players practice most days of the week, work hard, and are passionate about their guitar playing, but they always struggle to be able to play guitar the way they want? They are frustrated because they don’t improve fast enough, begin doubting their guitar playing potential, or even feel discouraged or angry with themselves when thinking about how long it is taking them to become a better guitar player.
Can you relate to that? I sure can, I just described myself 15 years ago.
There are specific reasons why guitar players go through such frustration and disappointment. Here are 11 key mistakes guitar players make and repeat over and over again that you should definitely avoid.
1.Teaching Yourself To Play Guitar. Many people attempt to teach themselves how to play guitar. Yes, it’s true that some well known players were ‘somewhat’ self taught, but I do not suggest following that strategy even if your favorite player was self taught. If you are 100% sure that you can build powerfully effective learning and training systems on your own, that's great. However, if you are like most of us, doing it alone is the hardest, most time-consuming, stressful, and frustrating way to learn anything. This is a mistake that you should avoid. Some guitar players think it will impress others if they say, "I am a self taught guitar player". That statement might impress a few inexperienced people, but being self taught is not a 'badge of honor'. Would you rather impress others with your guitar playing or with an unimportant statement about your guitar playing? I'm not criticizing self taught guitar players, I'm only saying that there is no advantage to being self taught… and no, it is not true that being 'self taught' makes us more 'original'. In fact, the opposite is usually true.
2.Taking Guitar Lessons From Ineffective Guitar Teachers. Unfortunately, most electric guitar teachers receive ZERO training on how to teach guitar. What is worse is that the vast majority of teachers do little or nothing to improve their guitar teaching skills. Want some proof? Use google’s keyword tool . Type in this keyword phrase: ‘improve guitar teaching skills’, ‘guitar teaching skills’, or ‘guitar teaching training’ and you will find that less than 10 searches per month are done for these topics at google! Of course there are some highly effective electric guitar teachers around, but there are a whole lot more ineffective teachers.
3.Seeking New Guitar Information (tricks, tips, tab) Without A Proven Strategy To Reach Your Specific Musical Goals. We need information, advice, help and music to play, but without a proven strategic learning and training process that is specific to you, your skill level, your musical style and what you want to be able to do as a guitar player, information won’t get you where you want to go. It is better to first seek help in developing a customized strategy for you to become a better guitar player. After that strategy is in place, then it is time to deal with learning the right information.
4.Not Knowing Specifically What You Want To Be Able To Play. Most guitar players are not specific enough when they think about (or tell others about) what they want to be able to do with their guitar. To say, "I want to play whatever I wish to play”is too vague. How can you (or your guitar teacher) develop a specific and effective guitar training strategy unless the goals you have are specific? It's like saying you want to be a great athlete, how can you effectively train with such a vague goal? Sure there are things you can do to become faster, stronger, more flexible or whatever, but it's much easier if you first get specific such as, I want to train to be a gymnast, or a long distance runner, or a body builder. Yes you can still improve without a strategy, but it will take a lot longer and be much more frustrating. You can always change your goal later if you discover you want to do something else instead.
5.Not Enough Focus On Things That Matter Most To Making You A Better Guitar Player. Have you fallen into the trap of practicing guitar without focusing on the specific things that can quickly begin to improve your guitar playing? Many people really do not understand and apply this concept in enough detail…. for example, I have a student named Mark who used to take lessons from another teacher in the past. Mark was studying sweep picking arpeggios with his previous teacher, and was making some progress. However Mark did not understand what ‘specific’ things he needed to focus on first before attempting to master the sweep picking arpeggios he was practicing. This was holding him back and making him feel very frustrated. Mark’s previous teacher only knew how to ‘teach’ arpeggios and general sweep picking concepts. He did not really know how to “train” Mark with the specific things to focus on and how to overcome the challenges Mark was having.
6.Too Much Focus On Things That Are Not Core To Your Goals. In addition to not focusing on specific things, many guitar players focus on the ‘wrong things’. Some enthusiastic guitar players become temporarily obsessed with things which are distractions from other things that could be helping their guitar playing much more. Here is an example: I used to get so frustrated and angry when I could not play something perfectly, I’d lock myself in my guitar practice room and say, “I’m not coming out of this room until I master this damn lick if it takes me the next 19 hours! No breaks! No food! No human contact! I’m gonna nail this!” And I did master it. On the surface, it might seem like I was on the right track and practicing in a good way…. But in reality, I was spending my time only to stop being angry and frustrated. I was not investing my guitar practice time wisely by focusing on the things that mattered most to making a better guitar player. In other words, my perseverance was commendable, but my strategy to master important long-term goals was weak. I allowed myself to be distracted. I don’t make this same mistake anymore, and I urge you to also avoid it! Focus on the things that really matter for your guitar playing right now. If you are not sure how to do this, seek out a proven guitar teacher today.
7.Focusing On The Right Things, But in The Wrong Order. This is a common mistake that even many advanced guitar players make which causes a lot of wasted time and frustration. Imagine you want to improve your ability to create your own cool guitar solos. Let’s assume that you are advanced enough to truly understand all the primary and secondary elements of composing guitar solos (or you have a guitar teacher to help you). Each of the many elements need to be learned and/or practiced in order to easily create awesome solos that you like. Where should you begin? What should you focus on first, second, third? Which of these things should you practice simultaneously? There is always a specific order in which musical skills should be learned and mastered in order to EXPLODE your musical skills. Unfortunately, that order is totally different for every person, style of music, musical goal, skill set and knowledge, so giving an example here would be pointless. My advice, find the best teacher you can and study with him/her in order to be able to do what you want to do with your guitar much faster and easier.
8. Not Isolating Problem Areas. Few guitar players are aware of the small things that hold them back in big ways. Because these little imperfections seem insignificant to us, we often ignore them. The truth is, small hinges open big doors. In the video mentioned above I explained how allowing your guitar pick to lose its momentum when you are ‘not picking’ a note on the guitar makes your playing slow and sloppy…. which will make you feel very frustrated. This is why I was sure to make a special point to help you avoid that mistake. For example, before recording a new album I will practice very differently compared to the period before going on tour. Once I’m actually on tour my practice routine changes drastically again. The rest of the year my practicing schedule changes yet again. This happens because in each case my challenges and goals are totally different. When my guitar students ask me, “Tom, how do you practice guitar?” I’m careful not to let my students assume that they should practice the same way that I do. Your practice schedule and strategy needs to be built around YOU and you only! If you need help building your own practice schedule, email me directly.
9.Learning From Too Many Different Sources Of Information. There will always be many learning opportunities and various paths to take, but it is critical that you do not get distracted into following a piece of advice from one person, then another piece of advice from another person and then follow more resources from somewhere else and so on and so on... while different people may have some good ideas to offer, the fact is, distraction is a big reason why many guitar players who are actively learning, don't really move forward quickly... these people are always busy following totally different resources, teachers, philosophies, instructional videos, free online guitar lessons, but all of this leads them to take one step forward, then 2 steps to the right, then one step forward, then 3 steps to the left, then one step backward, then two to the right, then 1 step forward and then another step to the left.