learn guitar

7 Smart Techniques to Help You Learn Guitar

Learning guitar can sound overwhelming, especially if you set out to be the next Hendrix, Clapton, or Mayer. Those are talented fingers to follow.

Instead of trying to “go big or go home,” why not try being smart about it? Keep it simple, learn a little every day, and do it because you love it, not because you want to be a superstar.

Here’s what this post on how to learn guitar will cover:

  1. How long does it take to learn guitar?
  2. Slow it down
  3. Use a metronome
  4. Work on your weaknesses
  5. Record yourself
  6. Practice when your chronotype says so
  7. Chew gum
  8. Keep a guitar calendar

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?

Before we jump into the methods for learning guitar faster and more efficiently, let’s take a step back and look at the timeframe for learning guitar. This will help us better understand how these techniques can help speed up the process.

First, you have to want to play guitar for the right reasons. If you’re learning mainly to impress people, you’ll burn out at some point. But if you’re learning because you think it’s fun, you’ll do well in the long-run.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your success as a Guitarist is up to you. The more you practice, that quicker you’ll improve. That seems obvious, but it’s a good reminder, even for more advanced Guitarists — and we’re talking practice, not just noodling around.

If you’ve ever heard of the 10,000-Hour Rule, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers, you know what I mean. The theory goes that 10,000 of hours of practice at something is the marker for greatness at that thing.

The basic idea: practice more, get better.

You Only Need 15 Minutes

When it comes to practicing in general or using the below techniques, remember something: you don’t need to spend 3 hours a day practicing if you are not able to. I know I just said that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. But a lot of people just don’t have multiple hours a day to learn.

So feel free to practice in smaller chunks if you need to. Spend 15 minutes, 30 minutes — however much time you have — working on something intentionally.

7 Techniques for Learning Guitar

Now let’s look at seven smart ways to learn guitar. They’re smart because they help you save time, be more efficient with each practice session, and ultimately learn guitar faster. They help you build a solid foundation.

1. Slow It Down

When you’re first starting out, you may not be able to play songs at the actual speed on the recording. Most beginner Guitarists want to play their favorite song, like, tomorrow. But that’s not going to happen.

So be prepared to slow it down — literally. Slow down whatever song you’re trying to learn. You can do this a couple of different ways.

The first way is to learn the chords of the song but play the strumming pattern at a speed you’re comfortable with. You won’t be able to play along with the actual recording using this method, so this is for after you’ve learned the chord progression.

The other way is to grab the recording, drop it into your digital audio workstation (DAW), and slow down the tempo a bit. You can then make it a more comfortable speed for you to analyze the strumming pattern.

You won’t improve if you don’t see what you need to improve upon. If you don’t see anything that’s broken, you won’t pick up a hammer and do the hard work. So when you sit down to practice guitar, think about your hangups. What is frustrating you right now? What makes you want to give up playing? What chord or strumming pattern is causing you to plateau?

2. Use a Metronome

Once you’ve gotten to the point of playing a song the whole way through (at the actual tempo or your preferred tempo), you can start to work on your rhythm. A great way to do this is to use a metronome.

You can use the click track in your DAW, a metronome app on your phone, or you could be vintage and buy an actual metronome. If you’re like me and you sometimes have trouble hearing a click track, you can use your DAW or an app to make a simple beat at the tempo you want and play along to that.

This exercise is not so much to help you play the song faster, but rather to help you stay on time throughout the whole song. Good rhythm is what separates advanced Guitarists from average Guitarists.

3. Work on Your Weaknesses

In today’s culture, the message is usually, “Love yourself and remind yourself of how amazing you are.” And there is a place for that, even as you learn guitar. It’s a great way to encourage yourself on how far you’ve come.

But you also have to look at your weaknesses. You won’t improve if you don’t see what you need to improve upon. If you don’t see anything that’s broken, you won’t pick up a hammer and do the hard work.

So when you sit down to practice guitar, think about your hangups. What is frustrating you right now? What makes you want to give up playing? What chord or strumming pattern is causing you to plateau?

Focus on that when you practice.

4. Record Yourself

There’s nothing like a pair of objective ears to help you know what your weaknesses are as a Guitarist. If no one is available to sit and listen to you play, you can be your own judge by recording yourself.

Just pull out your phone and record yourself playing guitar. The audio quality doesn’t need to be great, just good enough that you can hear the guitar clearly. After you record yourself, don’t listen to it. Leave it on your phone and come back to it, say, the next day. However long it takes you to have fresh ears.

Then as you listen back to the recording, listen for rhythm issues, buzzing strings (which means you’re not pushing down hard enough or your finger is too close to the fret bar), or anything else that sounds off.

This is a really helpful way to objectively know what you need to work on as a Guitarist.

I know learning guitar isn’t the same as learning math, which was the context of this study, but the focus of the study was that chewing gum is correlated with increased learning capabilities. Why? Because it apparently increases blood flow to the brain, reduces stress and anxiety, and heightens alertness.

5. Practice When Your Chronotype Says So

What the heck is a chronotype? Basically, it’s a person’s inclination to sleep at certain times within a 24-hour window. In other words, are you an early bird or a night owl?

It turns out each person’s chronotype has a lot to do with how well they learn at different times of the day, according to a study from the University of Toronto.

So if you’re part of the 5 a.m Club, you’ll probably learn better early in the morning — and that’s when you should practice guitar. If your most productive time is when everyone else is going to bed, you should practice then.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t practice unless it’s your “chronotype time.” But, if your schedule allows, fit your practice sessions into those more productive timeframes.

Listen to your chronotype. Your guitar playing could improve faster if you do.

6. Chew Gum

Yeah, this is a real technique that could possibly help you learn guitar. According to a study by Baylor College of Medicine, “Students who chewed gum had final grades that were significantly better than those who didn’t chew gum.”

I know learning guitar isn’t the same as learning math, which was the context of this study, but the focus of the study was that chewing gum is correlated with increased learning capabilities. Why? Because it apparently increases blood flow to the brain, reduces stress and anxiety, and heightens alertness.

So give it a shot — if you like chewing gum, trying chewing while practicing guitar. It may help you improve just a little bit faster.

At the very least, you’ll have fresh-smelling breath.

7. Keep a Guitar Calendar

Legendary Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is one of the hardest working entertainers out there. One piece of evidence that shows this is his “don’t break the chain” calendar.

He has a big wall calendar showing a year’s worth of days on one page. And every day he does his comedy writing, he puts a big red X on that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain,” Seinfeld says. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.”

Try this exact method for your practice sessions. Every day that you practice, put an X over that day and try to keep the chain going.

This is your guitar calendar. It will show you how committed and passionate you really are about learning guitar.

Takeaway Points

Remember, learning guitar is supposed to be fun. You should be doing it because you really want to, not because you see it as a stepping stone to something else, like popularity or money.

This means that the speed at which you learn will be determined by how excited you are about it. At some point, practice won’t feel like practice, it will just be a fun thing you do every day.

Do it every day, even if it means you only practice for 15 minutes. Don’t break the chain of practice sessions.

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