Quite often, as guitar players, we feel unsatisfied with our progress.
We feel like we are not learning fast enough, or that whatever we are working on is more difficult than other people find it to learn.
Nearly all my students have felt this way sometime or another. I know I’ve often felt this way, and I’m sure you have too.
This feeling is unpleasant, and quite often it is demotivating. It can lead to self doubt, and leave us wondering why we are even bothering to learn guitar, as we are learning it so slowly.
Whenever a student brings this up with me, the first thing I ask them, and the question I am going to ask you, is…
Compared to what?
In order to be “learning slowly”, we have to be comparing our rate of progress to someone, or something else.
So… what is the standard you are subjecting yourself to?
Are you learning slowly… compared to a version of yourself that can instantly learn anything on guitar? As nice as that would be… I hope you would agree with me that, that version of yourself has no basis in reality!
Are you learning slowly… compared to how Steve Vai or Zakk Wylde would learn this particular exercise you are working on? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they learned this exercise slowly too… or even slower… and they just put a lot of time and effort into practising it. So in actual fact… you are learning the exercise just as fast as these guys!
Are you taking longer to learn a piece than the completely arbitrary timeframe you gave yourself to learn it in? If you are learning a new song and said to yourself “I want to learn this in three days”, where did that number come from? Why is it valid?
When we start to think about these questions, we can quickly see that we have set completely unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
You’re probably not learning slowly, you probably underestimated how long it would take to learn
One thing that we often chronically underestimate, is how long a piece of music, or an exercise, really takes to get the hang of. If you want to really learn guitar, you have to be practising for at least an hour a day… and if you to become a proficient or technical player, you have to be practising for hours a day.
After teaching 100s of people over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people tend to learn at about the same rate. What differs is how long people think it will take to learn.
As an example, classical violinists will often spend up to a year learning a complex piece of music.
So what should you use to compare your progress against?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at our progress critically, but we have to be careful to use the right metric.
So how should we judge our progress?
The only valid metric for our progress, is how we played yesterday.
Any other comparison does not make sense, and will also be demotivating.
How much should we be trying to improve? I think between 1% and 5% on a particular exercise, day to day. If you can sustain that over a few years, you will be astounded at your playing in a couple of years time.
But what if I really am a slow learner?
Let’s say you really are in the small group of people that are slow at learning guitar.
It doesn’t matter. The only you can do about it… is exactly the same thing as everyone else… sit down and get some practice hours in.
Sit down and try and be 1% better than you were yesterday. That’s the only thing you can do. That is the only thing that any of us can do!
You’re probably not a slow learner – you just set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
Just hunker down with that metronome, and get practising.
Aim to improve by just 1% everyday… and, step by step, you’ll start becoming the guitar player that you want to be.