You know how the saying goes don’t you? Jack of all trades, master of none. Unfortunately that’s how many musicians end up. That’s how I was for the longest time. Learning scales, riffs, chops and any other technique that I could get my hands on. I was learning and working hard …. (This is where you pretend the Twilight Zone TV show music is playing) …. or was I. I’m sure many of you are like me, or how I was. You grab your favorite instructional book or DVD and you pick up where you left off yesterday, or the day before or you’re ready to move onto the next lesson. Whatever it is, you need to realize one thing. YOU ARE LEARNING TECHNIQUES.
You are learning scales, learning how to use these scales to begin to solo. You’re learning chords, learning chords to play rhythm patterns. You are learning hammer ons, pull off’s, bends and all kinds of neat, useful techniques. Now, I know how this practice works, been there done it, changed my view of it. Take the Minor Pentatonic scale for example. You run through the 5 positions, ok maybe you run through them maybe twice, then say to yourself “well I got that down, think I’ll get that tab of Crazy Train out and play it”. Then we spend the next half hour or hour going from excitement and anticipation to frustration. Setting the guitar down and waiting for tomorrow or even next week to try the same routine all over again. This is absolutely insane, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
Techniques are so important, whether you are just starting or you’ve been playing guitar for 30 years. Practice should be slow and deliberate. When you are learning the basic open chords practice making each string in that chord ring out, practice another chord when you have the first one down, practice changing from chord to chord. If it’s hard to switch chords, then keep practicing, s-l-o-w-l-y. As time goes on your speed will pick up, this will happen naturally but you have to start slowly to learn how to properly make them sound. When you’re learning the Pentatonic scales the same applies. Learn one position at a time. After you learn the 5 positions then practice them …. everyday …. without fail. Slow and deliberate. Speed will come naturally. I’m not saying to run the scale 5 times and move onto the next one. I firmly believe in the use of a metronome. Turn that baby on and practice the A minor 1st position for 5 minutes straight, no breaks, no rests just practice the scale. 5 positions times 5 minutes equals 25 minutes. As you get better and by better I mean when you can play the scale at say 80 BPM then for 5 minutes, making each note ring clear and flow effortlessly through the scale then kick it up to 90 BPM, then 100 BPM and so on. It won’t take long and you’ll have smoke coming off your fret board. If you practice for an hour that still leaves 35 minutes to look at the Crazy Train tab and start figuring it out. The thing is you will have a much better grasp of things when you look at the tab and recognize the patterns that are being used and your fingers are familiar with those patterns.
I bet if you asked any musician, whether it’s John McCarthy, Freekbass, Mark Rizzo or Edie Van Halen I bet they would tell you that they consistently practice the basics that got them to the level of playing and entertaining they are at today.