Many a guitar teacher can affirm the likelihood of being asked by a student exactly when it is that they can expect to start learning to play songs. Although this question in and of itself isn’t wrong, there does seem to be a lot of confusion as to when it is appropriate to progress to this next step.  The short sided answer will of course always be as soon as possible, while the well thought out answer would be as soon as the student proves themselves ready to progress to that level in their musical development.

My personal take on learning songs is that if a student has not matured to a point in their development where he or she can play at least a few basic 12 barre chordal sequences, arpeggio and scale exercises then there is no way that they will be ready to tackle learning a song written by a seasoned professional musician, hence the expression first things first. Although songs today are in many cases shorter in duration than they used to be, there is still the possibility of there being different movements that take place throughout the song, and so it is best to learn to play a song one section at a time. Play that section really well before attempting to move on to the next.

Assuming that one does have a decent enough grasp on playing basic chordal sequences, arpeggio and scale exercises it is at this point that stretching oneself musically should be encouraged. In other words, it is at this point that we begin moving towards learning songs, but not necessarily the ones we would most prefer to learn, but rather something more simplistic that is within a student’s ability to accomplish.

There are things that are foundational in music which seem to be seriously lacking in today’s guitar lesson environment. It is my personal belief that due to various factors such as impatience with oneself or the teacher, and possibly even misinformation or misunderstanding of what it will really take to be even slightly proficient, is why so many aspiring musicians give up far too quickly.

It goes without saying that each person is different and that some students learn some things faster than others, but that never negates the importance of the student needing to have a rock solid foundation. Forget what the crowd says you should or should not be doing, or what you should or should not be able to play in a given amount of time. As a guitar teacher, I am very aware of all the quick, fast and in a hurry style guitar lessons that are being offered out there, and I am just not impressed in the slightest bit.

My personal goal as a teacher is not to play a 90 mile per hour chord progression or guitar solo like so many others out there are doing. When I teach, there are two possible ways I will approach imparting an idea…Either I will play the idea at a decent rate of speed and then slow it down, or I will play it slow and then speed it up. Whichever way I play it, the student will be able to catch onto what is being played, and then it is up to them to play it exactly as I have shown it to them and work on learning to play it to the best of their own personal ability.

My advice is to plan out your practice times in accordance with what I have imparted in my various blogs. Have fun playing your instrument and remain patient with yourself and others, because if you push too hard you will eventually stifle your creativity as well as your desire to even pick up your instrument to practice. If you don’t push hard enough then the results that you hope to achieve will either never come, or they will take much longer to acquire than they might otherwise have. BALANCE IS KEY.

Prioritize what you need to practice as opposed to what you would prefer to practice, at least in the beginning stages of development.
Here are a few things to help you get started…

– 5 to 15 minutes of playing chordal sequences,
– 5 to 15 minutes of arpeggios,
– 5 to 15 minutes of scales.

I often hear someone saying that they are bored, or that they bore easily and that they need the lessons to be presented in a way that holds their interest, but the downside to learning to play an instrument is that there are physical and musical aspects of the learning process that take time to master, and they just can’t be overlooked.

For those that are further along, The same rule of thumb applies, and when you have practised the preceding practice regimen for an hour or two then switch over to playing a song of your choosing. After you have played your chosen song, then it’s time to repeat the whole process. A really great way to look at this is that even seasoned professionals warm up before they hit the stage to perform.

Some guitarists may warm up before a sound check while for others the sound check may be their warm up. In conclusion, It is my hope that what I have shared here will be of significant help to you in your musical journey. Feel free to adjust things as you see fit, but always start your practice out the way I’ve described, because however well you play right now, you can always be much better. Never stop growing and improving. Lastly, always use a metronome, and set it to a tempo/speed that you can play well at.

Only once you have mastered a given tempo/speed, say 50 to 60 beats per minute (bpm), should you even try to play faster, and only increase the tempo/speed a little bit every so often. The goal should always be accuracy before speed. I remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the tortoise and the hare were having a race and the hare went all out and wasn’t able to maintain his pace. Ultimately he ended up losing the race. The tortoise kept a consistently slow pace from beginning to end and ultimately wound up winning. The point is that slow and steady wins the race.

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