Eddie Van Halen.
All famous musicians known for their extensive commitment to practicing. We’re talking hours, people. Hours and hours and hours and HOURS. Every day, at least for a certain period in their lives.
If we’re gonna talk about how to play guitar for beginners, it’s important to know right up front that if you want to succeed with your instrument, you absolutely have to spend time on your instrument.
I love this quote from one of our most beloved musicians of the last century, Louis Armstrong:
“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it.”
True dat, Louis!
If you ever have hopes of playing live for an audience, you will need the fruit of legendary practice – sustained intensity, well-rounded technique, and unflinching control, for extended periods of time.
To pull that off, a few minutes on your axe every couple day just isn’t going to cut it.
Nature vs. Nurture Woodshedding
But even if we put the time in, will it be enough??
You’ve probably heard the statistic mentioned everywhere from Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book “Outliers” that stated “10,000 hours” is the magic bullet number for those who have a goal to master any ability. Pretty cool, really. That means any of us can master anything, IF we just put the time in and are patient.
But recently an interesting study from Michigan State University found sizable proof that those who have become legendary musicians probably got that way from their propensity to practice, and, even more interesting, that that propensity is often DNA-coded, not something we can muster up.
What does that mean? It means that some of us really have to work at just sitting down to practice. Anything! Genetically speaking, some of us are coded to really enjoy sitting in our rooms, day after day, month after month, year upon year, focused and wholly investigating our instrument(s) of choice without even any outside influence telling us to. It comes naturally (I’m looking at YOU, Dave Frank!).
It’s are gift, really. But what about the others? Well, there will always be some who, honestly, would rather be doing something else. Now, maybe that something else is what THEY are genetically gifted at and their genes are wooing them towards what they SHOULD be putting time into.
One thing’s for sure: we’ll never know unless we just try; give it a shot. Put in your best effort, with excellent guidance, and see what the pay-off is. We’re probably all genius at something. We just have to experiment in life to find what those somethings are.
But let’s say we really believe (at least for now) that music is a path we must pursue. Well, if we want to make advances in our musical technique and understanding then (and eventually play for someone besides our family at Thanksgiving), we’ve got to put some stakes in the ground that set our parameters for successful and ongoing, committed practicing. That’s the only thing that will get us there – the intention to improve.
So, how do we do that? Funny you should ask that… ! 😮
An Axe in the Hand is Worth… ?
It really doesn’t take that much time, but it’s really true that, for most people, they will practice faaaaaar less if their music equipment is put away, in cases, in a closet, on a shelf somewhere, and not immediately at their disposal.
There’s such an easy remedy to this and I recommend everyone reading this who wants to seriously pursue music take it to heart: keep your instrument easy to get to.
All my instruments are out. Out of the cases. Within easy reach, all nicely organized in my studio “live room”. Countless times, I have walked by one of these and, with no forethought at all of practicing, I have picked one up and played, usually for at least 20 minutes or more.
What does this show? It proves that, for me at least, if I keep my instruments handy, I’m reminded of how cool it is to play that keyboard, bass, guitar, sax, trumpet… WHATEVER, and I often find myself playing just for the fun of it. Which is, of course, why we should be practicing ALWAYS.
What do you think the odds are that you’d benefit from this same approach too? I think they’re probably pretty high… !
One Switch Away from Jammin’!
The same holds true for your outboard gear. If you have guitar effects and great amps, are they out, ready to play through at a moment’s notice?? If not, you’re virtually shooting down any chance that you’ll play for fun, for hours, and get significantly better without even knowing it.
The picture to the right shows my current practice set-up. On top is an amp that I don’t use live, and only occasionally for recording. It’s perfect for practicing though: 50 watts, on-board reverb and chorus, clean and distortion channels… everything ya need to practice all genres, styles and techniques for hours.
Notice that the cable is in it, so all I have to do is take a guitar down off the wall, plug in, and turn the amp on. DONE! Let the shredding COMMENCE!!
Got a favorite pedal, or pedalboard, that gives you mind-bending effects that thrill you, rock you, rock your world?? Then have those plugged in too – with all systems go at the drop of a pick!
You’ll have more fun than Taylor Swift in a new relationship!! lol
Hard, Soft… Whatever!
Because we’re truly in the Digital Age, I know that some of you don’t even own a single, hardware amp. That’s alright; we know you’re sold on the convenience of having everything “in the box”. That’s cool. With thousands of tones and timbres right at your trembling fingertips, who wouldn’t want that??
I will say this though: getting a computer turned on, and then calling up all the various software programs and plugins you might need or want is going to take A LOT longer than just switching on an amp and playing. Remember, the goal here is to make the time it takes to actually start playing as short as possible.
With that in mind, I would encourage you to just get a hardware amp. It can be cheap. Doesn’t matter. It’s going to cause you to practice more than the computer drudgery you have to slog through, I guarantee you. Go to Craigslist. Ebay. Music-Go-Round. I’m sure you’ll find a slough of inexpensive amps, all under $100, spread out across your area.
Unless you live in Montana.
Then… you… might have to drive farther.
In any case, get an amp, set it out, ready and waiting for your loving touch, and then, anytime you’ve got a couple minutes, call it to life in TWO SECONDS for a run of fun and chops-building. You can’t beat it for maximizing the chances of you being easily drawn to play.
Is that a Band in your Pocket??
Playing with a band is the total bomb, as you know if you’ve ever done it. But practicing can be, by comparison, a drudgery, since most of the time you have to invest in your progress alone.
Well, not necessarily… ! I suggest you take advantage of a plethora of “band backing tracks” that are everywhere these days. It’s like having a band in your pocket, that you can pull out anytime and they’ll provide you with great-sounding songs to solo over, or to work chords with, and all you have to do, again… is push a button!
All the music from the resources below are loaded onto my IPod, which (as you can see in the picture) is already plugged into my sound system, ready to play. I turn on the sound system, I push play on the IPod… voila! My backing band is making me sound like a million bucks!
There are so, so many to choose from, but let me just share with you my favorites, that I still use to this day and have SO MUCH FUN playing to:
These books all come with a CD of music attached (if you don’t know what a CD is, don’t tell me… I wanna keep feeling YOUNG!!). Each book concentrates on a specific style of music. I own almost all of them, including:
- Classic Rock
- 90s Rock
- 70s Rock
- 80s Rock
- Blues & Beyond
- Smooth Jazz (Out of Print)
Click on any of those links to check out the book and get it sent to your practice lounge A.S.A.P.!
These books don’t have actual hit songs in them, but they do emulate hit songs by writing jams that sound very much like the tunes you know and love, but they’re just different enough to where they won’t get in trouble with the Copyright police!
These are also tremendously helpful in the teaching environments. Any of my students who are studying soloing have heard from me to get whichever of these books interests them, and then jam as often as possible. This is not hard to do with these books, because they sound so familiar and set your chops free to just explore like Lukather the wonders of your fretboard!
“The Big Book of Backing Tracks”
If I had to choose just ONE reference asset it would be this book by Chad Johnson. This thing has almost every genre you could ever want to practice, all in many keys, handily organized and well-recorded so the band sounds tight and well-rehearsed.
I have practiced to this countless times (on sax too!), and I’ve never grown tired of it. There’s simply too many styles, keys, genres and grooves to ever get bored.
All the songs come on a thumb drive so all ya do is plug in and download. Then, put ’em on whatever device you want and they’ll be right there waiting for you, whenever the urge to burn up the fretboard takes you!
CLICK HERE to get it. You’ll be glad you did!
One thing’s certain – we can never practice enough. All I have to do is watch a one-on-one lesson with Lukather, Carlton or Graydon… the heroes of our craft, and I know – this boy needs some serious WOODSHEDDIN’!!
But if you set your practice area up like I have, with everything at the ready, I’d put ten-to-one odds down that you’ll be practicing a heck of a lot more than you ever have… and giving all those rockin’ legends a fresh, snarky run for their music money!
So keep your axe at hand, cable up a practice amp, keep your backing band at the ready, and then go do what it takes, to become a legend in your own way.
If you’re starting out on your incredible guitar adventure, check out these other articles in the series for lots of help and insight:
- Part One: Beavis-to-Keaggy Mastery Awaits You
- Part Two: Wield That Weapon With Style
- Part Three: The Juke Box Hero’s Quest
So go get ’em! Seize this epic musical journey, and never, ever forget… to go… make… sounds!!