Friday, May 30, 2008

Best Way To Learn How To Play Electric Guitar

A lot of beginning guitar players write to me and ask for advice how to play guitar 'fast'. I inevitably write them back to ask whether they already play guitar, and just want to be faster on the fretboard, or whether they're beginners who want a shortcut to basic proficiency.

This got me wondering whether there might be a connection between the two. It seemed far-fetched; but, the more I thought about it, the more parallels I saw between these two seemingly different levels of training.

So, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that:

1. You can learn guitar faster by studying the techniques involved making your overall playing ability 'faster', and..

2. You can become a 'faster' guitar player by re-focusing your practice sessions on the basic concepts and techniques taught to every beginner.

The reasons for this overlap and can be summed up in a handy acronym: M.O.S.T. -- or, “Memorization, Observation and Strength Training.” Let's cover each one to clarify the point.


One of the things that slows down both beginning and intermediate guitar players, no matter how good of an 'ear' for music they have, is a failure to memorize:

1. All of the notes on the fretboard

2. Chords and scales for the Major and Minor Keys

It doesn't matter whether you're just starting out, or have a few year's playing experience already. The fact is that 'hunting and pecking' for the right chord or note will slow you down.

You don't have time in the middle of a song to stop so you can figure out if a Dbminor chord will work in the key of B, and then figure out where that chord is relative to your current position on the fretboard.

If you're a beginner, then memorizing your fretboard is the place to start. This will make it easier for you to memorize chords and scale patterns, as well as understand the relationship between them in music theory.

If you're already playing, then you should focus on strengthening your knowledge in both areas. You probably have a good part of your fretboard memorized already, but can you jump to any note or chord automatically?


Your senses of touch, sight and sound are all involved in playing guitar. As you play, you will no doubt feel the development of 'muscle memory' as your fingers play across familiar chords and scales. You will see patterns and relationships on the fretboard. You will hear what you're playing and come to connect it with all of the above.

Memorization is the foundation for observation, and observation is the key to training your mind and hands to work in concert automatically.

If you want the ability to play anything you hear 'in your head' the moment your fingers reach the fretboard, then you must wed memorization with observation when you practice.

Strength Training

No, I'm not suggesting you lift weights at the gym! Strength training, which really includes 'dexterity' training, is part and parcel of everything we've covered so far.

Beginning guitarists often struggle to hold down chords, and to play scales with all four fingers. This is simply a matter of building strength, muscle memory and dexterity through consistent and correct practice.

Intermediate players who want to get faster on the fretboard must realize that the most likely culprit(s) behind issues with 'speed' will be a deficiency in strength, dexterity, correct techqnie or all three.

Beginners should focus on strength building exercises and on performing those exercises perfectly. If you're given an exercise that requires you to hit a note with your pinky, but you decide to 'cheat' by using your ring finger, know that your playing will hit a wall down the line.

Likewise, players who can't seem to exceed their current speed on the guitar should examine their own technique. Have you stopped working on your strength training because the exercises are boring? Is your technique 'sloppy'?

There are some things you simply can not get away with at 160 beats per minute the way you can at 120 beats per minute.

In conclusion, the key to learning guitar faster - as well as playing it faster - rests in following the M.O.S.T. formula. It really is all about getting the basics right from the start!

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