When we look at great guitarists, and listen to how spectacular they sound, on stage and on recordings, we may think, “How can I sound like them??”.
How CAN we sound like them? What are their secrets? What divine magic exists that they are keeping for themselves, sharing with no one?
Thats what we are going to explore today. Pull up your socks, good friends, and listen well:
There are multiple secrets to playing well, and you don’t need to utilise them all to start sounding more like the guitarists you hear on and off stage. Lets take a look at what the 3 big ones are:
1. Practise lots, practise consistently, practise efficiently
This one is mentioned a lot throughout guitar tips, and its also underrated. Not because the ones mentioning it fail to mention its importance, or how to utilise this secret, but because even if you have a practise routine to follow that will surely lead you to greatness, the truly hard part is following it.
You can start practising every day for 1 hour, spread amongst two 30 minute sessions with a 3 minute break in between, and do this for a week. The next week comes, and you miss a few days, then a few more on the next week… then, you look back at the practise routine and think, “That didn’t work”, and either try something else, or give up for however long until you decide to pick up the guitar again.
If this happened to you, this is because you have been missing the next secret, which combos with secret number 1…
2. Train yourself to practise
The physical exercises of practise itself is one half of the routine – the other is training yourself to stay on target. Targets can vary according to your Aims and Objectives (more in secret 3). A usual target is a set amount of time you want to dedicate to playing for certain days/ every day of the week.
To start training yourself, you need to learn what “pacing yourself” means; in other words, measuring & spreading the amount of available energy you put into something over a given period of time, and how you deliver that energy, or what you do in that given period of time.
For example, say I want to practise every day for 1 hour, spread amongst two 30 minute sessions, with a 3 minute break between. The amount of energy here would be the time I spend practising (1 hour) over the course of the week (7 days), and how I deliver this energy would be in refining my interpretation of “Breathe” by Pink Floyd for the first 30 minutes, and rehearsing my own composition for the next 30 minutes.
Why is training yourself so important? Because on any given week you have a limited amount of energy, which, when spread in different ways, produces different long-term effects.
On one end, you have players that spread their energy within 3 – 4 hour sessions on one or two days a week – or everyday, which then leads to injuries. This is not practising efficiently and healthily, and the result is frustration, arm injuries, and minimal improvements that become lost quickly due to lack of reminding yourself, and your body, of them – in other words, lack of integration.
The other end is players practising once a day for two 30 minute slots, or barring that, once a day for 30 minutes. With this consistency, any improvements will stay with you because you are integrating them again the next day, which will motivate you more, and you will experience an increase in playing stamina, the opposite to arm injuries. By building stamina, you are increasing the amount of energy available to you over any given week, thus you can practise longer, and practise more advanced pieces of music. More stamina also makes what you are playing easier, which makes playing more enjoyable.
However, your practise and training should have a purpose, a goal you are working towards, so you feel like you are playing with purpose, which is motivational as can be. Which brings us to the final secret:
3. Set Goals, Aims, & Objectives
Setting goals, aims & objectives helps to clarify your vision of what you want to be doing with your guitar playing. It also makes what you want more likely to actually happen. This is where you choose what you want to practise, be it scales, arpeggios, songs, songwriting, music theory, etc. The things to focus on in setting your goals, aims and objectives should be things that build up to what you want to sound like. To this end, they might consist of things you don’t like playing, but will lead to much deeper enjoyment of playing later on.
Goals are the places you want to be. You usually have one main goal in mind. This is for your overall focus – a birds eye view, if you will.
Aims are goals broken down into more defined steps, like the parts of a pyramid. A number between 1 – 3 is recommended, so you’re not spreading your energy too thinly. This is like standing on a hill, looking at the paths below.
Objectives are aims broken down even further, into very clearly defined steps, usually detailing times, dates, and other specific details as to how and when you will complete these objectives, as well as what you will need to do, on a step-by-step view. To break it down further, you can have main objectives within your aims, and normal objectives within your main objectives.
You can also think of it like:
A goal is the end point, aims are the pathways you will take to get there, and objectives are the stepping stones on those paths.
You can have however many goals/ aims/ objectives as you like, though you want them to be realistic and achievable. To this end, you can work them through the S.M.A.R.T. model (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time).
Within your objectives, you can set milestones. Milestones mark the stages of development towards achieving your main objective/ aim. Milestones, as well as the rest this breaking down process, are important because they provide a feeling that you are achieving, that you’re actually getting somewhere, without being overwhelmed by the big main achievement that is the goal. They also mark stages of development in your plan, making it seem more organic, like a seed that grows into a sprout, then a flower, then a tree.
When we get to places, our abilities change, and so do our desires. Once you have reached any milestone within any given main objective/ aim, review the future objectives within that main objective/ aim, and see if you need to adjust any steps to fit your current abilities and desires.
If you want to see a template for basing your own goals, aims & objectives on, you can download the PDF here.
So, if you start utilising these 3 great secrets, then you will be right on your way to sounding like the great players you hear today. The real beauty is that no matter how advanced you get in your playing, there is always the mystery of music – the true essence that musicians strive to emulate. We can come close, oh so close… and maybe, you will touch upon it.
My point here is to enjoy the process, and balance this with using goals, aims and objectives as waypoints to continue on with a learning path you enjoy; one that ultimately makes you a better player, who sounds like they have some divine magic coursing through their bodies, inspiring players all over.
If you found this blog post helpful, how about considering 1-1 online lessons with James? He can help you with achieving your guitar goals, setting realistic and measurable aims, giving you a lesson plan tailored to your targets.