The One Thing That Will Keep Your Guitar Playing Move Forward

by Janez Janežič

Whenever I don’t hear people ask the question: “What should I do to get better at playing guitar (or any instrument?”, I can certainly read it

between the lines. And it is a good question – sometimes I wonder that as well.

But what IS that thing, that makes your guitar playing move forward? Is it the awesome licks? Awesome scale sequences and arpeggios? The amount of knowledge you have of music theory?

The answer is: none of that. It’s the focus. Not just any kind of focus, because you are capable of focusing on the wrong things, but the focus directed towards your weaknesses. Therefore, you need to get to know them and your playing in general. 

Here are a few steps you need to take first:

  1. What do you want?

First, you have to know what you want, and this is true for every aspect of your life, but let’s focus just on the ‘playing part’ of a musician. 

What do you want to be able to do on your instrument? Do you have the music in your head and want to be able to get it out through your guitar for others to hear? Do you want to be a shred monster? Do you want to be a master improviser, who can jam anytime over anything? Do you want to be a session guitar player, who can sight read any sheet music and any chord progression on the spot?

Do this: during the next few days take one hour of your time and just focus on answering questions above. And don’t forget to come up with new questions and answers that better apply to your desires. Write everything down.

2) Observe your playing

In order to get to know your playing, you need to observe it first. One thing you can do is take a week and try to practise every aspect of your desired level of playing guitar. Keep track of every speed, every false finger movement, any inefficiency – write those down, too. 

Make sure to reference to the goals you wrote in the first step. Do not observe and track things that are not a part of your vision.

3) Define the weaknesses

This part is pretty obvious after the previous. After you observed your playing, try to define your weaknesses. If they still aren’t obvious after the 2nd step, ask your mentor or teacher (or someone else capable of giving direct and honest opinions) for feedback, or you can send me an email about it. 

Here are some questions to help you:

On what item is my speed the lowest? 

Are my fingers as efficient as possible? 

Is my pick movement as efficient as possible? 

Am I fully relaxed while playing? 

Am I able to use all those licks, scales and arpeggios in songwriting/improvisation?

Am I able to improvise effortlessly over any backing track, chord change, time signature, modulation?

4) Focus on the weaknesses

After you’ve done the steps above, the answer to “what to focus on?” should be pretty obvious. Most of the time it will seem like a lot of work. But just focusing on the weakest parts of your playing on a daily basis will make you progress a lot faster.

5) How does that look like?

Well, for instance: if you are slow at any of the scale sequences, you decide to work on them. You have to observe what’s happening, how your fingers are moving etc. And then you DO NOT just mindlessly play the thing over and over again in hope of getting it better. Instead you have to put a LASER focus on that finger movement that’s causing you trouble. 

Try to see that finger, try to hear those notes, and try to feel the movements. If you can’t, slow down and if you still fail to acknowledge what exactly is going on, slow down even more. You’ll find yourself in the heart of your guitar playing and you’ll experience progress on the spot. THAT means ‘focus’.

6) About the focus

Focus is one slippery thing that’s hard to keep in our grasp. You become easily distracted by your thoughts. That’s why even guitar players have their trainers much like sportsmen. A good guitar teacher should also provide you with the service of training. However, I know that that is not the case with many people and also that most of the time you’ll be practising alone. What you can do alone is: set a timer that beeps every now and then. That beep should interrupt your unwanted thoughts, that aren’t supposed to be there and then you should direct your thoughts back on your weaknesses.

Now, there is one more important thing to consider. Let’s repeat the lesson here: focus on YOUR weaknesses. That also means that you shouldn’t think about others. Moreover, you definitely should NOT FOCUS ON THE STRENGTHS OF OTHERS!

How many times have you glanced at a great guitar player and thought: »Man, how great is his shredding … I can’t do that and I’ve been playing for years, I must have no talent.« and then get immediately discouraged. You have to realise you’ve only seen 1 or 2 aspects of his playing. You might beat him to death with your awesome phrasing. Have you ever thought about that?

Now to make things clear, having idols who inspire you is different. It’s awesome to have someone you look up to or someone that inspires you to practise more. But just don’t compare yourself to others. No two guitarists will ever be the same.

I’ve discovered that we (the guitar players) are all just afraid of each other because of this. Almost every guitar player thinks the guy sitting next to them is better (unless he’s a narcissist). I feel that too, but every single time I realise that in fact we’re all just different. You can’t compare musicians by any objective standard that easily – you make YOUR OWN sound and YOUR OWN music.

Focus on your weaknesses, do not worry about the strengths of others.

© 2018 Janez Janežič

About the author

Janez Janežič is an uprising guitarist, songwriter and guitar teacher from Slovenia. If you want to take guitar lessons in Novo mesto, Slovenia, then feel free to make a contact with him.