The Three-Focus Approach to Guitar Mastery

Webster defines mastery as “knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well.” “Very well” may mean different things to different people, but regardless of your standards or taste, you are probably happiest as a  guitar player when you feel that your technical skills and creative expression are flourishing.

You know that in order to flourish as a guitarist, you  must practice – but practicing on your instrument is only one part of the formula that guarantees continued musical growth. In order to break through limitations, avoid stagnation and create a powerful path to your goals, you need a three-focus approach that also includes performing and teaching.

It’s helpful to consider the reasons that this combination is so powerful, but even armed with that information, you may feel resistance to one or another of the three practices. Maybe you don’t feel qualified to teach or brave enough to perform. And what if you’re disinterested in or repelled by either or both?

Good news! You don’t have to fully engage in either teaching or performing in a purely conventional sense in order to reap the benefits. By first understanding the value of these practices and then creating ways to achieve the benefits they offer, you can launch your own powerful, personal process.

Practicing

You can find a growing number of posts on this site and blog that provide tips for efficient and effective practice. Even if you are satisfied with your current methods, practice is worth ongoing examination, so be sure to stay open to new information and advice.

In addition to practicing songs and exercises, a complete practice regimen should include the study of theory, ear training, note reading and more. Don’t limit your work to what is easy for you, but instead continually step into new territory. Think big to be big!

Performing

Perhaps you are driven to perform and maybe you are hooked on the high of playing to an audience. On the other hand, you may staunchly avoid being heard by another human, in which case it is likely that you are unaware of the advantages of performing.

Playing for others will motivate you to take your music to a higher level than you might when only playing for yourself. Most people who play only for themselves never really complete a piece, much less a body of work. When you are facing the prospect of an audience, you will find yourself attending to details in everything you play – and loving the results!

Playing scheduled performances will also speed up your progress by forcing you to meet deadlines. Although too much pressure can be detrimental, a healthy dose is crucial to progress. Give yourself realistic goals and then meet them!

If playing in front of other people seems terrifying, keep in mind that an audience can be as small and informal as you choose. To begin, find one person that you trust. A family member, friend or roommate can make a good first audience. If you have a guitar teacher, he or she can serve as a convenient, regular and trustworthy choice. (If your teacher is not trustworthy, find a new one!) Once you have become comfortable with a one-person audience, look for opportunities to play at small gatherings, such as parties, weddings or a neighborhood open mic. Even a video that you post on youtube can qualify as playing for an audience, provided you give yourself a deadline and stick to it. If you don’t want your video to be public, you can choose “private” in the youtube settings and then send the link to people you choose.

Teaching

Teaching can range from casually showing a friend how to play a song to setting up a studio and starting a full-scale business. The teaching situation that will improve your playing the most, however, is one in which you tutor someone on a regular basis and receive compensation for your investment. Adhering to a schedule will serve to keep both you and your student(s) challenged and committed. Charging for the lessons will not only encourage you to give your best, but will also increase the chance that your student will attend lessons and practice regularly.

It is not necessary for you to have a long list of students or teach a variety of skills in order to benefit from teaching, but keep in mind that the more you teach, the more you will learn. Regardless of how many students you have, be sure to teach both what you already know well and what you are working to perfect or ingrain. When you face an overwhelming musical challenge, be honest with your students about your weak spot and open up to making discoveries together.

Remember to impart the basics of how to hold the guitar properly and use correct right- and left-hand technique. This knowledge will equip both new and seasoned guitar students with a strong foundation for health and musical advancement. If you are weak in this area, get stronger! (And if you are unsure of  the details, I can help you!)

You will quickly find that your students become your teachers by asking questions that you may have been postponing or resisting answering for yourself. They will make you stretch your musical ears and your creative mind, as you reach for ways to help them move through their common or unique problems. They will often grapple with the same challenges that you face regarding such things as discipline, technique, listening and more, which will consequently remind and motivate you to address those issues in your own work. Every time you create a solution for your student, you create one for yourself! Not the least, your students will teach you to be patient with the process, which is a gift that you deserve to give yourself as well as to others.

Managing the Three Elements

It may seem daunting to juggle all three elements of this strategy, but if you take small steps to integrate each one, they will come into balance. Set your intention and then stay open to opportunities and you will be surprised at how easily you discover ways to gracefully fit your new activities into your lifestyle.