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Learn Songs or Practice Guitar Exercises?

Video Transcript And Relevant Links:


Hi there, I'm Tomas. So should you learn songs or practice guitar exercises to make the most progress possible? Well you probably heard it I guess.

The short answer there is both of course but probably the real question that's implied is "How much should I do exercises and songs and what balance?” and “When should I do exercises and when should I work on songs?"

I don't know if you're like me but when I first started I just want to learn songs, stuff that I liked and recognized or licks stuff like ... oh boy that brings me back. 

Anyway I didn't really want to do exercises and then thought about it, certainly not.  I wouldn't care about reading music or even guitar theory but I found over time that my attitude has changed significantly and partly because I really found that I wasn't making the progress that I wanted to.

So for a long time I had,  you know -1 2 3 mediocre type teachers mostly the kind to say "What do you want to learn this week"? "What did you learn that week"? and just showed me little parts of songs and licks and it was fun but I quickly realized I wasn't getting anywhere but then I found a really good teacher.

He was probably my best teacher ever and my first lesson with him, I played several things for him and he stopped and said "First of all, you're playing stuff that's beyond your level and you're not doing it justice.

It is creating problems. It's causing you to tensed up and to kinda do things in a way that in the long run it's just going to create bad habits and you're never gonna play them really well.

And then finally he told me it's better to build step by step using exercises to different levels as you go and really prepare yourself so you don't over strain or over tense and have to break that habit later on.

Now he proceeded to give me a routine, step by step routine and insisted I follow his routine. It was not easy for me to accept because I like doing my own thing but it was the best thing I ever did.

And over the years from my own experience I found that putting an emphasis on learning songs is really kind of a slow boat to being able to play guitar. I know it doesn't seem like it at first but there are several problems.

One is that it's really hard to choose a song that's the right level or appropriate for exactly where you're at. You're gonna naturally go for something that you just like and without any real consideration “Is this the right next thing for me to work on”?

But most importantly by playing songs, you're really not working on specific issues enough in efficient way in other words let me do a very simple example.

Let's say ... I was playing a song that was C, A minor, F and G something like -- I'm really going for a simple example here. And I wanna work on that F chord the partial bar F chord is where my problem is.

Every time I play this song to work on the F chord I've got a way. There's the F now I get to work  at it, listen. And now we go on well I've got to go through that whole song again that's really a very simple song. Most songs aren't that simple. Most songs you have to play quite a ways before you get to the issue.

Why not do an exercise that isolates that F chord? You know first maybe just practicing the F chord and then maybe going from that chord to another chord. And then keep scaling it up little by little until it turns into ... but by that time you'll have gotten much more work on that F chord and given a chance to actually remember what we're wrong and work on it.

In short, if you want to make progress as quickly as possible with the least amount of frustrations you want to select songs and exercises that are appropriate for your level with the emphasis on exercises that build up step-by-step to sort of the next song that you're working on or the next level of exercise.

Now it's okay to stretch from time to time. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to try stuff beyond your level just don't sit there and do like I did then bang way out of thinking that if I just spend enough time I get it even though I broke it down just do it long enough to get the sense of "here's where I'm at" ''here is how far I am from getting this".

Now go back and work on this stuff step by step and it shouldn't take long to do that 10-15 minutes at the most.

That's it for this week. Thanks for joining me. I'm Tomas Michaud from Real Guitar Success. Wherever you're watching me on YouTube, Facebook or on my blog leave me a comment.

I really like to know what you're thinking and certainly let me know if there's something you'd like to see me make a video on. So I'll let you get back to your guitar practicing for now. Give you your best.

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  1. Hi. You’ve really struck a nerve with where I am in my journey. I am enjoying your videos, and would like to get better, of course. I subscribe to your channel, have your player’s checklist, but am not sure how to proceed getting further from your site or blog. A little more direction would be helpful.

    By the way, in this video, I am doing exactly what you describe as not good to do. Since beginning watching you, I have increased my practice time and it has helped. Looking for more.

  2. I read your lesson quite a bit they keep me grounded i bounce back and forth to much i really enjoy bluegrass gosples and try to learn them but they are hard i also enjoy trying to bar chord i think that bar chording must of a song would be kool im 67 years of age and its been my life time dream to play guiteriv been playing for a year a d a half

  3. hi Tomas, it really is better to work on exercises to improve technique such as scales and arpeggios. Of course learning songs one loves is also important, a little of both keeps a person interested in not giving up playing guitar, or any other instrument.

  4. Hey Tomas, you’re da man!

    Thanks for helping out us numpties who have been struggling to learn to play the guitar properly, on and off, for years.

    What do you think about having a guitar “set up” to help beginners? I mean like having the bridge lowered (sanded down) so you don’t have to press too hard on the strings. My problem is always getting sore fingers so would this help?

    Keep doing what you’re doing man.

  5. As always Tomas..Nail on the head… I came out of the gate with I am understanding that if I really want to go forward I need to know more..the balance between the two is the key… Thanks so much JoAnn

  6. Hi Tomas,

    I’be been playing for about 2 1/2 years now and this video really hits the nail on how i need to practice. Break down the weak elements and and build from there. Are you available for a private lesson?

    1. Hi Steve,
      Awareness of the issue is the first step to getting better.
      I don’t give private lessons to the public any longer but I do extend opportunities for 1 on 1 guitar coaching to members of my Real Guitar Success Academy for an extra fee. The Academy itself is a lot of tools and I answer questions and give feedback for no extra charge. Check it out.
      There’s a special offer that ends tonight for a considerable discount. Otherwise, you can always get in later for trial.

  7. I'm a true beginner and all my life all I wanted to do was learn how to play one song just one song LOL chords only. I still can't do it

  8. Wise words! After practicing for some time and not making the progress I expected, I have started working in this way, the effect is that parts are getting bettter and I now realise that you can't improve on all fronts at the same time.

  9. I enjoyed the video Tomas as usual. Wise advice with cheerful presentation.
    The guitar has been a neglected "Hobby" for me since I had a guitar for a birthday present in the mid 1960's Surrey, England after we moved from North East Scotland.
    See the web link below for my main musical instrument.
    Many thanks for your YouTube videos and keep up the good work.

  10. Hi Tomas,

    I really enjoy your videos. They have thus far been a big help for me. I've been playing guitar now for about four months and have recently started practicing chords and playing a couple of easy songs. I am having an issue strumming the correct strings such as the D chord without hitting the 5th or even the 6th string without having to look at which strings I am strumming. Since I am also learning how to play and change chords by looking at my fret hand, I obviously cannot look at both hands at the same time.
    Is there an exercise or do you have any advice on how I can avoid strumming incorrect strings without having to always look at my strumming hand?

    Thank you.

  11. Thanks Tomas, that made good sense, I never know what to practice so i end up doing lots of chords and scales,
    but not many songs. do you think i should try playing more songs,

  12. Happy to know and participate this free guitar class, because there are many want to learn but then they are not able to pay any fee… Thanks for your help.. God bless you.

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