Today’s Ask Jake Comes from Christopher.

Question:

I’m an almost-fifty-year-old and I’ve flirted with learning to play guitar since I was a teenager. I just never connected with it – I don’t know if I was too young, had goals that were too lofty, wasn’t serious enough about it, or was just too impatient.

My goal is fairly simple: I want to be a competent enough musician to play in front of people, so I can play for family and friends, get together with other musicians and jam, and maybe even find a group of folks to do small local gigs with.

My practice routine: On evenings and weekends, I pick up the guitar while I’m watching TV and noodle with it during commercial breaks – I practice the chords and notes I’ve learned to date, play with different strumming patterns, etc. I also practice at least 30 minutes every day – usually closer to an hour. My practice consists of finger exercises, followed by playing new chords I;m trying to learn and making chord changes between all of the chord progressions I’ve learned so far, and finally playing bits of songs I’m learning that use the pieces I know. I also spend a good amount of time each day researching what I already know, what songs use it and how, and the theory behind it all. I have a series of DVDs covering learning and mastering guitar, and I use these as a basic structure around which I build my self-directed learning. (The DVDs alone were boring and losing me, and I found that by augmenting what they’re teaching with things that interest me, I’m able to stay connected.)

I’ve already found that I’ve improved in the last 90 days – a few weeks ago, it was almost like a light bulb turning on. Suddenly, I’m not fumbling with the chord fingering and changes as much as I was, and I find I’m able to fairly easily learn new chords and integrate them into my practice routine. I’m still having some challenges reading music and translating the notation to the notes on the fretboard, but I know that, too, will come with time and practice.

My biggest hurdle is rhythm – I have zero natural rhythm, and I’m finding that to be the most daunting piece of the puzzle. My fear is this is the one aspect I’ll never be able to learn.

Long story short (too late, I know!), I’m curious to hear your thoughts: I want to achieve my aforementioned goal in six to nine months. So, does my goal/time frame seem reasonable, given my scenario?

Thanks!

Answer:

Ok… So first off.  This is great.  The bottom line of learning to play the guitar quickly is efficiency.  And it looks like you’ve got that covered…. you have:

  • A clear goal
  • A clear practice routine
  • You know where you’ve struggled in the past
  • You know where you’re currently struggling

Because of these points, you likely won’t be wasting too much time (and just sort of noodling around like a lot of guitar players do).

Here are my thoughts:

1. Practice.  With the practice routine listed above, there should be excellent progress.  As long as you continue to push yourself. If you’re just running over the same exercises and drills, you won’t see as much progress.  But if you push yourself each time you will see better progress (this could mean anything from faster chord changes to learning more difficult chord variations… it doesn’t really matter).

2. Material.  I like that you’re augmenting your DVD lessons with stuff that you actually want to learn… I would even say focus more on actual songs you’d like to be able to play…. in other words, pick a song and start to learn it (if you haven’t do so already).  If your goal is to perform live or with friends/family:  Pick a setlist of songs (4 or 5) and spend your time ONLY LEARNING THESE.  You may miss out on things like music theory, but you’ll achieve your goal more quickly by honing in on one aspect of playing the guitar.

3. Rhythm.  Strumming/Rhythm is a weird thing. I usually recommend starting super basic (like one strum per chord), then progressively making this more interesting/complicated. There are two main ways that I handle rhythm guitar:

Rhythm Guitar #1: Counting. If you’re not planning on singing and playing at the same time, this is how I approach learning rhythm. This is probably the more traditionally accepted way of practicing and learning rhythm. You’re basically counting how many strums your doing per chord. Using a metronome to help you keep the right beat/time can also be helpful (albeit kind of annoying).

Rhythm Guitar #2: Singing. If you’re planning on singing and playing at the same time… it’s gonna be tough to count your beats/strums whilst singing (at least my brain can’t handle it). Instead, I focus on making the chord changes at the appropriate lyric of the song. I start with one strum per chord (and change when I get to the correct lyric). Once I feel comfortable at this level, I start to add additional strums….. basically just strumming with my arm as though I were just tapping the beat of the song… Kind of like if you’re listing to the song and just tapping your foot along. Another way to think about it is that your arm is acting as a metronome or a drummer…. sort of just moving at a constant pace/beat while your other hand deals with the chords. Don’t get me wrong though… it’s tricky (and not easy).

For strumming… You may find this video helpful.

Closing Thoughts:

I’ve seen students achieve this kind of goal with less time and a less diligent practice routine.  It’s definitely possible.  Not easy.  But possible.  Another thing you may want to consider:   You may not ever feel ready to perform in front of others.  There will always be better musicians, and this is intimidating (trust me… I still get intimidated and I’ve been playing for 25 years).  But it’s ok.  Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and give it a shot.  Even if you don’t think you’re quite ready…. try anyway.   Chances are you will do fine AND you will become a better musician because of the experience.

Hope that helps!  Let me know if you have any questions!