Guest post by Joseph Sedillo
Whether you're just starting out on the guitar or are a well seasoned veteran of the instrument, the earliest and simplest concepts should remain consistently relevant to your playing improvement. What we deem as "the basics" of the guitar are foundational pieces that we put in place that they might always be improving.
After you've learned the first basic chords, you don't just shelve them and move on to more difficult things. Rather you polish those chords and continue to perfect them on a constant basis. The reality is that they can always come out cleaner, quicker and be more punctual than the last time you played them. When learning guitar you never want to file a chord under the "mastered" category, because the truth is, you never really master it. It can and should always be improved upon.
The good guitarists understand this reality. They understand that it's not speed and flash that makes you a solid player, but rather that it's a firm grasp of simple chords and basic pentatonic scales that give you the foundation to develop speed in due time. These players have given a lot of time and attention to the foundational aspects of the guitar, and as a result, speed and flashy playing comes relatively easy to them.
So what are these foundational areas? In their most basic form, they would include the following concepts:
Clean Sounding Chords
Moving Between Single Notes
Navigating Basic Scales
These might seem trivial, but if you stop and think, these five things are all you'll ever really do on the guitar. It stands to reason then that you should never stop seeking to improve these aspects of your playing, because if you do, you'll slow your development in all of the more advanced areas.
For example, you wouldn't want to be working on more advanced chords if you're not very good at getting your basic chords to come out clean and you're slow when changing between them. Instead of taking on the more advanced chord topics, go back to the basics and work on improving your baseline abilities. If you can do that effectively, it'll improve every chord you play.
While it's true that a lot of these concepts are grasped and improved with time, the more intentional you are about learning them the easier it will be for you to advance as a player. Just because you're able to learn certain things with passive exposure, doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to engage in active learning of that topic as well.
Devote a reasonable amount of your practice time to intentionally improving the above topics. The more time you spend with each one, the easier your life will be when you try to tackle the advanced guitar world. If you choose to ignore those topics and move on without at least a moderate understanding of them, you'll have a steeper hill to climb.
While there's certainly no quick fix, or trick to learning the guitar, spending some time on these basic concepts can actually improve the rate at which you progress. The methods you could use to practice them are endless, though we'll go over some practical ways you can do so:
1. Weed out any buzzing or incomplete notes in your basic open and bar chords.
2. Work on your chord changes by mastering them between two or three chords at a time.
3. Work on single notes by getting them to come out clean with good sustain.
4. Navigate between single notes on different parts of the fretboard using different speeds and locations.
5. Memorize both the pattern and the sound of some of the most basic scales, and then use those scales to construct single note patterns.
If you have practice methods that work better for you, than that's totally fine. The goal is to be intentional about practicing the basic conceptual building blocks of guitar and not shedding that habit when you move on to more difficult topics. By all means you shouldn’t be afraid to move on to new ideas and advanced lessons, but only if you continue to polish and improve the core guitar concepts.
Joseph Sedillo is a music blogger who shares his thoughts and playlists with anyone that will listen. Based in the UK, he spends all his free time in his local music shop in Leicester.
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