Hobbyists - how do you improve your playing?

Jazzcaster21

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Hey all,

I am in my early 30s, have a great job, and play guitar (and bass… and drums) as a hobby.

Like many people I’ve seen online, I love to shop for new gear (belated NGD x3 coming soon). I have decent equipment, work from home next to all the aforementioned gear, and pick up a guitar multiple times a day.

My problem is I just don’t get any better. I’ve probably not improved in years. I know I need to practice, but I’ve found it difficult to make a goal, practice new things, etc. I basically just play stuff I already know and mess around.

I want to improve. How have you all that don’t get paid to make music improved? Stay motivated?
You are probably getting better but sometimes it's hard to see for yourself. One way to gauge is play something that you couldn't play a few months or longer and notice if it feels easier to play than the first few times you tried and played it. If it does then congratulations, you are getting better.

However if you have been playing the same things for a number of years, not trying any new material, then yeah, you are probably going to stagnate a bit. In order to get better you need to push yourself, get outside of your comfort zone and be really critical of what you can't do and want to do better. Like someone mentioned above, recording yourself is the best way I know how to see where you really suck.

Record yourself playing something you know like the back of your hand, and listen to yourself. First find out what you DO like, which can be easier than finding out what you DON'T like about your playing. Be really critical! Make a list of what you know you need to work on, break them down to smaller portions and work your way up to the big picture.

Getting a teacher (a good one) who can help you work on weaknesses, and it sounds as if you might know what they are, is always the best way to get better provided you know what you want to work on.
 

SRHmusic

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Guitar Player magazine had an article on this general topic years ago (early 1990s), and pointed out five or six things that improve playing and musianship. A few I remember:
-Record yourself and listen back later, and critique to find things to improve.
-Learn how to work with a metronome.
-Play with other musicians.
-Play in front of / for people.
These each stress different aspects of playing, and force you to focus and raise your game.

Seek out and participate in a weekly jam if you can. In addition to the last two ideas, that gives motivation, perspective and will give you new/next things to work on for the next time.

Also, learn a bit of theory (at least what the major scale and relative minor are, and how to harmonize the major scale to get the basic triads and 7th chords), Then when learning a new song pay attention to what is going on (key, which chords, what melody notes are used over the chords). (This was/is huge for me, and gets you into actual music instead of patterns and rote memorization. )
 

Dave Hicks

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I record something, usually something I don't know. I multitrack, and working out the various parts on guitars (and usually bass and mandolin, too) is very helpful.

Lately I've pulled out the C6 lap steel, and since the tuning is almost different from standard guitar, all the fret positions are new and different. 👽 That's made me think about how chords are constructed, and how much or little of a chord you need to play to make the changes clear. A less extreme approach would be to try different guitar tunings, like open G or DADGAD.

D.H.
 

Edgar Allan Presley

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First, you need to figure out what you want to be able to.
Second, find a good teacher who can help with that. Even in the age of YouTube, a good teacher can open up all kinds of new things for you and provide accountability for practice and progress.

Like a runner motivated to train because of a race coming up, it's a good idea to find opportunities that require you to practice and progress--going to open jams or open mics, joining a band, inviting friends to your house for a recital in 2 months, or attending regular lessons where your teacher will know if you haven't practiced.
 

JL_LI

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You need focus to get better. Stop noodling. What do you want to do with your guitar? What do you want to play? Do you want to be in a band? Find others to play with. Do you want to accompany yourself while you sing? Put down the pick and learn finger style. Do you want to play jazz? Learn scales, modes, and rhythm. Do you want to write songs? Have a pencil and paper out with your guitar. The problem many hobbyists have is that they want to do everything. While that may be a noble long term goal, it won’t help you do any of it. Focusing on an achievable goal is the most important thing you can do. If you have no idea what to focus on, take lessons. Invariably, something will grab your attention. Do you know music, really “know” music? Take an adult education or non credit college music theory course. Having an idea what you’re doing and why will sharpen your focus.
 

4wotitswurth

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For 25 years work got in the way… too early for you but retirement was the key for me… also what I find makes those sudden jumps in progress happen, is doing new stuff… learning lyrics and singing along with your playing, branching into finger style, slide… and again for me, recording anytime my phone is nearby, so I can listen and cringe, or wonder….. was that me? How in the hell did I do that?
 

JustABluesGuy

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You need focus to get better. Stop noodling. What do you want to do with your guitar? What do you want to play? Do you want to be in a band? Find others to play with. Do you want to accompany yourself while you sing? Put down the pick and learn finger style. Do you want to play jazz? Learn scales, modes, and rhythm. Do you want to write songs? Have a pencil and paper out with your guitar. The problem many hobbyists have is that they want to do everything. While that may be a noble long term goal, it won’t help you do any of it. Focusing on an achievable goal is the most important thing you can do. If you have no idea what to focus on, take lessons. Invariably, something will grab your attention. Do you know music, really “know” music? Take an adult education or non credit college music theory course. Having an idea what you’re doing and why will sharpen your focus.

The obtainable goals issue has come up several times, and it’s an excellent point. I’ve known more than on person who set unobtainable goals.

One wanted to play like Van Halen, and spent a fortune on a rig, and within a couple of years he was selling a Les Paul and a Mesa amp really cheap.

I worked with a guy who was quite musical, and I thought he had great taste in music. I asked if he ever thought about learning to play guitar and he said, “I want to play like SRV, and I know I will never be able to, so why even try?”

He saved a LOT of time and money I suppose. I think he missed a lot of potential enjoyment, but oh well.
 

Flat6Driver

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You need focus to get better. Stop noodling. What do you want to do with your guitar? What do you want to play? Do you want to be in a band? Find others to play with. Do you want to accompany yourself while you sing? Put down the pick and learn finger style. Do you want to play jazz? Learn scales, modes, and rhythm. Do you want to write songs? Have a pencil and paper out with your guitar. The problem many hobbyists have is that they want to do everything. While that may be a noble long term goal, it won’t help you do any of it. Focusing on an achievable goal is the most important thing you can do. If you have no idea what to focus on, take lessons. Invariably, something will grab your attention. Do you know music, really “know” music? Take an adult education or non credit college music theory course. Having an idea what you’re doing and why will sharpen your focus.
Good advice here. And some of it might be situation specific. When I play alone, I work up stuff so that I *could* deliver it as a solo acoustic performance. I have done that and I don't go out much right now, so it's a performance for me at home. The goal here is to remember all the changes, the lyrics, some signature bit like an intro or a walkdown, stops, etc. If the song is easy enough, I try and find a way to do a "one guitar" solo over a verse. No looper or anything. It's not always effective. But I go back to stuff and find it make other stuff easier.

When I play with others, I do some lead so I want to focus on what might go with that song or what would fit as rhythm behind the other guy soloing. Sometimes whole chords, or parts of chords, etc. You spend 90% of your time playing rhythm anyhow so work on that.

Will I ever sound like EVH? Probably not. But I also have never really tried.

Sometimes I'll look up something loud and distorted, but I don't usually get to play that with people so it's just something to do. Learning? Eh, probably not.
 

teletail

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None of what I'm saying is meant as an insult....because I'm also talking to myself. You've also described me perfectly with your post.

It's laziness. It's not difficult to make a goal...it's difficult to make yourself stick to it. The mundane aspects of practicing, scales, ear training, boring repetitive exercises...are pretty much essential for 9 out of 10 players to improve. I'm guilty of this, because how you described yourself...is also a description of me. But they're also boring as hell.

Learning a new song is helpful, it's one area where I've gotten consistently better with over the years and I can now learn a new song pretty quickly. But I'm still going to make the same mistakes playing it that I did with other songs years ago. Why, because I've never really done anything to correct it. Sitting there and playing the same passage over and over and over and over until it becomes an instinct is something I'm frequently too lazy to do. I'll learn a new song...then play it to death. The more I play something alone, the more likely I am to either take shortcuts or just ignore parts I'm doing wrong and work around it. I've got books, lessons bookmarked, and playlists created of useful learning techniques and methods...but I have to force myself to do them.
One problem, after work...I'm not really in the mood for it. On weekends, I get distracted and have other things. Playing alone also doesn't help. I'm a fairly competitive person and if placed with someone better than me...I get competitive, practice and learn quick.

I hate to use the word laziness because it's generally insulting, but it's the overwhelming reason most of us don't get any better. Doesn't mean that we are lazy people in life, just in this one area.
If you didn't have the ability, you'd know by now...and by asking you're obviously someone who is aware of shortcomings.

The answer, for me anyway, is to force myself to do the boring and mundane things I don't like. For me scales....I freakin' hate practicing them but I've never been consistent with them. It's too easy for me to forget that I almost always see instant improvement when I've forced myself to really practice and not just screw around without any goal or structure. Last weekend I started doing that...again...then started screwing around and taught myself a couple of Tom Petty songs. Great, I learned some songs but my technique really didn't improve.
Preach it brother! We all really know what we need to do, some are just too unmotivated to do it. Is there really anyone who doesn't know that if you want to improve you get a good teacher and practice? Forget the Youtube videos, books, and just learning songs. There's nothing wrong with that, but daily focused practice with feedback from a good instructor is the fastest way to improve. AND be honest with yourself. Grabbing your guitar 10X a day for five minutes and blowing through the same tired licks you've been playing for 40 years isn't practicing. If you want to maximize your practice time, set aside a certain amount of time, remove all distractions and concentrate on what you want to work on. You'll get more benefit out of 10 minutes of concentrated practice than an hour of couch jamming.

The best players are the ones that make themselves do the things that the also-rans won't do.

Now get off my lawn, get a teacher and start practicing!
 

NC E30

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Your story sounds so familiar. Part of my problem is that I don't know what to practice. With so many resources available, it's hard to narrow it down and stick with one thing.
 

Rosewoodtele

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Fear of embarrassment can work.

Recording a song can help.

Take on a solo gig at a coffee shop. If you’re lucky, you’ll have 6 weeks to pull a set together.
Never considered it because I can’t sing. Maybe if they allow just background guitar.
 

Rosewoodtele

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If you're not currently taking lessons, find a good instructor that can help you come up with a plan and goals for improving.
I’ve considered this as my music theory knowledge is completely lacking. Did you find your lessons nearby or online?
 

Rosewoodtele

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None of what I'm saying is meant as an insult....because I'm also talking to myself. You've also described me perfectly with your post.

It's laziness. It's not difficult to make a goal...it's difficult to make yourself stick to it. The mundane aspects of practicing, scales, ear training, boring repetitive exercises...are pretty much essential for 9 out of 10 players to improve. I'm guilty of this, because how you described yourself...is also a description of me. But they're also boring as hell.

Learning a new song is helpful, it's one area where I've gotten consistently better with over the years and I can now learn a new song pretty quickly. But I'm still going to make the same mistakes playing it that I did with other songs years ago. Why, because I've never really done anything to correct it. Sitting there and playing the same passage over and over and over and over until it becomes an instinct is something I'm frequently too lazy to do. I'll learn a new song...then play it to death. The more I play something alone, the more likely I am to either take shortcuts or just ignore parts I'm doing wrong and work around it. I've got books, lessons bookmarked, and playlists created of useful learning techniques and methods...but I have to force myself to do them.
One problem, after work...I'm not really in the mood for it. On weekends, I get distracted and have other things. Playing alone also doesn't help. I'm a fairly competitive person and if placed with someone better than me...I get competitive, practice and learn quick.

I hate to use the word laziness because it's generally insulting, but it's the overwhelming reason most of us don't get any better. Doesn't mean that we are lazy people in life, just in this one area.
If you didn't have the ability, you'd know by now...and by asking you're obviously someone who is aware of shortcomings.

The answer, for me anyway, is to force myself to do the boring and mundane things I don't like. For me scales....I freakin' hate practicing them but I've never been consistent with them. It's too easy for me to forget that I almost always see instant improvement when I've forced myself to really practice and not just screw around without any goal or structure. Last weekend I started doing that...again...then started screwing around and taught myself a couple of Tom Petty songs. Great, I learned some songs but my technique really didn't improve.
What do you use to learn new scales? YouTube? My music theory is lacking so while I can Google scales I have no practical way of applying them.
 

Rosewoodtele

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Preach it brother! We all really know what we need to do, some are just too unmotivated to do it. Is there really anyone who doesn't know that if you want to improve you get a good teacher and practice? Forget the Youtube videos, books, and just learning songs. There's nothing wrong with that, but daily focused practice with feedback from a good instructor is the fastest way to improve. AND be honest with yourself. Grabbing your guitar 10X a day for five minutes and blowing through the same tired licks you've been playing for 40 years isn't practicing. If you want to maximize your practice time, set aside a certain amount of time, remove all distractions and concentrate on what you want to work on. You'll get more benefit out of 10 minutes of concentrated practice than an hour of couch jamming.

The best players are the ones that make themselves do the things that the also-rans won't do.

Now get off my lawn, get a teacher and start practicing!
I will look into lessons. Any recommendations in St. Louis?
 

Rosewoodtele

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Your story sounds so familiar. Part of my problem is that I don't know what to practice. With so many resources available, it's hard to narrow it down and stick with one thing.
Part of it is deciding what’s worth it as well. I’m not trying to master metal solos or play the tonight show, so what theory is most useful? What techniques serve my interest? Can I avoid jazz or country altogether?
 




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