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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Guitar the Hard Way

"Is there a shortcut to this?"

I can't tell you how many times a student has asked this question.

At the risk of over-generalizing:

This student is an adult. Probably male. He's played guitar for 10 or 20 years. Maybe he has a hobby-band that he plays with in the basement. Maybe they get out and play a few gigs a year. He's self-taught. He spends a lot of time on YouTube learning songs and licks that pertain directly to his basement band. He's not interested in working on stuff that he can't see any immediate use for because he's a very busy guy - raising a family, got a career going, and so on.

However, he's frustrated by his lack of progress; for as long as he's been playing he should be better, he thinks to himself. Maybe he should take some lessons and get a real handle on the guitar.

He winds up on my student roster through some referral source or another; word-of-mouth, he finds my website, clicks on one of my blog links - whatever.

Most of these guys don't realize what their problem is; it's them! They have enough self-confidence and motivation (all good stuff) to think that they can teach themselves. They're sincere, yet mistaken. Think about it for a minute. Teach yourself something you don't know. If you don't know it, how can you teach it - to anybody - especially to yourself?

Now you're going to say, "Well, I'm not really teaching myself, I'm learning from tabs and guys on YouTube and stuff like that."

Yeah, and so who's in charge of what you learn, how you learn, and when you learn what you learn - in what order do you learn things? Who's in charge of that?

You are! You pick where, when, what and how you learn. That's the wrong person in charge, because that's the person who doesn't know diddly-squat. Who are you accountable to? Yourself? That's oxymoronic.

The result of this approach to learning is what I call, "Random Acquisition." You are randomly surfing YouTube videos, tutorials, websites, tab charts and cherry-picking things here and there with no unifying method or step-by-step approach that builds up to a real understanding of a big picture.

You've continued to learn this way for years. Yeah, you can play some songs, maybe you know some scale patterns and can "improvise" a few of the same licks over and over, but it's all by rote with little to no understanding of what you're doing, and -


Random Acquisition is THE most INEFFICIENT way to learn there is!

And you wonder why you're not progressing? C'mon, man!

So, finally, a guy like this winds up on my roster. One of the things that attracted him to me was my pitch promoting a methodological approach to learning music as it applies to the guitar.

Break down the word; method - logical.

So we start in. I have a hard time keeping this guy on track. He's continually chasing squirrels - he wants me to show him this lick or that song or this chord or whatever. I say,

"No, that's wasting time. Every minute of a lesson that I'm showing you a lick by rote is a minute you are kicking the can down the road, delaying the goal of why you signed up in the first place. Besides that, you can get that lick from YouTube for free, why do you want to pay me for it?"

I'm constantly redirecting his attention and focus to the task at hand, which is the next step of the logic-method.

Here's a common ploy,

"Hey man, I didn't have time to really get last week's lesson down, so can you show me this song I'm working on with my band?"

First of all, I respect that you didn't have time to work on your lesson; I get it. But no, working on the song is wasting time. What we do in this case is I drill you on what you should have been doing for the last week. That way, you get at least 30 minutes of guaranteed practice time on the specific step that we're on right now. I can make sure you understand how to drill it correctly, and give you another week to work on it. Play the lesson of the week in 20 minutes or less and we can move on to the next step.

"Is there a shortcut to this?"

"Yes, there is...this is it! This IS the shortcut. Any other way will take longer. So by definition, this is the shortcut."

So I had the above conversation multiple times over the course of months with one of these guys, who had progressed enough to be working on triads. He was on a I-IV-I progression. This particular lesson involved playing this progression in six different positions in all 12 keys. So, 3x6x12 = 216. That's how many chords he had to play in 20 minutes or less.

He came into his lesson, and again wanted to learn some random lick because he hadn't practiced his lesson enough.

I said nope, and we drilled his lesson for 30 minutes and I sent him home to work on it another week. In 30 minutes he got through 4 keys out of 12.

The next week he came back in and said,

"Ok, I worked on this and I can do it in less than 20 minutes. Start your timer."

I took him literally and started the timer on my phone. He played through all 12 keys in less than 5 minutes.

I said, "Well imagine that! I wonder how that happened?"

He said,


That makes me a proud Papa!


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1 Comment

Terry OBrien
Terry OBrien
Mar 05

Well said! As you might recall, I was more interested in the "good time" part then being a great guitar player! That's why I had you!!! Smiles, friend. Well written perspective.

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