Learning guitar can be tough. It takes years to master and plenty of time to get good.
That’s why we all need to make the most out of our practice time and use absolutely every advantage that we can. It’s rarely discussed in the music world, but there are plenty of scientifically proven ways to learn and master the guitar faster and quicker than ever.
14 Scientifically Proven Ways to learn the guitar faster
Check out these 14 methods that science has shown improve learning and apply them on a daily basis.
You will learn faster and more efficiently for it – allowing you to spend more time enjoying playing, jamming and performing with the guitar even more.
1) Practice in the ideal learning environment
The room you choose to spend so much of your time practicing and learning the guitar will make a big difference to how easily you learn.
Researchers from the University of Washington and UC Berkeley combed through scientific literature to find the physical components that mattered the most to students in a classroom setting.
They found that there were multiple important factors that make a big difference.
- Light – daylight is crucial. Make sure you learn in a room where there is plenty of it and keep the curtains and blinds open in the day
- Noise – Unsurprisingly silence plays a big part in concentrating. If you live in a noisy household, find a quieter room, ask your family members to politely hush or do a Bob Dylan and go electric – this way you can use headphones. Do what you can to make sure your practice time is ideal for you.
- Temperature – Students learn best in environments between 20°C (68°F) and 23°C (74°F). It’s wise to keep on an eye on the thermostat or air conditioning unit you use and don’t let the room get too hot. I prefer things cooler than hotter, about 20°C is ideal for me. It’s very difficult to concentrate on anything with sweat pouring into your eyes.
- Layout – How tidy the room you learn in makes a difference too. It should be fairly organised without clutter. This may be difficult for some of you younger readers but what you mom always says about tidying your room will actually help your guitar playing!
- Plants – Having plants in the room you learn in makes a positive difference too. The presence of plants has been shown to have a calming effect on people, regardless of age or even whether you like plants or not.
2) Workout and train regularly
A lot of guitar playing for newbie’s and experts is about spatial awareness, remembering a lot of things and the ability to think clearly in the moment. Great news, there is a whole host of research that shows exercise helps in large amounts for all of the above.
It’s a heavy read but here is some evidence as shown through science.
Ever wondered why so many guitarists who are superstars look in decent shape?
Well, most of them have a good old workout every night up on stage. Look at guys like Angus Young, 60 years old and still running around like a maniac with an axe. He is doing great for his age without a doubt.
I’m not recommending you do impressions of Angus at home in your practice room, there would be a few broken windows for sure if you did, but start doing a bit more training.
It’s good for you health in general and will make you a better guitarist.
Also, a guitar plus a great body = sex appeal for most males and females.
3) Know your chronotype and practice accordingly
A Chronotype is a person’s propensity to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. It’s basically our body clock. Many of us describe ourselves as either ‘night owls’ or ‘early birds’.
Over recent years there has been a number of articles in the press that claim school times start too early as people and young people in particular learn better later in the morning.
This study from the University of Toronto have disproved this theory. The researchers showed how test participants learn better at their own particular chronotype.
Therefore if a person is a night owl, he or she will indeed learn better later on and if someone is an early bird then yep, you guessed it, they will learn better in the morning.
Don’t listen to the over-generalizations of others who tell you what and when to practice, but instead tailor your practice to your needs.
I say to students it’s better to practice twice daily – ideally once in the morning and once later on in the evening if possible.
For many this isn’t possible (apart from on weekends or days off), but picking up the guitar before work can be very handy especially if you are an ‘early bird’.
If you can do the early and late practice, great, you can make it even more powerful by making one a ‘primary’ practice where you will be very focused and one a ‘secondary’ practice which can be a bit more relaxed and fun.
Choose whichever your chronotype is to make that one the primary practice.
When The Beatles went to India they arrived being pop superstars. While they were there they discovered mediation, Ravi Shankar and other things. They came back music pioneering legends.
In my opinion the later Beatles stuff is incredible and most rock, pop, prog and indie music that we have heard since just wouldn’t sound the same if it wasn’t for the Beatles trip to India.
Meditation wasn’t the only thing they discovered there, but it was something that they used to create better, deeper and more spiritual music.
Apart from helping in a creative sense, mediation will also make you a better guitarist from a technical point of view too as it helps increase brain efficiency in an attention task i.e. attention span.
A more obvious but important benefit as well is it reduces anxiety which is great for any sort of performance.
A lot of students get anxiety when playing on stage but also when playing guitar in front of a few friends or family members. A bit of mediation beforehand will help.
The pro’s use it to calm their nerves as well as a tool for creativity.
Give it a try.
5) Chew Gum
You might not believe it but those little breath fresheners can actually help your guitar playing.
So, not only will you have minty fresh breath to help mask the smell of all that festival beer and wine you may have been guzzling this summer but you will also be improving your guitar playing too.
How does it work?
Well, according to a study in 2009 by Baylor College of Medicine, researchers found a positive effect of chewing gum on academic performance as gum stimulates the brain by increasing blood flow.
When learning anything new, chew some gum as we all know how difficult it can be to process, store and retrieve any new information. Every little helps.
Wow. Along with improved memory that’s pretty awesome.
It ALSO might explain why, when the times I have chewed gum on stage I have felt that little bit more at ease when playing gigs.
Not only is sleep good for our bodies and health in general but it is absolutely critical when learning anything new.
Many researchers agree that time ‘lost’ by having an early night is more than made up for by the advantages that our brain gains in return.
In other words, if you’re are really keen on learning/improving your guitar playing quickly, staying up late into the night to get more practice is counterproductive.
Instead, have a quick, highly focused ten minutes of practice and then put the guitar down and get some quality sleep.
If you find that you can’t get to sleep, maybe put on some nice relaxing ambient music or even the longest song ever released (at time of writing) according to Guinness world records.
It’s a cool piece but if I was to listen 1 hour 59 minutes of the same song I may end up being just a little sleepy.
Ensure good sleep is a priority.
7) Keep On Achieving
Guitar playing is incredibly fun and the way to keep on being motivated enough to learn it and learn it well is to achieve something every day.
If you don’t keep your motivation levels up high especially in the complete beginner stage of learning guitar then you may find just like the running enthusiast that suddenly quits to go back to old habits of smoking, drinking and cinnamon swirls you may find you suddenly quit the guitar.
We don’t want that.
“Why am I doing this?”
There has been so many times in the past when I was learning guitar I would purchase Total Guitar magazine and start learning some crazy Paul Gilbert shred lick that I just knew deep down I would never use, but still wasted time on it anyway.
If only I would have asked the question:
“Why am I learning this?” I would have saved so much time.
I could have spent all that time learning the things I truly loved. The things that made me pick up the guitar in the first place.
You can use SMART goals as a guide to create a personal learning plan (PLP).
If that sounds too organised for you (I urge you to try) then try the following instead.
Instead of learning random stuff, make a list of ten songs you really want to learn and order them in terms of what you would think would be the easiest to the most difficult.
Go through and learn song 1, then 2 and then 3 and so on.
That way you will learn the things YOU want to learn and not what other people think you should learn.
All this will keep you motivated and ensure that your practice time is focused and not half-arsed as it is when you are learning something you couldn’t give two hoots about.
8) Enjoy the Dopamine High
There are plenty of studies showing how just listening to music can help you release dopamine which is a chemical that gives us huge amounts of pleasure.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain which is released in response to rewarding activity and is linked to reinforcement and motivation – these include activities that are biologically significant such as eating and sex (just ask Motley Crue about this one).
You can become addicted (in a good way) to playing the guitar just like many others become addicted to drugs, alcohol, exercise and junk food.
Let’s face it though, playing guitar is much healthier than drugs, alcohol, junk food and it’s more fun than exercise, so the guitar is not such a bad thing to become addicted to.
Your spouse might find it frustrating when you are out spending some quality time and all you can think about is getting back to pick up your little 6 string.
Well, I’ve been there a few times, but to be honest these days I try to be more in the moment and not focus on things that aren’t around me at the time. I find this a more healthy way to live.
There are other things in life that also release dopamine such as socializing, learning a new hobby and achieving goals.
Unless you are a social hermit or a bedroom guitarist, learning to play the guitar incorporates all of the above.
The moral here is make sure you don’t completely learn on your own, DO jam with a teacher, other friends, a band or other musicians at an open mic gig.
Also, keep on enjoying music whenever you are playing or listening, and keep striving to get better.
All of this leads to more pleasure which will lead to more desire on a sub-conscious level for you to improve as a guitarist.
Now, when you decide to play a cover of ‘Feeling Good’ on guitar you might well mean it.
9) Listen to Music While Taking a Nap
Everyone loves a nap. Nobody more so than me when I get chance.
Every time you nap (which of course is great for re-charging your batteries) you can now get a double whammy of benefits.
Research suggests that by listening to the music you are learning when napping you will remember that piece better.
This study from Northwestern University, Illinois, shows how Information acquired during waking can be reactivated during sleep, promoting memory stabilization.
The subjects learned to play two melodies in time with moving images and the researches played one of the melodies while the subjects were taking an afternoon nap.
This produced an improvement in performance – as long as the music did not disrupt sleep.
This might mean that if you choose to use this method then it might be wise to consider which of the music you play to yourself when napping.
Slipknot might be out of the question, but Simon and Garfunkel might be in.
Either way, if you can nap while listening quietly to the music you have been learning you will learn it faster.
Time well spent if you ask me.
10) Get Tested
One of the major benefits of having a good, experienced guitar teacher is a benefit that no one ever mentions.
It’s the fact that they will test you and assess you regularly. I ensure I do this all the time, always in a fun (mostly informal) way of course.
Sometimes it will be done very casually like asking a student to play a piece, chord progression, riff, etc.
Sometimes it will be done in a slightly more formal way, such as when using my 3 month period checklist.
I always ask the student about testing and this particular 3 month review system and not one has ever declined this which is great.
It’s very powerful because it gives the student something to work for and some direct motivation. This study explains just how powerful testing is for any student.
This is one of the reasons doing your grades are so powerful.
It’s not so much the content that is going to rapidly super charge guitar playing as it is the very formal setting of having to learn all this stuff, and then sit in a room with a stuffy, goateed examiner who is going to assess and mark your guitar playing as you feel your heart beating out of its chest while wishing you could fall into a pit of despair.
It’s not really like that at all, but graded exams are a little more formal, and they are fantastic for it.
I just wish some of the examining bodies were a little more fun.
Even RGT who I am a member of is a little dry sometimes although they are making big efforts to make the material more relevant.
If you get the chance and want something to work for, go on and start doing your grades, just choose the most relevant examining body and go for it.
Remember it’s not the content that will make you a great player but it is the desire and motivation gained from the testing.
11) Test Yourself
The affordability of a guitar teacher or paid graded exams are unfortunately not within everyone’s financial reach, but there is another solution.
That is to test yourself.
I have always enjoyed testing myself as a guitarist especially with things that are measurable.
Even if you can and do have a guitar teacher who tests you or you take graded exams, you should still test yourself every day.
There are plenty of ways to test yourself.
You can see how fast you can play a certain technique.
For instance, you can:
- take a simple fingerpicking pattern
- set up a metronome to a tempo you are comfortable with
- play the pattern repeatedly at this tempo
- start increasing the tempo by small increments (about 5bpm) until you reach your maximum speed
Then in your notebook, (yes, I’m old school) create a page called testing, write down your comfortable speed and then next to it your maximum speed – aiming to beat it by small amounts (even just 1 or 2bpm) every day.
Another way to test yourself apart from speed is repertoire.
If you can play scales or barre chords, a great little thing to do is test yourself playing them in all 12 keys.
Most guitarists get a bit lazy and stick to the common keys of G, D, C, F for anything Major and Em, Bm, Am, Dm for anything minor.
What about the other eight keys?
- One way to test yourself playing in all twelve keys is to get a piece of card and divide it into twelve equal sections.
- Then write each of the 12 keys in each section.
- Cut all twelve sections up and turn them over.
Any time you practice anything that is movable or changeable into all keys such as scales, barre chords, arpeggios, simply turn over one card and play that scale, chord or arpeggio, then turn the card over and pick another.
Repeat until you have used twelve cards.
You will then have played it in all twelve keys and your knowledge of the fretboard and your ability to play that scale, chord or arpeggio seamlessly in all keys will rapidly improve.
You can be strict as you like with yourself when it comes to testing.
My recommendation is to self test the things that are measurable – speed, repertoire, theory, accuracy, listening skills, etc as much as possible.
Self testing is a huge subject and one that I write a blog post on about specifically at some time soon.
For now, use those above ideas and see what other things you can self test.
This study shows that getting tested as described above and testing yourself are both very powerful and have a positive effect on your guitar playing – and in different ways.
12) Use Multiple Sources of Media
Whenever you learn anything new, write it down, repeat it, play it, sing it. Memory works best in both auditory and visual formats.
In other words reproduce what you are learning in a variety of ways.
This study along with many others shows that this is a very powerful way of retaining and recalling any information.
For us guitarists, it means simply writing it, repeating it, playing it, and singing it aloud all help it sink in.
If you are learning a song, and you know how to play it but can’t quite remember the sequence of chords, grab your notebook, write the song title at the top and quickly write down by copying all the chords in the correct order.
It will help you remember it quicker for next time you play it, allowing you to move on to something else, or just enjoy playing it even more.
When I teach in person I will always ask a student to bring with them a smart phone and a notebook to every lesson.
This way, whenever they learn something new they can film me playing it and they can write it down in any way that helps or the way I think they will learn it best.
The reason we do both is that some things such as strum patterns work much better when they film it.
This is because rhythms are more difficult to read than they are to hear.
Other things however, usually more fretboard or theory related work better by seeing them in a written format.
For instance, if I am teaching the structure of a song to a student, it helps them more to see that written down in ‘verse, chorus, verse’ style structure than it is for them to go through the whole video time and again.
If they were to watch the video it would take minutes, where as if they look at a simple note, it takes seconds.
This is why I release eBook supplements to go along with the videos and audio of my e-Courses. Having both make them so much more powerful.
13) Use Mnemonics Where Possible
Writers such as Tim Ferriss have taught me some very useful things about learning and increasing one’s ability to learn and recall knowledge at a faster and more efficient rate.
Whenever you learn anything new it’s a great idea to use mnemonics to help you remember it quickly whenever you can.
I always teach new students a little mnemonic to learn what the open strings of a guitar are tuned to.
It goes like this:
It takes a student about 10 seconds to learn that.
Then, all they need to do to remember the open strings is take the first letter of each word E, A, D, G, B, E and that gives you the names of the open strings in a fast, fun and silly way.
Tip: The sillier the better often works. Without that mnemonic, it would take the student far more concentration and more time to remember what the open strings are tuned to.
Another simple mnemonic is Big Cats Eat Fish.
This is used to help a student remember which notes don’t have sharps or flats between them.
I will say:
“Every note has a sharp or flat between them except for:
- Big Cats which is B and C
- Eat Fish which E and F
So basically, the notes are A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#.
Use simple, silly mnemonics to remember everything you can and you will find that the information you are learning sinks in easily and can be recalled with much less concentration than it would take otherwise.
Even if you don’t use the information you have learned via the mnemonic you will find you can leave it months and it come back to you quickly. Without the mnemonic most guitarists would really struggle to remember it.
14) Laugh…a Lot
Life is funny and learning should be fun.
Many people are way too serious about learning stuff.
So much so, they kick the fun out of the learning process.
Even when they realise they are being really serious about learning the guitar, instead of chilling out about it and having fun they tell themselves:
“Well it’s ok, I’m learning. I’ll have more fun when I can actually play.” Well, it’s probably too late by then.
A habit of being serious has been formed that is hard to get out of.
This is a big deal. Start ensuring that every day you play you not only achieve something but you have fun and laugh a lot.
If you make a mistake don’t be like this guy, instead laugh about it.
There is ample evidence that shows that humour facilitates creative problem solving which for us guitarists is fantastic. A lot of the learning process with anything complicated and especially learning the guitar involves:
- Doing well
- Hitting a brick wall when a problem arises
- Being aware of the problem
- Finding creative ways to overcome the problem
Using laughter to solve these problems will be a massive help to you.
It can be a problem such as having a chord not quite sound correct, what chord should come next in a song you are writing, how to perform a certain technique better.
It doesn’t matter what the problem is, use laughter to help.
I always push students hard to make them the best guitarist possible, but I like being able to break up their lessons with a quick anec-dote, story or joke to take their mind off what they are learning for a few seconds.
I find this works if they are struggling to grasp a new concept.
Instead of trying to hammer it down, I try to make them laugh and switch them off from what they are doing for a few seconds.
This acts like a ‘reset’ button and allows them to go back to the learning.
After a bit of light hearted humour I find they then usually learn whatever we are doing with less time and less tension involved.
If you are struggling with something, do your best to laugh about it or even just remember a funny story.
If it helps learn some Tenacious D guitar parts, you have to be pretty serious not to see the funny side of these guys even if you don’t like their tunes.
If the guitar is frustrating the hell out of you, put it down for a bit and watch a bit of Spinal Tap, school of Rock or Wayne’s World, or any other classic comedy with guitars in it.