It’s now 2018, and this is a great time for all guitarists and those learning to get re-motivated and really make this year a year to remember. In this post, I will go through one simple guitar challenge that will help you make massive progress this year, especially if you feel your playing has hit a plateau or not really gone anywhere.
Everyone has New Year’s resolutions and as we all know January is a great time to get really focused. In fact, the 2nd of January is what I call ‘Go-Time’ — a time to get super motivated and reassess your goals.
Learning guitar is very rewarding and has lots of benefits, but it can be a challenge. I get a lot of emails on a regular basis from frustrated guitarists who have just discovered Guitar Domination.
Often, they have played for months or years (sometimes even decades!) and they really want some advice.
I always ask the same question and lay down the same challenge to these guitarists, and if you are frustrated by your lack of progress I highly recommend you take up this challenge too.
Whenever I get an email telling me things such as:
- “My playing sounds sloppy and lacks confidence.”
- “I have learnt lots of things over the years but don’t know how it should all fit together.”
- “I just can’t get my fingers doing what my brain wants them to.”
I always ask these guitarists…
- “How many songs can you play to a very high standard from start to finish?”
Often they’ll say they have learnt dozens but rarely do they finish them or, if they do, there are weak areas in the songs — or they used to be able to play them well at one time, but then for some reason stopped playing them somewhere along the line.
If this sounds like you (and if I’m honest it is most guitarists at some point), then aim to follow this piece of advice:
Learn 10 songs from start to finish, and learn them to a high standard so you can play them perfectly well
If you do so, you will no longer be a beginner guitarist — that is for sure — and the number of songs that you will be able to play by virtue of having learnt these 10 will massively increase.
This is because, through learning 10 songs, you will naturally acquire a large variety of skills in the process — that will cross over to many other songs.
Remember, when the going gets tough…
There really are no easy songs — not for beginners, anyway.
When a beginner goes onto YouTube, for instance, they’ll find these lists of “78 Easy Songs” (or similar) and are led to believe they should be able to play them in no time at all — but the truth is, even the simplest of songs such as ‘Let It Be’ or ‘Stand By Me’ aren’t easy for beginners.
In fact, when starting out, your first full song is often the most difficult. But then the next one gets a little easier, the next just a little easier still, and so on…
The good news is that if you persevere, the curve of learning songs gets easier.
That is why, when you learn one song, it opens up the door to more; when you learn 3 songs, it opens up many more songs; and, finally, once you’ve learnt 10, you really will have gained the capability to learn so many more as well from then on.
This is especially true if you choose songs in a variety of styles (more on this later).
The reason why learning 10 is so great is that no two songs are the same (unless you count some of these), and the number of techniques you will need to acquire in order to learn these first 10 will make you a really rounded guitarist.
A Word of Warning: Choose Your 10 Carefully
You should make a list of all the songs you want to learn, and then spend some time checking out videos of people playing them and hearing for yourself if they work well on the guitar or not.
Then you should spend a little time having a little go at learning each song, just to test the waters and see if it is suitable for you at this stage.
Don’t spend too long here — about 20–30 minutes per song should do.
The idea is that you don’t want to waste hours and hours on a song, only to realise that it is either boring to play on the guitar or is too tough for you at this stage.
If after 20–30 minutes of learning it you feel it is a good one, stick with it and see it through even if it takes a year or more to play it to perfection.
For Maximum Impact and Enjoyment Choose a Variety of Styles
When choosing your 10 songs, I recommend you have a little variety in your list.
Many guitarists tend to learn in one style. For example, when starting out, they are led to believe they should just focus on strumming songs and should wait a few years before trying to fingerpick.
This is common advice given by guitar teachers who just regurgitate what they are told. There is no reason or sense to this advice.
Fingerpicking is a different skill to strumming, and can actually be easier — and is often much more fun as it sounds so good.
Don’t get me wrong, strumming songs are great too, but fingerpicking is something else — an entirely different animal. Don’t wait — do both! My course on Fingerpicking songs is a good place to start.
As well as including some strumming and fingerpicking songs, if you play electric I recommend including one or two rock, pop or blues riff-based songs in your list too.
You can also think about different and more specialised genres, too, such as funk, jazz, or classical — or whatever floats your boat.
Here is how I recommend you build your list of 10…
How you build your list of 10 is up to you. Most of you will choose 3–4 strumming and fingerpicking songs, and 1–2 rock and specialist songs.
The choice is yours. Just note that a little variety here goes a long way.
Make a List and Work on it Every Day… for as Long as It Takes
Don’t worry if it takes a year to learn some of these songs fully.
It often takes a long time to perfect things.
In fact my old guitar tutor spent one whole year just perfecting one lick, and everything else he did in that time was just maintaining the quality of pieces he already knew or just learning stuff within his comfort zone.
In terms of his learning, he spent his whole year dedicated to one little (although awesome-sounding) lick.
I once read that the song ‘Hallelujah’ took Leonard Cohen 96 verses and 6 years of writing until he got to where he wanted it.
Both of those stories above only highlight that excellence should be pursued no matter how long it takes.
It’s okay to replace a song on your list with a new one if it is really not working for you, but just keep focused on your 10 and don’t let any new shiny objects like YouTube tutorials of different songs distract you.
Most guitarists don’t have any ‘Efficiency of Learning’ — which really holds back their playing and wastes a lot of valuable time. Effectively learning 10 songs perfectly is infinitely better for improving your playing ability than learning a hodgepodge of dozens of bits and pieces of songs.
Try it! The focus it will give you will massively help you to become the guitarist you want to be in 2018!
Here’s to a great year!
YOUR PEP TALKS KEEP ME MOTIVATED, KEEP IT UP.
Glad to hear it, Doug. Keep on rockin` that guitar!
Keith Plambeck says
Hi Dan, I love everything you say in regards to learning 10 different songs, however I think one other important criteria of selecting each song has been left off the list (in my opinion)… I believe how singable a song is should be part of the method for selecting each song… if it’s a song you can easily sing in your range, and it’s a song you really like, in addition to being easy enough to learn, that is how I pick my songs. Bottom line, I love your idea and think it is an awesome way to expand your learning and skill levels the fastest way possible and to be able to entertain people anytime on the fly from your 10 song base to perform from. I totally agree that learning a song to perfection is a super key for the best results possible as it allows you to develop many different aspects of learning and playing guitar and how well you play as well as your confidence… it creates a solid foundation to go forward from! Thanks Dan! Rock n’ Roll!
Dan Thorpe says
Hi Keith, many thanks for the comment and kind words!
You are correct. If it`s a song that suits your range without having to transpose it by using a capo, you will generally find it easier to learn as you can sing along with the original. If the key is too high or low this becomes a struggle. As I`m sure you know, playing along with the recordings regularly is something I strongly recommend. This is because it is a great way to make more progress and have more fun.
Great to hear from you and thanks for pointing that out for everyone! All the best and keep on rocking!