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After a number of guitar lessons a change starts to happen in many players: guitar turns from a hobby into a passion. Around this time players will start learning lead, and before long they are anxious to start shredding up the fretboard like their idols. The first thing many players do when they encounter a lick they want to play fast is simply play it over and over. If they miss a few notes it does not matter to them, thinking perhaps the mistakes will correct themselves. The fact is, they won’t.
Your brain is exceptionally good at learning physical instructions. The fact that you can be briefly taught something in your guitar lessons, go home and play it should be proof of this. The problem is that the neural connections you are forming do not comprehend right or wrong. While part of your brain might be able to analyze what you play and say ‘no, I am not supposed to hit that note’, the neurons learning this activity don’t know that. What this means is to learn something well you have to show it to your neurons exactly as you want them to do it.
The best solution to this is playing slow. The common approach taken by most players is the metronome climb. They start at a reasonably slow tempo on the metronome and work their way up. There are some problems with this way of doing things. While having an exact numerical gauge of your speed is a good thing, this will encourage many players to go faster than necessary. As soon as they play one perfect repetition they crank up the metronome, regardless of how many mistakes they made on other repetitions.
In truth, the most effective way to learn something new is to turn off the metronome for a while. When learning something you have never played before you should start by dissecting it from an entirely physical point of view. Look at it as a set of new movements for your body. Play it in slow motion. Ignore the rhythm. Only make the next move when you are ready to and are sure that you are going to get it right. Try to be relaxed and eliminate tension from your muscles. Tension is one of the biggest speed barriers. Many players might be impatient because they are taking guitar lessons and want to get things together in time for their next lesson. In reality, a week of mindful slow practice will get you up to speed faster and more comfortably than grinding it out with the metronome.
A lot of players think that shredding at the speed of light is something you have to force. You are actually already capable of all the speed you would need, the real problem is your fingers knowing where to go. Tap your left hand fingers on a table or a desk and you will find that they can move quickly with no training. The real issue at hand is coordination. Metronomes are useful but should be used cautiously. Tension-free consistency is your goal. If you get a lick right 7 out of 10 times and crank up the metronome anyway, you are doing nothing but shorting yourself. Your guitar lessons are only half of the equation for your improvement. The other half is your own practice habits. It isn’t talent that most great guitar players have, but patience and discipline.