by Matt Day

5 Great Ways to Speed Up Your Guitar Progress

Guitar players at every stage can find themselves wondering why their guitar progress feels so slow.  This is common for many of us, so in this article, I’m going to explain why you may believe your progress on the guitar is so slow, and what you can do to improve it.

Why is my guitar progress so slow?  Your guitar progress may feel slow since physical playing ability often lags behind our mental ability to learn and understand the guitar.  Techniques like creating small goals, recording your playing, and shifting your mindset regarding what progress means can help you improve your playing.

Psychological vs. Physical Factors in Guitar Progress

Perhaps the most important factor for feeling that you’re not making progress on the guitar is actually something that few guitar students think about, but that we see quite often.  What I’m referring to is really the division of the physical factors of making guitar progress (which are how your playing is improving and sounding) versus the psychological factors, which really are how your mind perceives your improvement on the guitar.

Because both the physical improvement and the psychological perspective are important, it’s worthwhile to look at both of these when assessing why your progress on the guitar is so slow, or feels slow to you.

Buying Time Psychologically While Your Physical Playing Catches Up

A really important concept in the division between a) the psychological assessment that we all make about our playing and b) how well our playing is actually working out physically is the factor of how fast each of these areas develop, and the fact that they develop at different rates.

What this means is that you may learn a new concept, or a new song, or a new solo or technique in your mind, and you may understand how to play it, but your physical ability to play it simply hasn’t developed yet.  Your physical ability hasn’t caught up with your mind’s ability to understand what to play.

This is where frustration can come in, and where you can feel that your progress is slow, because your physical progress may often be slower in comparison to your mind’s understanding of the music.  Unfortunately, this is often a reason why guitar players quit playing.

Because of this, we have to adjust our mindset on what guitar progress really means.  And when we adjust our expectations, what we are actually doing is simply buying time while our physical playing ability catches up.

Shifting What Guitar Progress Means to You

The fact is that as guitar players, we can’t always measure our progress by how our playing sounds.  This concept is so important that I want to repeat it again:  We can’t always measure our progress on the guitar by how our playing sounds.

Sometimes we need to measure our playing in other ways in order to buy that time that we need for our physical playing to catch up.  Sometimes our progress is so small that it hasn’t resulted in any physical improvement that we can notice, but it still is an important improvement on the path to true guitar progress.

Here are some tips for shifting what guitar progress means to you and getting a better assessment of how your guitar playing is progressing.

What is Your Guitar Practice Routine?

One of the first adjustments in how you assess your guitar progress is to take a look at your practice routine.  When looking at the short term, you should consider setting a practice routine that you can, and do, follow.

Your routine should be a fixed amount of time, preferably each day, and preferably each day at the same time.  Once you set your practice routine and follow it, you’ve already established guitar progress for yourself.  

That is because at this very short-term phase, the progress you’re making is that you’ve stuck with your practice routine.  

When we look at our practice routine as the progress itself, and not as a method toward the progress, we are giving ourselves a win that we can control, and we are buying time for our physical playing to catch up.

So when you’re looking at your progress on the guitar, you may not feel that you’ve made progress in your playing over the course of a week, but you can identify that you’ve made progress in your practice efforts because you did have the discipline to complete your practice routine each day.

Start with the simple process of sticking to your routine for a week, and making that your goal and your measure of progress.  This is a great way to get a quick win in your battle for guitar progress.

Be Careful of Comparisons to Other Players

One measure of guitar progress that can be dangerous is the habit of comparing your playing to others, whether that be friends, or professional players, or whomever you happen to be jamming with.

Comparing ourselves to other guitar players is a slippery slope that can quickly become discouraging, so it’s best to avoid it.  Remember, our first measure of progress (that we stuck to our practice routine) has nothing to do with any other player.  It is all about you and your dedication to improving and practicing.

Create a Small Playing Goal

Another way to make progress on the guitar is to set a micro goal.  In addition to the goal of following your practice routine listed above, learn to set super-small goals that you can accomplish in a matter of a day or so.

This can be learning just one lick, or a really simple song, or starting and completing one of our courses.  When you set a bite-sized goal and focus on it, you’ve created something that you can easily measure and attain. 

For example, if you’re trying to learn a solo, your micro goal can be to just learn the next phrase.  Once you set this as your goal, use your practice time to focus directly and exclusively on this.  The result is that by the end of the day, or by tomorrow, when you’ve achieved the goal, you now have something specific that you can now play that you couldn’t play before – which is progress that you will notice!

And the good news here is that improving on guitar is really just this exact process repeated again and again.

Recording Your Progress Along the Way

Another great way to improve your progress on the guitar is to create a recording each week of your playing.  Using any recording app on your phone, simply record yourself playing a specific song, lick, or chord progression.

Once you create these recordings over the course of several weeks, you’ll have recordings that you can compare to actually hear the progress you’re making.  It’s really interesting when you listen back on an old recording and realize how bad you may have sounded in the past, and therefore how much you’ve really improved.  If you do make recordings, make sure software timestamps each recording, so you’ll know when you recorded them when you look back.

Another great option is to record yourself once you’ve mastered any of your goals, such as having learned a song, and post that video recording on YouTube.  It can be very satisfying to have a video recording of yourself where you’ve mastered a song and accomplished a goal.  This is a great reminder that you are in fact making guitar progress!

The Bottom Line of Guitar Progress

Hopefully you’ve noticed that all of these techniques for measuring your guitar progress are simply different ways to break your guitar goals down into smaller, more achievable pieces, and resetting your mind into measuring your true guitar progress in more objective ways.

All of guitar playing is a long term process and a journey that will take many months and years to create truly noticeable improvement.  These techniques above are great ways to keep you motivated along the way and improve the speed of your guitar progress.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day has been playing the guitar for over twenty-five years, and also plays the bass guitar and mandolin.