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The most important question for guitar players of all levels

By René Kerkdyk

While learning any instrument you reach certain levels of skills. The relevant skills usually start quite low and with practice and guidance they increase. When I started playing the guitar I wanted to play songs and make cool noises NOW. And due to not being able to do that at that time I grew frustrated. What I did not know was that there are several things I could do to make the learning progression faster.


Today we will inspect one question that will help you get greater results out of your practice time regardless of the level of your skills.

There exists one question that is relevant to beginner players, to intermediate students and to advanced players. This question is this:


What do you think about while doing what you are doing?


Here are three ways how this question might help you:


a) If you can’t answer that question now you will start to pay attention to your processes of thinking while playing. This awareness will help you spot your problems and will most likely help you solve those problems.


b) If you can answer it clearly and decisively you know what you should practice next. By spending time practicing the thing that preoccupies your mind while playing you lay the foundation to automate that process and free your mind while playing.


c) If you are totally clueless this question will lead to yourself asking questions about the process of playing guitar and breaking the process down to it’s component skills. This will lead to valuable follow up questions like: What should I be thinking about? And: What (exactly) do I want to learn?



To see that this tool is really that helpful let’s look at three players at different levels.



She already knows how to play some songs, is able to play some licks and string them together to a solo. While improvising about a backing track she stumbles upon a nice melody. Trying to repeat the melody as it is over the next chord leaves her unhappy because the melody does not at all sound like it did on the previous chord. She asks herself: What am I thinking about? And finds that she is puzzled that the same melody sounds different over different chords. She decides to analyze the notes in the melody and finds that the final note is part of the first chord but is a half step away from a note in the second chord. Now that she has a guess where the problem lies she changes the final note over the second chord and finds the melody to be much more to her liking.


Advancing Beginner:

He is learning chords and has problems keeping the time when a certain chord change happens. Asking himself what he is thinking about he notices that he is having difficulties mainly with one change. He invests time to practice that change in isolation and then apply it in the chord progression again. He is doing much better the second time.


Absolute Beginner:

He has no idea about playing the guitar. He stares at the frets and has no ideas what to do. His thinking might sound like this (if it were verbalized): I’ve seen people move their right hand up and down hitting the strings (I can do that) and the left hand is grabbing the strings. Where should I be putting my left hand? - This process can be frustrating and to know what he is struggling with could help him find a solution for it much quicker and simpler than using a try-and-error approach.


I hope you will get much out of this question and progress fast in your guitar playing. Have fun!



This article was written by René Kerkdyk. He is a guitar teacher in his own guitar school Rock Gitarre Hildesheim in Germany and loves to help people reach their guitar playing goals.

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