When you decide to start learning to play the guitar, you may very well have at least a vague idea of a long-term destination or end-point that you want to reach as a musician. It may involve things such as:
What are you playing?
Simple open chord songs?
Exotic lead guitar?
Lots of effects and layers?
Your own song, or a cover of someone else’s?
Where are you playing?
At a campfire?
At a church?
In a bar?
At a wedding?
In the studio?
With/for who are you playing?
Friends and family?
A crowd of hundreds/thousands of people?
A group of kids?
What is your music about?
Is your guitar playing…
A recreational hobby?
A serious passion?
A creative/emotional outlet?
For a band project?
A source of expression?
Whatever is in your head, whatever you want to achieve as a guitar player write it down in as much detail as you can. This is what I like to call, your guitar playing vision.
When you know what you want and have that vision in your mind, it helps you figure out what you need to learn – what steps you need to take - to make it a reality. Examples:
Jamming easy songs at a campfire
Basic rhythm, strumming and picking
Open chords, barre chords, 7th chords
Easy lead guitar licks
Maybe a basic blues scale
Maybe some basic fingerpicking
How to sing and play at the same time
Playing technical songs in a band on stage
Tighter rhythm guitar skills and more advanced strumming
Larger chord vocabulary and inversions of chords
Deeper music theory knowledge
Refined musical ear
Expansive and integrated lead guitar playing – scales, arpeggios, modes
Playing churches and weddings
Elaborate finger picking
You might not know the specifics of everything you need to learn (you can’t say “I need to learn my arpeggios!”
if you don’t even know what arpeggio is), but your teacher can help you find that out and create a game plan for
you to reach whatever musical goals you may or may not yet have in the shortest time possible.
Once you have an idea of what skills you need to learn, you can then write it all down and organize it into a timeline for yourself– it’s like a roadmap to your guitar playing success, or a blueprint to building your dream. To help you do this, you should be asking yourself questions like:
What things do I already know and am good at?
What are the easiest things to learn?
What are the hardest things to learn?
What do I need to learn first?
What needs to happen before I can start learning this thing or that thing?
What am I missing? What am I doing in my guitar playing vision that I haven’t written down yet?
Your guitar teacher should be able to help you answer these questions if/when you can’t answer them yourself,
will help you put this roadmap together and will guide you to overcoming the obstacles you’ll face along the way.
Once this roadmap is laid out, meeting your goals as a guitar player is as easy as simply walking the path.
It’s great because it breaks your big vision into a series of attainable short-term victories
that not only help you keep moving forward, but also help you stay motivated in knowing that everything you are learning,
practicing and achieving is congruent to your big vision and is moving you towards making it a reality.
BOTTOM LINE: Start by defining your own guitar-playing vision and write it down in as much detail as you can. The more detailed it is, the clearer your roadmap will be since you’ll have a better idea of what things you need to learn. Starting at the end rather than the beginning helps you make a better plan for success by avoiding having to play a guessing game of “what do I need/want to learn?”To use an analogy, if I were driving up to a cottage up north, would I start by finding directions… or would I start by finding out the address?
Some people have a bit of trouble figuring out what their guitar playing vision is, especially if they’re just starting out. THIS IS OKAY. Often when we’re just starting to pursue a new hobby/sport/art-form for the first time we aren’t sure of what we want to do with it or what we’re capable of achieving. If this is the case for you, then my advice would be to write down as much as you can – even if it’s all small things – and know that you can refine and add more to your vision as you go along your journey as a guitar player player – you might discover a much bigger vision along the way.
Lastly, remember that even if a goal you have seems REALLY high and almost unreachable, you ARE indeed capable of achieving it. Don’t be afraid to think big, because you’ll never hit high by aiming low.
About The Author: Ryan Mueller is a guitarist playing in Toronto-based metal band Sovereign and also teaches guitar lessons in Etobicoke.