How To Pace Learning New Guitar Skills

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It’s hard when you’re learning guitar to have a concept of the amount of material you can handle. One of the drawbacks to teaching yourself guitar is pacing.

Players can get stuck because the overload prevents them from progressing. It took me a long time to understand this. I was self taught. I would overload myself. I wanted to absorb as much as I possibly could.

It’s kind of like taking too much vitamin C. Your body only accepts so much before it just gets rid of it.

This doesn’t have to do with regulating practice time. It’s simply what you practice. People confuse learning information with acquiring information. Just because you’ve gathered some new lick or theory doesn’t mean you’ve fully realized it.


The right pace of learning feels slow to most. It’s good to be ambitious, but don’t let ambition slow your progress down. It’s always better to digest lesser amounts of information then larger.

Think about how you feel sometimes after Thanksgiving dinner. That’s fine once a year, but that’s not your daily practice.

Learning Songs

One easy way to look at this is when we’re learning songs. A lot of guitarists don’t pace themselves well when learning songs for a gig.

Often, many guitarists treat learning songs like cramming for a test in college. When you learn material this way, it’s clearly not a long term gain.

Recently, I have been preparing for a special NYC memorial show to the legendary Jack Bruce. The songs are quite complex. They’re a far cry from a pop song.

This meant I had to really get to know the song. I was also not looking to read charts on the gig. I would have to seriously learn the music.

To add to it, there was a member from one of Jack’s bands in our band. Pressure on.

The Math

I knew that I couldn’t breeze through them. Luckily, the gig was planned several months in advance. I looked at how much time before the gig I had to prepare. I compared that to how many songs I had.

We had 12 weeks to prepare and 13 songs to learn. I happened to know one of the songs already. So, that meant 12 songs to learn. I would plan to learn one song a week.

I started by listening to the track. I wanted to be able to sing the parts before I touched my instrument. I wanted to know the form. When I picked up my guitar, I didn’t blow through the tune. I spent time on each section of the song before I put them together.

The songs were put together in stages. Usually the last two days of the week I was running the song in full and dialing in guitar tones.


Does this seem painfully slow? Perhaps. But, by the end of the week I really knew the song. I was also not having problems with any transitions or riffs. I could focus on the actual playing and feeling of the song.

I didn’t use one cheat sheet in any rehearsal. We don’t often have this luxury when it comes to preparing for gigs. Things often don’t have the budget for this kind of prep. But, you may have more time then you realize.


I used learning songs as an example. What if we replaced songs with theory? What if you’re trying to understand how augmented chords are built?

Considering that it’s something that you will use for the rest of your life, a one week focus is not asking too much.

Learning chord construction is a fine example too. Often guitarists try to learn all the chords at first.

Music theory is a lot like Lego Blocks. You have to put them together one piece at a time.

Chef BoyarDee

Buffets are great for value dinners sometimes. But, there is something said about a fine sit down meal with a renowned chef.

You want a chef for your brain food. As a teacher, it’s one of the important things I provide. I’m always aware of the information you’re collecting. I’m paying attention to how it all fits together. I’m aware of when you may be overloading.

A steady pace is better then fast start and stops. This is something that’s nearly impossible to regulate unless you’re an experienced player.

Guitar lessons aren’t just about a teacher showing you riffs and songs. It’s about someone making it a smoother ride to progress. A great teacher is not scattered, but a seasoned traveler.

Now that I’ve learned these skills, I learn music and new concepts much quicker then in my younger days. I also get much less frustrated since I know how to pace myself. For me, that pace is often determined by the difficulty and time frame allowed. For you as a student, you have a much more flexibility with your pacing. Take full advantage.


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Guitarist Mark Marshall located at 51 Macdougal St #264 , New York, NY . Reviewed by 11 customers rated: 4.9 / 5
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