How Fast Should You Be Progressing?

Occasionally I'll get an email from a guitarist wanting lessons from me who say something like...”If I start lessons with you, how fast will I progress?”. This type of question bugs the hell out of me for a few reasons...

  • I don't know what their practice habits are like. Someone who doesn't practice a lot in between each lesson won't progress very much.
  • I don't know if they have any truly bad habits that need correcting. Often these can take a lot of time and effort to correct. And no real progress will be made until these have been corrected.
  • I don't know how teachable they are. How willing and able a student is to follow instructions is a big component of how much benefit they will get from the lessons. If they aren't able or willing to follow what I tell them, then they probably won't get better.
  • It is usually a sign of someone who has a short-term mindset. Learning a musical instrument is a rewarding lifelong adventure, and most often the people who ask how fast they will progress in their first enquiry to me don't have the right mindset. I've found from past experience that they usually are after a quick-fix, rather than embracing the work that needs to be done to improve.

What I always do when I get emails from people like this is tell them that if they don't work really hard then they won't progress at all, which is a very honest answer to their question. I usually never hear back from them. Mentioning the word “work” is a great way to filter out people who aren't serious about improving their playing!

But Isn't It A Valid Question?

Yeah, I know. I probably come across as a bit harsh, and somewhat of an asshole because of what I wrote above. And the reason is that while it's not normal to ask the question in the first email to a teacher, I think it is perfectly normal to wonder about whether you are progressing at a fast enough rate.

The cool thing is that you don't have to worry about this. Your progress is always what it should be. Your current progress will always be an accurate reflection of things like...

  • Your past musical experiences.
  • Your natural aptitude for learning music and the guitar.
  • Your current efforts and lifestyle.

What I'm trying to say here is that it's a waste of time trying to compare your progress to some arbitrary bench mark. Your progress is what it is. It also makes no sense to compare yourself to other people.

But Is It Possible To Speed Up Your Progress?

I hope I didn't give you impression that your progress is not changeable. Although you definitely can't change things like your past musical experience and natural aptitude, you can certainly change your current efforts and lifestyle. So let's quickly take a look at six tips that will help you to speed up your progress. It's far from a complete list, but it should at least point you in the right direction...

Tip 1: Measure Your Efforts

I am a big believer in documenting what you do each week to improve your guitar playing in a guitar practice journal. One of the reasons for this is that guitarists often overestimate just how much practice they do. If you write down exactly what you practice each day then you'll get an accurate picture of exactly what you are doing. This will allow you to make corrections if you notice something isn't working. You'll also be able to feel a sense of satisfaction as you look back through all the past efforts you've made towards your goals.

Tip 2: Record Yourself Regularly

It is important to record yourself on a regular basis. The more frequently you can do it, the better. It helps you to get accurate feedback about your playing, helps you to become a better a musician, and also allows you to look at the progress you've made over the months and years.

Tip 3: Get Lessons From A Good Teacher

The truth is that almost everyone will progress faster with the help of a good teacher than trying to teach themselves. There are many reasons for this, but a few of the big reasons are...

  • A guitar teacher will be able to develop an effective strategy for reaching your musical goals.
  • A guitar teacher can give you the ongoing feedback that is essential for progress. (Many guitarists practice for years making minimal progress simply because they aren't getting feedback on their playing).
  • A guitar teacher can help you learn how to practice in an effective way. This will allow you to get more value out of each hour of practice that you do.

Tip 4: Play With Other People

Playing with other people teaches you skills that you just won't learn by yourself. And if one of your musical goals is to play in a band, then you need to learn these skills. You can't learn them just by practicing in your bedroom. Even if you have no desire to play in a band, playing with other people will still help you to progress faster. It's also a lot of fun!

Tip 5: Make Guitar Practice Part Of Your Lifestyle

If you don't make guitar practice and music a priority in your life then it's unlikely that you'll progress in any significant way...

  • Busy at work? The guitar doesn't care...go cry to mummy.
  • Have a family? The guitar doesn't care...go cry to mummy.
  • Have other time commitments? The guitar doesn't care...go cry to mummy.
  • Have other obstacles that you face? The guitar doesn't care...go cry to mummy.

Off-and-on guitar practice produces terrible results for most people, so you need to make practice part of your daily lifestyle. No, you certainly don't need to quit your job to progress on guitar. But you do need to carve out the necessary time.

Tip 6: Focus On Improving Your Relevant Weaknesses

One element of effective practice is the never-ending quest of locating and obliterating your musical and technical weaknesses. As long as you are constantly improving your weaknesses, and as long as those weaknesses are relevant to achieving your musical goals, then you will always make progress. Sure, it's not always fun working on things that you suck at. But it's an essential part of getting better!

A Few Last Words

Hopefully you can see how focusing on how fast you should be progressing is a total waste of time and mental energy. You are a unique person, so your progress at any point in time will also be unique to you. Just focus on doing the things that speed up your progress, and you'll do just fine!


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