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Practicing for Perfection

The answer to this question seems obvious on the surface, why settle for second best? Whilst it seems right that you should always aim to deliver your best when practicing and playing, is it really that effective to ensure that everything is perfect before continuing? Take the example of a beginner student who is learning their first chords and putting them together to play their first strumming song. Is it necessary to make sure that every chord is perfectly played before moving onto learning the strumming pattern or song structure?

One outcome is that the answer is no in which case the student works intensively on being able to play their chords cleanly first, not to mention changing between them. When beginners starts playing chords then it can be a long process of getting them right. They do not only need to make sure that fingers are positioned correctly but they need to persevere whilst the skin on their fingertips hardens up. They also need to build up the strength and endurance in their hands needed to play these chords for long periods of time. All in all this can take a considerable amount of time of a few weeks to achieve, not in all cases, but with the vast majority of cases it does. Think now about how the student will stay motivated during this time. As a more advanced player it is sometimes difficult for us to remember what it is like to learn guitar the first time around. (If you want a quick test then turn your guitar around so that you are fretting with your picking hand and picking with your fretting hand and you’ll soon remember!).

The other outcome is that the student takes the time to work on a few different things at the same time; their chords, practicing changing between them, learning strumming patterns and piecing all these things together to play simple songs. One thing is apparent from the get go; their effort is spread thinly over a few different learning areas but with care to learn things in the right way (hint hint, a teacher helps here!) it can be done. So with those chord changes, they will not be right for a while. Many beginner students will struggle with learning even some of the seemingly easier chord shapes but they can be put to use right away making music and in addition they can also be used to help develop other areas of playing such as timing, strumming and learning songs.

So what are the results of these two approaches. In the first outcome the student will get really good with playing chords quickly, provided they stay motivated. They will have crystal clean chords with every note ringing out perfectly and will be in a great position to move forward to start applying them to other things such as changing, strumming and timing.

In contract the second approach will have yielded less clean chords. Chances are that the chords will have a few rough notes, some not ringing out cleanly and some not sounding quite right. However, the student will also have developed a few other skills such as strumming, timing and will have probably learned how to play some simple songs.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter too much if the chords in the second approach aren’t 100% clean as being able to play chords cleanly isn’t the goal of wanting to play guitar. It does help but it’s not the end result. Things like chord changes will get better over time, usually as fingers get tougher and stronger. However waiting till they are perfect will be of detriment to other aspects of the student’s playing. The student can move forward quicker to their goal by making sure that things are good but not perfect. In the long run it is not only more beneficial but also a lot more fun. Perfection will come but in the short term will only serve as a distraction to working towards the real aim of music, to have fun!

If this article has been helpful to you then please get in touch and let me know. Alternatively if you have anything to add or would like to see a blog post on something that you have observed when learning guitar or need help with, please get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you!

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