Why Does It Take SO LONG To Feel Like You've MASTERED The Guitar?

When Should You Have 'Mastered' A New Idea On The Guitar?

Tommaso Zillio

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master guitar time

Answer without thinking too much:

  • When you learn a new concept, exercise, scale, or anything else on the guitar, how long should it take before you’ve ‘mastered’ it?

  • How long does it take to know everything there is to know about that topic and use it completely fluently?

The unfortunate reality is that it takes… forever. And then a few more years on top of that. (Just joking!)

The problem here is that most people confuse two important ideas:

  1. "mastering’ an idea, and

  2. “I don’t need to practice that anymore”

The thing is: there is always more to learn, you can always go more in-depth into any idea, and there are degrees in mastery… so even masters can learn more!

Now, this can be discouraging for some, but to me, it’s quite comforting: I find learning fun, and I know it’s a game that will never end!

This makes it much more clear that it’s not about “what you know” or even “what you can do”: it’s about what you choose to do with the things you know.

No amount of knowledge or ability on the guitar is too much, but there is definitely no point that you must reach before you are ‘allowed’ to use it!

So my advice? Stop worrying about whether you have mastered a technique or idea, and just start having fun and making music with what you do know now!

This was inspired by a question I received on my YouTube channel. In the video below I go more in depth with my response, and I also address the second half of the comment that brings up another, equally important point.

How about having a couple of new concepts to learn on the guitar that you can use even without ‘mastering’ them first? Here is a free article on what scales you need to know for metal music for you to check out (and hey, even if you aren’t a metal musician, all of these scales are great to know anyway and can be used in lots of different genres!)

Video Transcription

Hello internet; so nice to see you! I received a very long comment, and this comment is very interesting. And I’m gonna answer this comment in three different parts. Okay, all today, all in this video. So, let’s go and see the first part.

How long should somebody study a subject like this in order to 1, understand the concept, 2, be able to see everything on the fretboard without getting lost, 3, to use it naturally during an improvisation?

This is a comment on one of my recent videos about taking it around the fretboard. The exact specifics of what we were doing are really not important because this applies to everything. How long do you have to practice something until you really have it mastered?

I’m afraid to tell you guys, it’s forever. Okay. I am still practicing everything I showed in that video. And not because I’m a lazy bum and not doing anything. Okay? It’s because the more you practice, the better you get. And the more you can see further away, and you can see the video on another level after that. And another level after that, the sky’s the limit, we can keep climbing and getting better.

So, the question is not so much how long you have to practice, but at what level? Do you need that skill? And it depends on the kind of music you want to play. And it just depends on the reality of your life, meaning how much time do you have? How much energy do you have? And what do you want to become?

Because, if you want to become a professional guitar player, for instance, the standard is higher, if you want to become a hobbyist or amateur, which again, I say those towards with no negative connotation, okay, for me, hobbyists and amateurs could still be great musicians. But in general, those people have less time because they have another job that they’re doing, okay, they have a day job that pays for their bills, and that’s great. But so they may have less time or energy to dedicate to that. Again, it depends on the specifics of who you are and what you want to do. Okay?

But in general, that’s the thing, you don’t finish practicing something, you just don’t, okay? You don’t have to think about guitar as we think about mathematics, okay, mathematics, you learn something, okay, you know, you remember that a triangle is, or stuff like that, and the sum of the internal angles, you know, it, boom, you know it, maybe you need to apply it, but you know it.

On guitar, you learn something, and everything you learn becomes an infinite search of new music, new exercises, new ideas, new songs to play on the guitar. And by the way, this is also partially true of mathematics. So even my example was not particularly great here. But everything you learned multiplies and everything becomes like, hey, to my students, everything you learn on the guitar is a bottomless pit. We can keep digging, we can keep finding new things. So even on the simplest of things, you don’t stop practicing. You keep practicing because it’s fun, okay? And because you’re making your music and because you’re getting better at making music, but it never ever stops.

I know this isn’t the answer most of you were expecting. But let’s see now what I answered on the second and third part because it will make more sense for what you guys are doing.

Because most guitar teachers: 1, keep the student doing the same exercise for weeks, 2, present the lesson today and the next week jumps to another subject, even if the student is having difficulties or is not fluent…

My recommendation here is first, find a good teacher and pay the teacher. Then, listen to what the teacher says, okay? Do not learn from two, three, 100 teachers, pick a good one, and follow what they say until they are done. Okay, which could be forever, because a lot of people out there really know everything, okay. But choose one, and then follow their method.

Don’t go around fishing for different methods and the shiny objects and different things, and the new video on YouTube. I know I’m on a video YouTube, okay, I’m fully aware of the irony here. But pick a path and follow it. Okay?

I mean, if you want to enlist my help, you know where to find my courses. If you don’t want to, or you can, for any reason, find somebody else, but pick a teacher and follow that. Now, if the teacher changes topic every single lesson, I will be inclined that, I mean, unless there are specific exceptions, but usually that’s not a good sign.

Okay, and again, I don’t want to talk about anything, anybody, because, in some situations, this could be a good idea, but it depends on the situation. The teacher keeps you on a long time on some exercises, that for me is usually a good symptom, even if eventually they have to change. Make sense.

But again, it’s hard to say something like that because those two phrases can mean a lot of things. And sometimes with my students, I do change topics every week. Why? Because in that moment, that specific student needs variety, needs to change, and needs to switch different gears to understand different things.

And in some other situations for some students, I stay on the same topic for months, not even weeks because for the music they want, or for their personality type, for what they are doing, they need to stay on that topic until they finish learning at least a few specific scales.

So, you see, it’s impossible to give a recommendation about who’s a good teacher or not, because it depends, okay? It depends on a number of things. But the thing is, pick a good teacher, somebody who can do what you want, or at least whose students can do what you want.

If you cannot find anything about their students, don’t enlist that teacher until you see what their students can do. Why I say that, because sometimes there are great musicians out there, but their students are not great because the person cannot explain. You don’t want the help of that other person, not because they’re bad, but because they cannot explain it to you.

So, find out what the students of the teacher you want to enlist can do. And if you like that, that’s your teacher. Okay? Pick that. Follow what that teacher says, just follow it. Okay? If you choose to enlist the help of a teacher, it’s because they know more than you. So, the most important thing that you can say is the thing that you were not thinking about before. So, it’s the thing that looks wrong the first time. But guess what? They know something you don’t. Okay, so what looks wrong to you may look may be exactly the right thing you need. So, look, if they can deliver, and then listen to what they say. And then the third part:

I’m the kind of student who likes to get the most from a minimal idea. I could play variations of the same lick over and over again until it becomes natural for me. But, am I wasting time with something too obvious (not about this video, but in general) when I should learn something else instead?

My recommendation, and it’s a very general recommendation, it will work for most people most of the time, but definitely not for everybody all the time, is that you want to break up your practice and change topics pretty often, you do not want to spend half an hour doing the same thing.

So, if you spend half an hour going around the fretboard explained the video length before. Or if you’re spending half an hour playing only technique or if you’re spending half an hour only learning theory, that’s probably too much time. You should change topics every five to ten minutes, okay?

You should not work on a single thing at a time because playing guitar is not made of a single element. It’s not only theory, it’s not only technique, it’s not only musicality, it’s not only timing, is not only all those things, it’s not only improvisation, and creativity, it’s all those things.

So, you want to switch gears, often. Otherwise, you just get stuck doing one thing. If you spend a half hour, one hour, three hours doing only, I don’t know, technique, after the first 10 to 15 minutes, unless, again, you’re changing something continuously, but after the first 10 to 15 minutes, you’re not learning anything new, you’re just rehashing the same thing over and over.

Okay, you’re learning is done, you’re still putting energy into it, but there’s no result. Okay? But again, those apply literally every time No, that’s a general recommendation because the only way to know is to know where you are, what you’re studying, and what you need to do.

Okay, so nobody can answer this specific question without having more information. And this information will be different depending on the student. There is no general advice that works for everybody all the time. Okay, so remember that there’s not a one-size-fits-all, simply because we’re different people and simply because we want to do different things on the guitar.

Some of us want to play lead, and some of us want to play rhythm. Some of us want to play simple things and slow. Some of us want to play super fast things and want to play complex, odd time signatures. The number of goals differs and the goal can change in time, and depending on the goals and the person you are, the advice would be different. Okay?

So, find somebody you trust. If this somebody is me again, look at the courses on the top right. If you have any questions for me, you can write it down here in the comments. If you want to ask me something more personal, if you want to know anything about my courses, write me an email. Because if you talk about the courses, I need to ask you personal questions to know who you are and what you need. And you don’t want to answer those questions in the comments. Okay, so if you need to, write me to my email or otherwise I can write if you have general questions, write them down in the comments and I’d be happy to answer them.

And if you liked this video, smash that like button and don’t forget to subscribe again. And this is Tommaso Zillio for MusicThoeryForGuitar.com, and until next time, enjoy

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