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  • Writer's pictureRon Dickson

Splitting everything apart

One of the most challenging aspects of learning the guitar is the discipline of splitting everything apart to work on each aspect of what we are playing individually to speed up our learning.


Once we are past the beginner’s stage of learning the guitar, we can often look at where our playing is not entirely correct and identify the central issue of what is causing the mistake. As we train this skill, we better analyse ourselves and identify more subtle errors leading to the mistakes. These can be identified easier with a teacher’s aid as it is challenging to observe correctly while playing. A great tip for this is to video yourself playing using your mobile phone, and you can take on the role of the teacher in spotting errors.


Once we have identified and planned to rectify a particular issue, most learners try to do it all at once. It is possible to improve this way. However, our brains struggle to learn more than one thing at a time. The solution is to take each item separately and correct it separately, then introduce all the pieces back together. This takes a lot of discipline as it appears to be a significantly more complex method of correcting mistakes. I look at this the other way; the only reason it is so challenging is we focus on one thing we cannot do and not play anything we can to give us respite.

  • If we identify an issue with our right hand, we only focus on our right hand and do not move our left.

  • If the issue is with our left hand, we focus on our left only and do not move the right. Try playing something you know and can play well like this.

(If you can do this, congratulations, you genuinely know that piece. If you get lost and cannot keep track of what each hand should be doing when working by themselves, congratulations, you have discovered an area that requires further development before it starts to hold you back.)

  • If it is a synchronisation issue, we focus only on where the sync between the two hands falls apart and leave the other parts alone.

  • If it is a control issue with the strumming/ picking hand, then try to play as quietly as possible, alternating with as loud as possible. Ensure each note is heard correctly

  • ·If it is a tension issue with the fretting hand, try to play by touching the string only and not making any notes sound. (This applies more to electric guitarists)

  • ·If it is a timing issue, slow the metronome down and try to keep in time while playing in slow motion. Aim for below 40 bpm or below. If you can manage to keep time at this speed, it will be easy at normal speed.

If you make mistakes that are not part of what you are focusing on, make a mental note of them but do not be distracted by them. Keep your focus on the task at hand, and you will improve far faster.

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