When I’ve sat down to practice the guitar or any of the instruments I play in my 20+ years as an active musician, I’ll admit I get frustrated a lot too. We all do; it’s a natural part of the process. But now, I leverage my experience and know exactly what to do when I come across a particularly difficult part of my practice.
I use my metronome and 5 quarters.
OK…that’s a big “duh.” I’m out.
No! Don’t go! I’m serious. The metronome is one of the best tools out there to improve quickly no matter what instrument you play, but it’s exceptionally important for guitar players. Think about it:
In bands, the guitar is in step with the drummer in keeping the tempo of the song in question. It’s not the singer, it’s the rhythm guitar that keeps everything in place. Guitarists, along with drummers, MUST have a rock-solid sense of beat to be successful.
But how does this help with learning tricky skills on guitar? Today, I want to talk about that and how you can use the metronome right away to make your practice more effective.
I struggled for years and years, my friends. Now that I know these easy steps, I can learn anything given enough time. There was a top-level musician I admired who came to do a clinic at my university. In it, someone asked him, “When do you know you’re ready to take on challenging songs?” I’ll never forget how he answered.
He said that is the worst attitude any professional can have in the world. There is no song too challenging to learn. The only difference is how long it takes you to learn it. More experienced players simply learn things faster.
And then he told me about the “Quarter Trick.”
First, take a metronome and set it at a slow tempo. Go for at least 30 beats per minute (BPM) slower than the song you’re learning is. If you’re working on exercises, set the tempo at 60 BPM.
Next, isolate the part or small section that is giving you a lot of trouble. Get it as specific as possible. It doesn’t work if the phrase of exercise is too long.
Set your 5 quarters out in front of you. With the metronome set for a slow tempo, practice the problematic section. If it’s too hard still, slow it down even more. Only when you play your targeted section correctly, slide one quarter from one spot to another. Your goal is to get all 5 quarters moved from one side to the other.
Ah, but wait! There’s more! If you mess up the phrase, you must move the quarters you already completed back to the other side and start over. When you finally play it correctly 5 times in a row, bump the metronome up 5-10 BPM. Start over with the quarters. Once you’ve got it up to tempo or your goal, go past it and go even faster.
Once that’s done, consider the section mastered and put it back into the context of the whole song. Repeat with every difficult section until the whole song or exercise is mastered.
Is it pretty or fun? Not really. But the metronome will keep you in tempo, and the motion of the quarters is a physical reward, a physical tracking of the progress you’re making.
Why do I make it so hard? 5 times in a row?
It goes back to the old music saying: Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.
It may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but let’s unpack this a little. If you practice something 10 times and you get it right once and then stop, you’ve got it right 1 time out of 10. That’s 10%. This isn’t how good players operate. They’ll practice 10 times and get it right once; then keep going.
They’ll keep going until they’ve done it 100 times right. Now we’re looking at percentages well above 90%. In many cases, they practice it 1,000s of times.
Which would you rather count on? 10% or over 90%. I think we know the answer, and the quarter trick will help you get there.
Take this trick and apply it to some aspect of your guitar playing this week. Whether you’re mastering a solo or just trying to get some chord changes down, you’ll be amazed at how it improves you.
If you don’t believe in using metronomes, then I guess you think you’re better than legends like Carlos Santana. He talks about how to improve on guitar in his Masterclass course, and he doesn’t shy away from the “grunt work” of developing guitar skills.
Check out Carlos Santana Masterclass here.