Chances are, you believe (just like most guitarists) that transforming yourself into a great player means making the fastest progress possible. On the outside this may seem like a logical idea, but after examining deeper it is actually a very potentially dangerous behavior. Most guitar players try to make very fast progress in one area of their playing while neglecting to improve in other key areas. This results in them losing control of the ability to make progress on a consistent basis because they have developed unbalanced skills where they cannot move forward until their weaknesses are resolved. This often results in many months or years of correction before they get back on track with their ultimate musical goals.
Why Uncontrolled/Mismanaged Progress Is Destructive For Guitar Playing:
Unbalanced guitar skills are caused directly by making progress too quickly in one area of your playing while ignoring other (important) areas. After teaching guitar for many years, countless guitar players have come to me with 'unbalanced' skills and expressed great frustration because they were unable to be fully creative in their playing. In most cases, players focus primarily on improving technique and speed while ignoring improvisation, ear training and other important skills. As a result, the guitarist is unable to 'think' as fast as he can play, leading to unbalanced overall playing, and a glaring weakness in overall musical creativity. In the end, they are held back by their weaknesses - unable to fully reach their highest guitar playing goals and take advantage of their main strengths. This is like fixing-up an old car and investing all of your money into purchasing the most high-powered engine you can find while completely ignoring the fact that the brake pads are worn down, the tires are bald and the suspension is terrible. This will obviously lead to issues in your car's performance and you will not get the maximum benefit from your engine until these other factors are taken care of.
Here are the most common reasons why unmanaged/out of control progress happens for many guitarists:
Reason One: In most cases, guitar players falsely believe that certain skills must be mastered before mastery of other skills can even be attempted. They put all of their time and energy into practicing in a few areas of their playing and end up becoming unbalanced players because of it. Every year I take in tons of new guitar students who suffer because of this belief and I have to help them change it so they can become better guitar players. Here are a couple of frequent examples that I see:
Example One: Guitar players spend all of their practice sessions working only on improving speed/technique and music theory knowledge with the intention of mastering these things before applying them creatively through improvisation or composition. In the end, these players become great in their technical skills and understand a lot about music, but feel frustrated because they can't actively use their skills to play anything that sounds like real 'music'. To improve in areas such as improvisation or songwriting, you must actively practice applying your skills to making music and being creative while you are also getting better in your general guitar playing. You definitely don't want to 'begin from the beginning' and waste tons of time trying to 're-balance' your guitar playing after failing to properly integrate together your different skills.
Example Two: A guitar player who has the goal of becoming great at improvising thinks he needs to memorize the name of every note on the fretboard before he can begin practicing improvisation. This belief leads him to spend weeks mapping out the fretboard and memorizing all of the note names as fast as he can before he starts working to improve his improvising skills. Then, once he has finally done this he immediately experiences great frustration when he tries to improvise, because a) he feels like a complete novice in this area of his playing, and b) being able to remember note names alone will not help him to improvise unless he also learned how each pitch expresses specific emotions over specific chords. Again, a mismanagement of progress causes the player to become 'out of control' and takes him far away from his desired goals.
Reason Two: Sometimes guitar players will be more prone to making progress faster in some areas of their playing and slower in other areas. This occurs because their approaches to guitar practice are much less effective in their weak areas. In general, this is a frequent occurrence for guitarists who learn without a teacher (by themselves) or with a guitar teacher who doesn't know how to train them in a way that gets BIG results.
How Can This Be Solved?
Before I reveal what needs to get done in order to bypass the issues mentioned above, there are two errors you must avoid:
1. 'Practicing everything for an equal amount of time': You might believe that the solution to becoming a balanced guitarist is to equally divide your practice time among your practice items (using a calculator or an Excel spreadsheet). This is a HUGE mistake! Fact is, your guitar playing skills will not all improve in the same manner at the same rate. When you evenly distribute practice time to all areas of your playing, this does not 'solve' the problem of unbalanced skills, it 'creates' it.
2. 'Practicing EVERYTHING so you don't have any weaknesses': Before you consider using this bad approach to practice, consider the fact that all of your favorite guitar players have major weaknesses in tons of areas that are outside of their particular playing style. That said, although their playing suffers from these weaknesses, it doesn't matter for them because these 'weaknesses' have nothing to do with the kind of music they like to play. They have mastered the strengths that matter most for their musical goals. For example, top-notch metal guitar players are usually unable to play fingerstyle passages on a nylon-stringed classical guitar. Blues players usually have no ability to transcribe and play Paganini compositions for guitar. However, these players fully understand the difference between 'weaknesses that matter' (that keep them from reaching their musical goals) and 'weaknesses that don't matter' (that have nothing to do with their musical goals). The weaknesses that are most relevant MUST be improved upon in order to achieve your musical goals. Any other weaknesses can be overlooked.
To ensure that you don't have issues with mismanaged guitar playing progress, follow these 4 steps:
1. Learn how to put together a guitar practice schedule that helps you maximize productivity in relation to your specific musical goals. Then take initiative to use your practice schedule consistently and make progress toward these goals.
2. Don't give in to the temptation to work only on the strong areas in your guitar playing while ignoring your weak areas (that are relevant to your goals). Don't forget that your weak areas will hold you back and keep you from getting the most from the strengths you have spent so much time developing.
3. Don't assume that some musical skills need to be fully mastered before you can even begin working to improve in other areas of your playing.
4. Find a guitar instructor who has already helped many other guitarists reach their highest musical goals to become great players. Once you have found this instructor, work with this person until you have reached your specific goals.
By following the steps mentioned above you will avoid the frequent problems of uncontrolled guitar playing progress and get on the fast track to achieving your musical goals.