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Learning Guitar is Like Playing Basketball

Sports and guitar often seem to have this interesting symmetry when it comes to practicing and perfecting what needs to be done.

Basketball players spend an unbelievable amount of time on the most fundamental of techniques… the layup.

In reading several articles about “how to run an effective basketball practice” every single article says to start with layups and to make sure that you include them in every single practice.

And I’ve heard of pro players who religiously get out on the court and practice layups until they are completely on autopilot.

Why do you suppose that is?

“Duh, dummy, so they don’t miss in a game…”

Yes, I know… but what is it about playing in a game (or playing a song) that makes it somehow harder to execute the layup?

I mean, if they can do it in practice and hit 10 out of 10, why wouldn’t you expect them to hit 10 out of 10 on game day?

And that, my friend, is because there is all this other stuff going on that changes the situation dramatically.

There are defenders, crowds, flashing lights, noises… a whole host of variables that aren’t there during practice. And any one of those things could easily capture a player’s attention right when they need to be focused on executing that layup…

… so they have to be able to execute that layup even if they aren’t paying attention!

Even if they are staring at the defenders, looking for a teammate, listening for the buzzer, or whatever – that layup still has to go in or those guys are out of luck.

Now let’s say you’re a beginner and you know how to play a C chord and a G chord… and you can switch between them pretty well.

What happens when you have a song with C, G, Aminor, and then F? My guess (it’s not really a guess, I see this happen all the time) is that you’ll be thinking about the F and mess up the C to G that you thought you could play just fine.

See the situation is a little different and that new element is all it takes to tip the scales out of your favor I’m afraid.

“Well that’s great… now that you’ve doomed us to failure how about a little help?”

Of course… glad you asked 🙂

The obvious first thing is not just repetition, it’s repetition on a consistent basis.

If you’re the beginner who has just learned C and G, as long as you go back and forth between them a few times each day, they will get better and more on autopilot pretty quickly. If you do it once a week… well it’ll take a LOT longer to get there.

Better yet, once you get C and G down, look for chord progressions (songs) that have C and G, and maybe 1 or 2 other chords. Learn the 1 or 2 other chords and practice putting them all together. There are a ton of songbooks full of easy songs out there with songs that have only 3-5 chords each.

Don’t worry about whether or not you are doing it like the song – in fact, it doesn’t even matter what the song is. Just practice the chord changes with 4 strums each and try to keep a steady beat.

You might find one that has C, G, Amin, F and another with D, C, G, C and another with G, C, Emin, C – just to name a few. Build out slowly from what you start with and you’ll find that you have a pretty good chord vocabulary within a few short weeks.

If you only remember 2 things from this article, remember this – repetition doesn’t win the day, consistent repetition does. Small amounts, every day, will produce FAR better results than cramming 1 day a week. That’s why I say 20 minutes per day of focused practice time is usually all that you need to see good results.

And second, once you’ve learned a little something, try to build a little something more on top of it. This is the way that we teach here at Six String Studios because that’s what works just like it worked for me growing up and just like it will work for you.