If you’ve chosen the path of the shredder, then you’ve chosen a path of hard work.
No one who’s interested in achieving big things should be afraid of hard work.
But sometimes it can be hard to know what that should look like in practice. And, effectiveness is sometimes sacrificed for busywork, which doesn’t get you anywhere fast.
So, let’s look at how you can put together a routine that will support your goal of becoming a pro guitarist.
Determine A Worthy Focus
No looming deadlines generally means no pressing need to practice.
If there isn’t a need to practice, you won’t. Even if you have a regular practice schedule and keep to it, you will likely be less effective because you don’t have a clear goal ahead of you.
What you need is a worthy focus.
Shredding guitar like a pro doesn’t mean knowing all your scales and arpeggios, being able to pull off an incredible solo at a moment’s notice or even playing at ridiculous speeds.
Really? Yes, really.
Shredding like a pro means having an area of focus.
I’ve chatted with guitarist Doug Doppler several times.
Last time I talked to him, he said he was beginning to identify every weakness in his playing and was coming up with exercises to improve upon his weaknesses.
There you go – a worthy focus.
Doppler may not be well known, but he is a great guitarist. Nevertheless, he still has a signature sound and playing style. I’ve never heard him play jazz or percussive style acoustic guitar.
He’s more of a shredder in the vein of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.
So, what area of your playing will you work on now? Swept arpeggios? Modal improvisation? Insane harmonic minor runs? Pentatonic mayhem? There’s no right or wrong.
But don’t try to do it all at once. See a vision for what’s possible (e.g. by watching videos of your favorite guitarists online) and commit to mastering one thing at a time.
Go an inch wide and a mile deep – not a mile wide and an inch deep.
Here’s a great quote by Bruce Lee illustrating this concept:
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
What kick will you practice 10,000 times?
Keep A Practice Log
Only amateurs practice aimlessly and without cause.
“I practiced a lot yesterday, but I don’t remember exactly what I practiced or for how long” said no professional ever.
Your practice log is your ticket to shredding like a pro because you can put a bit of science behind the art.
Let me explain:
Most of the time, you’ll have no idea know how long it takes to master a new technique. It so often happens that you wake up one day and suddenly find you’re able to do it without any problem.
But if you had data on what you practiced and for how long on a given day, you could identify trends and patterns in how much practice is required to develop the facility for a new technique.
I used to learn difficult guitar solos in 15-minute increments, and I found it only took a few of those sessions to have the solo completely under my fingers.
First, I had a worthy focus. Second, I could measure precisely how much time I had spent on it.
Now, I didn’t reach that point of being able to quickly work out solos without years and years of playing behind me, but I think you get the idea.
Your practice log will fast become your best friend if you use it. Plan your work and work your plan.
The artistic journey can be a lonely one if you let it become that.
This is not good or bad as many presume. It’s common for a musician to spend many years in a closet before emerging and connecting with others (i.e. prospective band mates, industry people, publicists and so on).
But there are ways you can make it more community-oriented and fun.
Chances are you aren’t the only one passionate about music and guitar in your community.
You don’t necessarily need to start a Meetup group or a gathering for guitarists.
But I would suggest finding at least one person who’s committed to becoming a craftsperson just like you are.
That way, you can get together and jam and trade off licks. You can continue to progress without sacrificing your musical ear.
What so often happens with guitarists who are constantly practicing alone is they lose their ear, and once they begin playing in a band, they stop listening for what the rest of the band is doing and how they fit in to the picture.
You don’t want that, because it leads to overplaying and stepping on other people’s toes.
Learning to shred is cool but it shouldn’t be for the purpose of showing off or playing a million notes per minute. It should be with the end goal of making a musical statement only you can make.
So, find some cohorts who are on a similar journey and work together with them. You never know how this might end up elevating you.
Just look at Joe Satriani and his pupil – Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons, Charlie Hunter and others.
Eliminate All Possibility For Distraction
If you’re interested in shredding like a pro, it might mean making some sacrifices.
Now, we all have activities we want to fit into our weeks, whether it’s meditation, exercise, meals, sleep, social outings, work or otherwise.
But if you’re clear about your goals and want to achieve them sooner rather than later, you must be aggressive in your approach.
If you can fit in three to four hours of practice in a day, you should. If I can schedule for more, great. It might feel like bootcamp, but I promise you will improve and grow more rapidly.
If you can’t practice for longer periods, fine. Try to get daily 30- to 60-minute sessions. If you’re focused, you should still be able to make good use of that time.
Here are several ways you can eliminate distraction to focus on what matters:
- Turn your phone off. You can also turn all the notifications off, but your temptation will still be to check texts or answer calls. While you’re in practice mode, you should turn your phone off so there’s no chance of being distracted. You can check messages later.
- Turn your computer off. It’s common for guitarists to practice in front of a computer because there’s a world of material just waiting to be discovered and studied. Print out your practice materials and put them on a music stand instead. You’ll save your eyes, reduce fatigue and remain more focused.
- Practice in isolation. If possible, put yourself in a quiet room where there’s no chance of being interrupted. This may be difficult in your home, and if so, see if you can book a room at school or at a guitar studio. Maybe hit up your church and see if you can rent a room there.
- Put boundaries on meetings. My general rule of thumb is that if I will only attend meetings and social gatherings for 60 to 90 minutes unless I have extra time and I’m having a lot of fun. I’m up to something in life and simply cannot give more of my time or energy to communication and get togethers that aren’t as efficient as they could be or don’t add much value.
- Create a runway. Money can become a major distraction while you’re trying to fulfill on your commitments. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to be how the universe works. If you can, cut down on expenses and live frugally while working on your goals. See if you can negotiate working from home or build a freelancing career. Eliminate debt. Taking control of your financial life will give you a greater sense of creative freedom.
The conclusion that’s often drawn from the parable of the tortoise and the hare is that slow and steady wins the race.
That’s not the lesson.
The lesson is that consistency outperforms random bursts of effort every time.
Show me someone who’s consistent at what they do, and I’ll show you someone who is dependably achieving their goals – even if they don’t meet all their deadlines.
The hard part is not picking up the guitar to play. The hard part is staying steady even when you don’t feel like it, because life happens.
You may experience heartbreak or fatigue or financial difficulties.
I’m not saying that you won’t need to spend time in mourning, go on vacations or allocate time to problem solving.
But keep in mind this is where most people give up. Instead of pressing in they take their foot off the gas pedal.
Challenges will define you. You’ll either be the one who persevered through adversity or the one who allowed difficulties to get the upper hand.
The temptation will always be to shrink. It’s human nature. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t faced real challenges yet.
But if you stay steady, you will be rewarded for it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fun. If the journey isn’t fun, then there is no reward, because the journey itself is the reward.
But there are three things you should never take too seriously – yourself, others and life. In other words, you shouldn’t take anything too seriously!
Author Dr. Richard Carlson has a book titled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff. That’s a great attitude to have towards life.
Now you have a better idea of what this journey is going to look like.
The temptation will be to skip steps and cut corners because it sounds like a lot of work.
But if you don’t take care of your finances, for example, you might find yourself constantly having to pick up part-time work or contracts just to make ends meet.
The “long way around” isn’t the long way around at all. It’s the shortcut. So, don’t try to shortcut the shortcut!