How to Optimise Your Guitar Progress (MAXIMISE Your Learning Speed!)

As guitarists and learners of music, we all want to maximise our learning efficiency to reach our goals as fast as possible! But just how do we do that? Is there a systematic way to learn faster?


There are three major forces that impact the music learning process. They are:

  1. The form and content of the music itself

  2. The interaction between the learner and teacher

  3. The learning environment

Let’s break this all down and find out how we can maximise our learning speed!

The Form and Content of the Music

Within any musical culture there are different topics, and for each topic the form of the content is presented in different ways ranging from tangible to intangible.

For a very tangible topic, let’s take western scales as an example. Most likely there would be written notes, even a guitar scale diagram, fingering positions, tabs, notation, and exercises to transmit this knowledge from teacher to learner.

On the intangible end would be learning improvisation. At best written notes can only suggest what you should play, it cannot explicitly notate what you will play, as that would defeat the intent of improvisation.

How tangible or intangible the musical content is will inform your approach to learning it, and to figure that out we need to explore the relationship between you, the learner, and your teacher.

The Interaction Between Learner and Teacher

Just to be clear, your teacher does not have to be right in front of you. Your teacher could be in a video like I am now, or even speaking to you through a music textbook!

For more tangible topics such as scales, it’s easy to learn from a textbook or video. However, something intangible such as improvisation or musical expression requires direct interaction and communication between learner and teacher.

And it goes beyond simply being in the same room - the relationship between learner and teacher plays a big role. As a teacher myself, I teach my students how to improvise much better once I have established a rapport with them. As improvisation is much like having a chat using a musical language, our conversation becomes much more rich and spontaneous once we’ve gotten to know each other better.

Hence we’ve explored how the forces of music form and content and the teacher-learner interaction play a big part in determining the effectiveness of learning music. Let’s delve into the last force, the learning environment.

The Learning Environment

Believe it or not, the physical environment in which you learn music plays a big role! Especially today where much learning happens online, we need to be aware of the compromises being made to facilitate such a digitised mode of transmission.

If we’re learning something tangible like scale theory, sure an online lecture would do the trick. But how about learning something incredibly intangible like performance practice and etiquette?

In such a situation, you will need to physically attend live concerts and study the behaviour of professional musicians, what they say, how they say it, and keenly observe their body language. You then need to discuss this with your teacher and peers to comprehensively develop your understanding of performance etiquette.

Maximising Your Learning Speed

Now that we’ve explored the 3 major forces that impact the music learning process, you are at a much better position to maximise your learning speed!

However, here’s the catch: You cannot apply the same learning strategy for everything you learn in music. You need to evaluate the musical content, the interaction between you and your teacher, and the physical environment for each and every learning situation and tailor it to best suit your needs.

Want to learn scales? You’d do very well referring to good quality written notes, spending hours in your practice room with a metronome, and consulting a teacher once in awhile to check in on your progress.

Want to learn improvisation? You’d be best off finding fellow musicians to jam with, meeting your teacher face-to-face, and even placing yourself in live performing situations to hone your improvisation skills. There are some things you just can’t master until you’re up on stage!

Now that you’ve learnt the tricks to maximising your learning speed, go out there and learn all that music!

By Neil Chan