Jacques Nel

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Tips on learning lead [Yes again!]

Current mood: determined

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So as previously reported, I am learning lead.  It's going surprisingly well at this stage.  If I had to do a little timeline I would describe it as follows:
1. Started learning scales [again], playing up and down slowly with few mistakes.
2. Playing scales and patterns up and down fluently, learning new speed and strength exercises.
3. Playing most exercises on around 150bpm and starting to learn solos from Iron Maiden
4. Playing 2 Iron Maiden songs fluently, playing all exercises fluently on 150bpm.

So that's where I am now after around a week of practicing.

I am actually quite pleased with my progression.  A local teacher also told me that if this is how far I am in a week it's actually quite good, better than average, so as long as I can stay on this trend I will be happy.  

So now, I want to share some of the tips with whoever ends up reading this and I'll go into detail on each, however these are just guidelines I use, no one has to follow them to the letter.  Here we go:

I know this has been said so many times and it is sometimes dismissed as one of those stupid inspirational messages, but dedication is the main thing needed to become a lead guitarist.

You need to dedicate at least 30 minutes to an hour daily to practice and keep this up. 

To keep myself motivated, I think of the fact that Slash used to practice up to 12 hours a day! So I play every single chance I get, I'm doing well over 2 hours a day in the week, and around 6 to 8 hours over the weekend.  You need to stay focused on becoming better and not stopping till you reach your goal.  

Beware of losing interest in the beginning when you are playing boring endless exercises over and over again. This is how you build speed and strength.

The first person to teach me anything on the guitar told me that learning Iron Maiden songs is the best way to learn lead. I can't stress ho many of the players I've known over the years learned lead by playing Maiden.

You don't have to use Iron Maiden though, but take some of your favorite bands who have killer lead guitar in them and sit down and learn the songs. [Guitar Pro is a must]

By doing this you end up seeing how scales are used in lead guitar and you learn popular phrases that are used in many other songs. Believe me, a lot of phrases are shared and almost never exclusive to one band.  

In short, learn songs from your favorite bands.

Everyday I make a point of playing scales and patterns up and down to get them burnt into my mind.  This is an important part in training your muscle memory.  Knowing where the notes sit on the neck and knowing how to move between them is imperative to becoming a master of the fretboard.

Spend time everyday playing scales, you can use different exercises [there are a lot out there], or make up your own.

This will build your speed and strength.

You don't need to make a cut in your arm every time you make a mistake, but generally if I do, I start from scratch.  This becomes annoying but it teaches you the right way instead of allowing your mind to register the wrong way of playing as acceptable.

When a note is not clear, or you go to the wrong one, start the phrase over again until it is right.

If you push yourself hard enough, you will reach a point where your fingers get numb, or your wrist gets sore or your fingers just plain don't work together anymore.  I usually get to the point where I literally can't play the correct notes, all my fingers want to move together or not at all.

It's important in these cases to take a break, either play some rhythm or go have a coffee and a sandwich.  

In most cases, when you come back you will get better every time you come back.  I've actually seen this happen.  I played for around 45 minutes the other day on 130 bpm until my hands shut down.  When I came back, 130 bpm felt extremely slow, and all of a sudden I was up to 150 bpm. 

One of the best ways to make practice more fun is to do it while you're 'doing' something else.  

When you're sitting in front of the TV, your hands are idle [I hope], pick up the guitar and play.  You don't need to plug in and it won't disrupt your viewing pleasure.  It's actually a lot of fun.

Try soloing over jam tracks or your favorite songs.  It's easy to get discouraged if you end up making a mess of it but don't get discouraged.  

It's just the way it goes in the beginning. You will realize that over time it sounds better and better.  

Work on all aspects of playing lead.  Work on speed, strength, scales and phrasing.  You must spend time on all of these and develop these aspects parallel to each other.  You can know every scale from the top of your head but if you don't have any speed or accuracy in your playing, or you can only play them up and down they are completely useless.  

These are the guidelines I follow while I'm learning lead but there are those that can't be taught.

You need to have a genuine interest and desire to become a good guitar player.  

If you idolize a particular player, no matter who it is, remember that they spent hours and hours every single day practicing to become as good as they are.  But you should also remember that you need to have your own identity in playing.  All the greats have their own signature style.  If I look at players I idolize [I'm sure many do], listen to this list and hear their sound in the back of your mind:

Eric Clapton
Jimmi Hendrix 
Jimmy Page
Jack White
Tony Iommi
Michael Paget

All of these guitarists have one thing in common: They were and are dedicated to becoming great at what they do.


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