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Did you ever see that ad for a guitar with lights on the fret board?

Let’s use that image here. Can you look at your neck and picture where your fingers would land for a C major chord? For a G blues scale? What you see depends on what you know, right?

How you perceive the guitar today will surely evolve, so let’s give that evolution some structure: Songs, Skills & Smarts.

SONGS: can you play a song all the way through? If not, now you have a goal, and a reason to practice! It can be a simple melody on two strings that you learned from TAB. Or playing chord changes with a steady strum pattern. Build a repertoire and find songs with new challenges!

SKILLS: these are practical challenges that you will use for COUNTLESS songs in the future. Scales make your fretting fingers strong, fast and confident. Strum patterns will guide your picking hand through a lifetime of tunes. And mastering and memorizing a variety of chords is a lifelong process.

SMARTS: understanding the foundation of why music IS music gives you a type of confidence that’s feels as good as playing fast, or knowing 20 Beatles tunes. Information is POWER! Believe it or not, anybody can bang out a tune on the guitar. Knowing WHY G, C and D7 sound good together feels as good as actually playing them!

So find a balance between Songs, Skills & Smarts. At certain times you may prioritize one over the other and then shuffle those priorities in the future. If you’re preparing to play at backyard party this summer, Songs are probably where your head is at. If you know a bunch of songs but they all sound the same, time to work on your Skills. And if you want to play lead guitar for the first time, brush up on your Smarts so you put your Pentatonic Pattern in the right place!

So, getting back to the guitar with the fretboard lights: an experienced player sees chords, scales, and patterns all over the neck. But, hey, you’ve got the same 6 strings as your favorite guitarists, so where can you make some progress today? Remember, friends, you are on a long wonderful journey here and there’s a LOT to see and do along the way!


I’m self-taught as a guitarist. Which means I wasted a lot of “practice time” repeating the few things I sort of knew, with no idea how to improve. Sound familiar? Back in 1988 I had strummed for a few years when I heard my buddy finger-pick a Mississippi John Hurt song. That was humbling ! I realized I didn’t really know much about the guitar. And it’s fair to say my practicing sure didn’t have structure. Oh, well. I guess I’ve become the guitar player I set out to be. Kinda. But, boy, do I wish I could go back in time!

Here’s the structure I would impose upon myself if I could do things over. I’m keeping this general because your goals as a musician are unique. But I want to help you invest your practice time wisely, on things worthy of your attention !

1) focus on your picking skills DAILY. Scales, of course, but for me Irish fiddle tunes really advanced my abilities.

2) learn a BIG variety of rhythm guitar patterns, both with a pick and finger-picking. I found what I needed by going back to Folk, Country and Blues techniques.

3) play with a metronome often. That’s how you measure your progress in 1) and 2). Plus, you’ll develop great time.

4) schedule your days so there is ALWAYS practice time. Sacrifices will have to be made. Good luck.

5) ear-training. Look online for free courses. The best musicians have the best ears. Until they turn it up to 11.

It’s important to notice what I didn’t include here. Shopping for your next guitar, watching behind-the-scenes documentaries, reading gear reviews, researching the best brand of strings…. I’ve done all those things myself, at the expense of my own guitar playing. Reward yourself with all that AFTER meeting your weekly goal of “x” number of hours actually working on your chops. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve read this far, you’re pretty serious about finding structure in this Information Age. I hope this helps, or at least stimulates you to revise my ideas to suit your goals. Create a routine. Do your homework. Plan ahead. Stay focused. And, yeah, take a break now and then. I mean, have you seen that video of the 1-year old who plays just like B.B. King ? 🙂