It’s simple. Not easy, but simple.
I don’t understand why so many have the same question and never want to hear the only real answer: practice. If you want to get better, you have to organize your day to practice consistently and productively. You learn to read music with a method, such as William Leavitt’s Modern Method for Guitar. You don’t give up, you work through whenever you get frustrated, and keep practicing. There is no shortcut. The shortcut is to spend a lot of time and a lot of focus on slowly but surely getting better.
Check this out. Eric Johnson is great, but focus on Mike Stern:
This guy is one of the best in the world. He can play anything, has legendary chops, can hold his own with many of the greatest instrumentalists in the world. Now, take a look at what he says about his development. There is a instructional video that Mike did a while back, a webinar if I recall, in it he relates how he got into playing Jazz. Long story short, to get right to the point, Mike sucked at jazz at first, he said he had all the desire and passion to play, just none of the technical ability, and he honestly thought he would never get to the point where he could play with feeling and without thinking, playing Jazz in what you might call its pure form. He relates how his teachers(he sought out some good teachers to try to learn Jazz, he was a rock blues player till that point, playing strictly by ear), his instructors basically told him that he would suck for quite a while, thats just the way it is. To get from point A to point B, was going to require some boring practice and study. There are very few Jazz virtuosos, most of the greats worked long and hard to get there. This is such an important lesson for every style of music, it doesnt matter if its metal, flamenco, classical, or country, if its new, and technically demanding(dont laugh theres some very technical country picking), it is going to take work to learn, and you are probably going to sound like crap while your learning, and that is OK. There is a lot of freedom in simply allowing oneself to sound cruddy, to sound like a beginner again, it sounds crazy, and non sensical, but it actually holds water. Just a little Mike Stern wisdom that really affected my outlook that I thought I would share in hopes of it doing the same for others, sorry I cannot recall the name of the Video, I just saw the starting bit, and he talks about his early days and influences etc, and how badly he sucked at Jazz guitar when he started.
Listen to his story here:
Now the real point is: this guy can play anything. However, he wasn’t born with “a gift”. He practiced real hard, in his own words. Considering what he can play and what he’s accomplished, this guy, at 64 years old, still practices every day, 8 hours per day. Do you want to be that good? Obviously, the only difference between him and you or me is that he’s focused and he’s got amazing work ethic. He practices 8 hours per day, and then gigs at night. If you think that’s difficult, wait until you’re in your 60s, when putting that kind of focus in is particularly difficult. Guys that I know that do this for a living, especially at that age, may do 3–4 hours per day. If these guys can do 3–4 per day, and Stern can do 8 hours per day, don’t you think you can manage an hour? 2 hours? 30 minutes? Do it. Every day. Maybe you have to do it in pieces. 15 minutes now, 15 minutes later. 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes after supper. An hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, an hour in the evening. Whatever. Practice. Learn to read music to start. Get a book to learn your scales, get a method for learning chords. The references are out there. It’s far less important which method you use than it is for you to focus on it and keep working on it.
Do you want to be good? Practice. Do you want to be great? Practice more. It’s a new year. Make the commitment.