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Get the Most Out of Your Online Lessons: Don’t Focus on the What; Focus on the How

Get the Most Out of Your Online Lessons: Don’t Focus on the What; Focus on the How


Online guitar lessons are great, and I watch them myself. But, too many choices plus an overwhelming amount of instructional content can lead to analysis paralysis. So, I watch them as entertainment. Or, as we used to say at the Guitar Workshop, edutainment.

But what if you really want to get better? How do you make the most out of your online lessons?

Hi guys, I’m Ed from Guitar Space. And that’s what this month’s Trade Secret is about.

The online guitar instruction community is highly competitive, as is the face-to-face analog teaching world. And guitar teachers need to make a living. So, we end up teaching licks by the pound, both online and one-on-one. And I indeed fell into this trap. 

Guitarists are enchanted with licks, riffs, scales, and solos. And, as teachers, we sometimes overwhelm the student with information; i.e., we throw more licks, riffs, and scales at the beginner than they can process. I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself. And the same can be said of online lessons.

But, even if only one topic is taught, the teacher can perform the idea too quickly and/or explain it in a way that only some students understand. 

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Typical Scenario

Your favorite Youtuber demonstrates a scale, and the scale is the ‘what’ — it’s content. And they show you how to play the scale. But, this is still part of the ‘what’ because it’s still content.

Then they show you ‘what’ you can do with the scale by playing this lick (another ‘what’) and another lick. And they’re probably showing you the ‘how’ (the process), But this gets overshadowed by the shiny new lick idea. 

Some will share a backing track and then tell you to try the new scale over a chord riff or progression. So, you download (or create) the backing track and sit down to practice. But the scale sounds like a scale, and the licks sound like nonsense. And frustration sets in.

Here’s Where You Need a Little Guidance

get most out of guitar learning

Many teachers, students, and lessons focus on the ‘what,’ which is content, i.e., scales, arpeggios, licks, riffs, runs, etc. And some lessons focus on the ‘where’ (fretboard location) to play the ‘what’ (scales, licks, etc.).

This is where online lessons don’t meet you where you are, and you have to figure out how to fill in the gaps to meet the lesson where it is and figure out ‘how’ to practice and ‘how’ to apply the new scale.

The ‘what’ is the scale, and the ‘how’ is the learning process. 

So, I created a video that demonstrates this process.

Goal 1: Learning the Scale

learning online guitar learn the scale

Let’s revisit the scale lesson, and I’ll keep this brief because the concept is more important than the details.

This is a beginner-level lesson on how to use the scale to begin playing solos. So, it’s two parts:

  • Learning the scale
  • Applying the scale to begin playing solos
  • The ‘what’ is the scale: In our case, it’s the C major/A minor pentatonic box pattern. I call this every guitarist’s favorite scale.
  • The ‘how’ is learning and applying the scale: This is broken down into two separate processes:
    • How to learn the scale
    • How to apply the scale

Milestones for Learning the Scale

Define the goal: Playing the scale effectively.

  • Playing the scale from memory without looking at the TAB or scale diagram.
  • Executing each note clearly and cleanly without any finger mistakes.
  • You can play the scale in time.

‘How’ do we achieve this milestone?

I use the Connect-the-Dots Approach (please refer to the video for a demonstration).

  1. Use a backing track, metronome, or drum app and play the scale using a continuous rhythm.
  2. Play whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and eighth-note triplets.
  3. Move up and down the scale, connecting one note to the next without breaking the rhythm.
  4. Use a comfortable tempo.
  5. Add hammer-ons and pull-offs.
  6. Add vibrato to whole notes and half notes.

‘How’ do you know when you’ve accomplished this level?

  1. You can efficiently play the scale from memory in time.
  2. Aim to play the scale cleanly at a comfortable tempo.

Now, you’re ready to focus on using the scale to solo. Too many of us are sped through this phase. We jump into soloing before we’re prepared to begin the soloing process. But then comes the next challenge.

Goal 2: Applying the Scale to Begin Playing Solos

learning lessons guitar solo

Let’s start with a question every student asks at some point in their journey.

Why do I sound like I’m practicing scales when I try to solo?

Because you begin the soloing process playing scales the way that you practice them. So it would help if you practiced soloing and improvising how you would solo, using bite-sized ideas.

‘How’ do you practice playing bite-size ideas?

By applying two concepts to your ‘what.’

  1. Only play part of the scale. Use two- or three-note phrases. I restrict myself to the notes on the 3rd and 4th strings and only use two or three notes to create my melodic idea. This is called a motif.
  2. Deliberately surround your licks with space by using the same rhythmic idea. This concept is called pacing.

In the video, I use the following two motifs with pacing:

  • Example 1

motif pacing guitar lessons

  • Example 2

motif pacing guitar lessons

These concepts can be applied to any scale. 

motifs learing guitar

Final Thoughts

You now have a process for learning and applying the scale to your solo. 

  1. Memorize the scale using the Connect-the-Dots Approach
  2. And apply the motifs and pacing concepts to improvise

This will work with any scale and arpeggio.

In the grander scheme of things, you now know that you need to apply a process to the concepts taught when studying online.

  1. Define your goal: What are you trying to learn? And you can break these down into smaller milestones.
  2. Measure your progress: How do you know that you’ve made progress? You must break down your goal into smaller milestones if this needs clarification.

The internet is overflowing with information, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But, if you learn how to create processes for understanding and applying the concepts, your online learning experience will be increasingly fulfilling.

Thanks for reading. Till next time, practice smart and play from the heart. I wish you the best.

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