Let’s play a quick game of make-believe, young rock and rollers!
It’s time to update your Facebook status, but that darn Mark Zuckerberg and his evil minions have “improved” your FB experience with yet another change.
Now they will only allow you to enter one word – beginner, intermediate or advanced – to describe yourself…as a guitarist.
No song lyrics. No complaining about what a bad day you’re having. No pics of your dinner or your vacation. Just straight-up, honest guitar assessment.
So what level guitarist are you? Are you a beginner or intermediate? Have you graduated to advanced status?
Look in the Mirror
As with most things, people have a hard time accurately assessing themselves and where they stand. Folks often think they are:
• Stronger or weaker than they really are.
• More or less talented than they really are.
• More or less attractive than they really are.
• Cooler or nerdier than they really are.
[As for me, I’ve come to realize that I am way cooler than I usually think I am. But I digress.]
Bottom line: we have a hard time keeping perspective when we are talking about ourselves. Our filter is a little out of whack.
So where do you rank on the guitar scale? Are you still a beginner, even after 5 years? Or have you gone straight to intermediate in 9 months? More importantly, how do you know?
Time Is On My Side, Yes It Is
Guitar playing is first and foremost about skill. Given that, we can easily set some objective criteria for beginner vs. intermediate status.
However, musicianship is also part of the deal, so we want to also include a certain base of knowledge into the criteria.
After playing guitar for 35+ years and gigging professionally for 25+, I think I have a pretty good perspective on guitar status. As a full-time instructor, that perspective has only sharpened.
And one thing I can say for certain: Your beginner vs. intermediate status has nothing to do with how long you’ve been playing.
[Tweet “Your guitar status – beginner or intermediate – is contingent on skill and knowledge, not tenure.”]
I can feel people wincing as they read this, but deep inside they know it’s true.
You can be “playing” for 5 years, but if you still can’t fret some basic chords without trouble – sorry pal, you’re still a beginner. That inner voice doesn’t lie.
Quality Over Quantity
A lot of time invested in your guitar practice is admirable. But what is the quality of the work you’ve put in over that time period?
One general criteria for excellence often cited nowadays is the “10,000 Hour Rule”. It was most recently and famously discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers.
According to most researchers in the know, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of subject-related work – in this case, practicing, playing, studying, listening – to achieve elite, world-class status. That’s 1000 hours per year for 10 years.
That’s a whole lotta guitar.
If we do the math for a year, that’s 1000 hours divided by 50 weeks (taking 2 weeks off for vacation), carry the 1…wait, what? 20 hours a week!?! Dude, that’s like almost 3 hours per day…
Finally, perspective. 🙂
The Skills To Pay the Bills
Now you certainly don’t have to practice 3 hours, or even 1 hour per day. But as with most things, you get out of it what you put in.
So if you’re practicing for 10 minutes during commercial breaks of “Saved By the Bell” reruns, then it might take you an awful long time to even reach intermediate level status.
This should go without saying, but we need to make sure we’re devoting a decent amount of quality practice time to the instrument in order to improve and progress. Quality practice time would be time spent actually thinking about what you’re playing – not just going through the motions – and having a goal of improving certain specific things.
Practicing with intensity. Focus. Not with one ear on Screech.
We can separate beginner guitarists into the following two categories: early beginner and late beginner.
Early beginners are those who have just begun their guitar studies. This stage lasts from day one until they can demonstrate clear mastery over the very basic skills.
Late beginners are those guitarists who can demonstrate clear mastery of the basics. They are also likely tackling some fundamental music theory. At this stage, you should be able to play in a way that “sounds like music” to the average person.
Below I’ve listed the skills and knowledge – the minimum criteria – that I believe is necessary for reaching late beginner status:
Know the basic parts of the guitar
Identify string numbers, finger numbers and fret numbers
Know the musical alphabet and explain the role of accidentals (sharps and flats)
Name the open strings
Own and use an electronic tuner properly
Exhibit good basic posture
Demonstrate competency with the right hand when holding the pick, strumming chords and playing single notes
Demonstrate competency with the left hand when forming chords and fretting single notes
Demonstrate the ability to make a decent sound with chords and single notes
Understand how to read and draw a chord diagram
Understand how to read TAB
Understand the difference in sound between the three basic chord types – major, minor and dominant 7
Explain the term “root note” (or tonic)
Understand and explain basic time signatures, such as 4/4 and 3/4
Understand and execute basic rhythms, such as whole, half, quarter and 8th notes
Demonstrate the ability to correctly form basic open position chords and efficiently change between them: A, Am, A7, C, D, D7, E, Em, E7, G
Own and understand the basic use a capo
For those learning to read standard notation, know at least 10-12 notes in open position
The Tip of the Iceberg
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of material here for the newbie!
Guitar has a very wide range of skills to learn, polish, and keep current on, even for beginners. I recommend that you go through the list and make sure there are no serious gaps in your knowledge or skills, since each level of playing builds on what came before.
In my next installment, I’ll outline what it takes to move from late beginner to intermediate status.
QUESTION: Have you graduated to late beginner status? Disagree with any items on the list? Leave me a comment below!