Playing Songs For Career Beginners - 151

Does this sound familiar? "I've been playing and playing and playing for years and I still can't play a song all of the way through."

I have heard this over and over, many many times.
This is what I mean when I talk about being stuck in the mud. You're putting out massive amounts of effort and having nothing to show for it.

We all love the flashy parts of songs, and want to learn to play them. But that's not where the gold is. The success is in the very things that you are most likely skipping over.

Today I'll help define the problem, breakdown the value of learning songs,
and then make sure you hangout till the end where I give you my three part system for learning songs that will get you out of the career beginner rut .

Are You a Career Beginner?

What's that? What's a career beginner?
The term Career Beginner is something that I've been putting a spotlight on for a while now.
It is the player who has been playing for a very long time but still hasn't progressed to a place where they feel comfortable playing guitar for others.

And, one of the things that I see in many career beginners is having a problem with focus.
They seem to always be skipping ahead to work on the good stuff, and then feeling down because they don't understand why they aren't improving.

They are just getting by with the few things that they are comfortable playing
and rarely take the time to fully understand what it is that they are trying to do.

This is super frustrating and something that should sound familiar to a lot of guitarists. It happens to us all at one point. Some get past this and some don't.

A player does the same easy comfortable thing over and over and still expects to get better. It's not a good place to be.

Listen to me.. it doesn't work that way

Here's the trick: You have to get a little uncomfortable to move forward.
From what I've seen, chances are that you're putting out a ton of effort already.
You are playing the same things over and over again

or you are trying to learn something that you don't have the skills to do.
In that case it's not the work effort that's holding you back...
you are just directing your effort to the wrong place.

Why does this happen?..

It could be as simple as not knowing what to do.
Or, it could be that you are letting your feelings drive. Your feelings are teaching you. They decide your path.

Or, it could be fear.

If you are a career beginner, the number one thing that you can do to improve your playing right now is to get real. You need to realize that your approach isn't working, and you need a new path.

And that path starts with Songs.

Playing Songs

Songs to the musician are currency. Songs are valuable.
everything revolves around the song.
I find that a lot of career beginners can't play full songs. It's very common.
They avoid anything repetitive. And that is right where the problem lies.

Repetition is the glue that holds you and an audience together. It's how you take people from one point in time to another. It's powerful but it's not flashy.

Repetition doesn't call attention to it's self. It's the kind of thing that sweeps the listener along with it before they realize it's happening. It's much more powerful than a cool lead guitar lick.
When you only know parts of songs that's all that you're ever going to get: incomplete songs
have you ever wanted to sit down and listen to an incomplete song.

That goes for writing songs as well
When you only have parts of songs and never take the effort to put them together to make a full song. All you will have is incomplete parts.

I have said this before but it's worth sharing many times over. I've been asked by students, "What do I need to do to be able to play a gig" My answer is always: "You need to know 30 songs, that's it." They don't even have to be good. But they all have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Once you have that, you are dangerous. You are out there.
Notice I didn't say that you have to be able to play this fast, or know your modes, or you need to know complex chord extensions. None of that will get you a gig.

Songs create your value, and then create confidence in you, which then leads you to want to do more (learn more or get better at the songs you already know). For those of you who have listened through all 151 episodes this should start to sound familiar. It's the journey, it's the path.

If you are struggling, get away from only learning a riff here or there.
Spend time mastering the less flashy parts of music:

  • Form
  • Basic chord progressions
  • Basic rhythms

Finish those songs. It's not yours until it's finished.
But when it's finished, you have added value to you as a guitarist.

Do you have any songs that you only know a few of the parts? We all do.
Make a list of these incomplete songs and get them done over the next few weeks and start to see some progress.

But, how do we make a big change in our practicing to stay out of this rut.
Always have a song that you are working on, and approach it as if you were going to perform it some day. Give it some urgency.

Here is the bonus section, your new approach for songs.
A new approach. three parts


Get your setlists down

Always think in setlists. They can be imaginary if you aren't playing out. It's the structure we need. We need to plan ahead.

3 - 10 song setlists. Get the names down ahead of time.
Get your thirty songs lined up. Don't stress either. This will change over time. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be 30.
Then get to work.

Basic structure with basic chords

Get the bones of the song first, the structure. The most basic chords, the form of the song, the basic rhythm, the repetition.

This can be called a lead sheet and you will want to skip or fly through this. That is the career beginner trying to take over. Don't do it. This is the most important part of learning a song. It's what effects the audience the most. It's how you communicate.

Hum along the melody or sing if you are comfortable. It doesn't have to be for anyone else to hear but you. The basic melody, chords, and rhythm are all you really need for a song. Once you blend them together, it's ready for the last stage.

Specifics - Rhythm and Lead

Once you have that down and memorized, start to refine the parts.
Notice that this is the last step (completely opposite from how the career beginner would work on a song).

But, in doing things in this order, you go into learning a new part with the knowledge of how this song is built. It will be easier to see where the chords or scales came from and how they relate to that part of the song. You are coming into this new part with an advantage this way.
So... Understanding the pitfalls of the career beginner, knowing the value of songs, and having a solid approach to learning new songs. Can you see that we are getting somewhere now. Very exciting!

Before I go, another thing that I have found to be very common with career beginners is the struggle to play chords with out buzzes or muted notes. If you are still struggling with this problem, I have the solution.

Go to
and download my free guide to clear sounding chords. With just a few small adjustments, we can get you past these problems and moving ahead to playing clean and clear chords every time.


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