Guitarist Performing at Festival

Learn Music Faster – Finish Pieces to Performance Standard

This ‘Learn Music Faster’ series of posts highlights things my best students do that contributes towards their success. There are no secret formulae or magic tricks. Learning to play well still requires hard work, dedication and above all, practice. However, my students who do these things seem to improve quicker than the others.


Finish Pieces to Performance Standard


I get this situation all the time: A student proudly tells me they’ve been working on something and then plays me a bit of it – scrappily, slowly and out of time but just about identifiable as the relevant song. So I dig out a backing track, or the original track, and ask them to play along. If necessary I use Transcribe or some other software to slow it down to a manageable speed. Even then they usually can’t manage it. So I tell them they need to keep working on it until they can play it reliably, in time, to a track. By the next week they have moved on to a different riff and are no better at the first one.

I know the early stages of learning a riff are gratifying. You figure out a couple of bars of tab, roughly get your fingers in the right place, it sounds a bit like the song, you play it to your mates and they tell you that’s really cool, then you move on to the next thing. But that will never be enough to make you a good musician. You have to take that piece and get it up to a performance standard.

The trouble is, polishing the rough and ready riff takes about ten times as long as learning the basics of it. And no one pats you on the back and looks impressed on the way. You have to get it to standard, get a gig and play the gig before you get any more credit from your friends. But if you want to be ready when that gig comes you’ve got to put the hard work in up front.

Aim to get most of the pieces you practice to a standard where you’d be happy to perform them.


Previously on Learn Music Faster – Why using a Metronome is so important.

3 thoughts on “Learn Music Faster – Finish Pieces to Performance Standard”

  1. You’re absolutely right, Matt, and that’s been my biggest hurdle. So now I’ve “grown up,” and my repertoire remains the same half-dozen or so songs practiced over and over again with painstakingly slow improvement. Any vital pointers or suggestions? Thanks.

    1. Try to play along to the song – or to a metronome at least. If you can’t play along to the song at full speed, get something that can slow the song down to a speed you can play to (without changing the pitch).

      There’s a free app called Tempo Slowmo on iPads and iPhones which does it.

      Alternatively there are programs for Mac and PC called Transcribe and Riffstation which do it too. I use Transcribe. It’s not too expensive (39 US dollars at time of writing, so about 27 British pounds). I use it all the time, it’s one of the best musical purchases I’ve ever made.

      Slow the piece or section down to a speed you can play along. Practice for 5 minutes, then bump up the speed a little. Keep doing that and eventually you’ll get it to full speed.

      The other tip is to commit to a gig or open mic night. It’s amazing how hard you practice when you realise you’re suddenly going to have to play something in front of actual people, especially strangers.

  2. Pingback: Learn Music Faster - Practice Slowly and Precisely - Matt Helm Guitar

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