How To Learn “Hard” Music ;-)
September 17, 2014

Written by Doug Perkins

I had an email recently from someone who had gotten one of our newer masterclass videos and said that they were overwhelmed and felt like they would never play the guitar again – this should never be, and I want to address the subject of how to learn what looks like hard material on an instrument with a few tips:

First, what is “hard”? It’s been my experience that people see something as hard to do that is more than a little above their abilities and appears to be effortless to the person doing it. I have played and taught guitar at a high university level for decades and know some very excellent guitarist as friends, and I can tell you one thing that might astound you, but it’s true: I have never seen anyone do anything well that was hard to do, they just do easy things to do very well and very fluidly. So how do you do that yourself? Easy, exactly how they did it.

When you get one of our masterclasses and feel overwhelmed, pick 2-3 licks or musical sections that you particularly like. Next, divide them into manageable “chunks” or notes etc that you can keep in your mind as an idea that you can memorize – that size is up to you, but you need to (and this is VERY important) be able to play these passages slowly and completely without any mistakes. When you first learn them, make sure you have the fingering and picking right and then play them again and again without variation or mistake.

ALSO VERY IMPORTANT: Play them for 3-5 minutes each and then move on to practicing something else. Why? Because as humans our minds bore easily and need constant new stimulation. Each of us have different lengths of concentration, yours will probably lengthen as you do this kind of thing, but it is as long as it is. You will find if you set a timer to this period of time just HOW LONG 3-5 minutes is when you are really focusing and not letting your mind wander. After the period is over, switch to another chunk. After 30 minutes – get up and take a break, your mind needs it and your body does too. When you come back to what you started with, you will find that you are better than when you left it – that’s because your subconscious mind keeps working on things in the background, just like the computers that are based on it.

OK, so now you have a bunch of chunks of music that you can play through slowly and perfectly – now it’s time to start stringing the chucks together, learning them exactly how you did the chucks themselves, slowing and adding 2 together at first, then more after you have assimilated the chunks into one. AFTER you can play some chunks slowly and perfectly for a while – and I mean like at least 30-40 times, and preferably over a few days, NOW you can start bringing the tempo up a little at a time. ONCE AGAIN, just play at tempos you can play them perfectly at, playing mistakes memorizes mistakes and confuses the mind with multiple images of what you are trying to do. 

THAT’S IT, that’s exactly how whoever that you really love learned to play how they did, whether they know it or not, because that is how people learn. Yes, some people do this faster than others, but it’s all the same process for everybody – so now all you have to do is go out there and do it and be consistent and persistent and you will get to places you never thought that you could – go ahead, try it, it works 😉


Doug Perkins, Los Angeles, CA.






2 responses to “How To Learn “Hard” Music ;-)”

  1. Sary says:

    Great article!

    I have been reading Kenny Werner’s book “effortless mastery”.

    Although i haven’t finished it yet, i think it has a lot of insights on the human mind with specific examples on the impacts to a musician.

    Sheds some light on all the creative devices we use to get in our own way!

    Thought maybe someone having difficulties might benefit from buying it.

    thank you for this amazing place. Im really looking fwd to learning a lot here!

    • Doug Perkins says:

      I think the videos on YouTube where he presents his concepts will help a lot, it’s a difficult book to get through and I haven’t finished yet as well. I’m glad you like the site, it is intended to be a mini-boutique music school 😉


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.