Constructing an Effective Guitar Playing Battle Plan
The battle plan. Every warrior should have one, or at least have some idea about the purpose
behind their battle, along with some general path to achieving victory. Hacking through the
junk and getting to where we want to go with this guitar stuff can certainly be a battle at
times, so we want to be well-prepared for whatever six-string skirmishes we find ourselves
in. So, what do we mean by a battle plan, and how do we map out an effective one?
Why should we have a battle plan in the first place? Shouldn't we just wing it? Aren't we
supposed to be all about inspiration and playing off-the-cuff and all of the other business?
Well…yes and no. Most players fail to recognize that even inspired, improvisational playing
requires a sort of roadmap or plan.
Unless, of course,you're the type of player who just picked up the guitar and magically made
it sound beautiful, and were able to play whatever your heart desires, right off the bat,
without any work, forethought, and any sort of structure or practice regimen.
If that's the case, then congratulations! Unfortunately, we've never met and I doubt we ever will,
because your kind seems to be as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster: sure, lots of people claim to have
seen you, but there's usually a more mundane explanation behind such sightings, and the people
making such claims are often delusional.
The point is, everyone who has achieved any sort of success in achieving whatever their guitar goals
may be, has first had some goals by necessity. What we're doing here is outlining a basic battle plan so
that our goals are more clear and we don't leave our progress (or lack thereof) to chance.
Okay. The reasons for having a clear cut plan should be self-explanatory, but there are a few specific
reasons why we want to have one in place: First, we have to know who want to accomplish within any
given situation, otherwise, we're more or less just spinning our wheels and wasting our time. Second,
once we've established where we want to go, we need to determine the best way of getting there.
Third, we need to understand any potential problems and pitfalls we may encounter along the way that
might hinder our progress or cause us to rethink our initial plan, and we also need some way of
determining that we've actually achieved our goal once we're there. Here's what I recommend:
Develop Strategy: Start by assessing your current situation, including where you are now and what
tools you already have at your disposal for achieving your goal(s). What do you already have that's
working for you? What else do you need to achieve this goal? How do you go about getting what
else you need? How can you refine your pre-existing tools so that they're more effective?
What's the path of least resistance? Once you've taken inventory of your current weapons of
conquest, determine how you can use them in the quickest and most efficient way to win the battle.
Look at your current inventory and find ways of using the same weapon or tool for more than one
purpose, and find ways of leveraging what you already have into easier ways of gaining what you
don't have right now.
We're going for speed of implementation just as much as we're going for effective results here,
because once we begin the battle, we want to end it as quickly as possible while still obtaining a
favorable outcome. This doesn't mean we rush through things in order to get them done quickly and
obtain piss poor results, but rather that we don't spend a lot of time on unnecessary tasks that can
actually detract from victory by us spinning around in circles, thinking that we're making progress.
Arm Yourself: What's the best tool for this particular job? What's the best weapon you
have your disposal to achieve victory? Do you need additional techniques or
information in order to get the job done? If so, chances are you already have something
working for you that you can use to get it. Find it and use it for towards that end.
For example, let's say that you want to have a better working knowledge of arpeggios,
but you don't really know how they work or having any good arpeggio fingerings. You
do, however, have an extensive, working knowledge of scale patterns. In this case
you'd understand that arpeggios are nothing more than the notes of a chord played
individually from lowest to highest and vice versa (usually played in a more “scalar”
fashion), so you could play the appropriate notes for a given arpeggio by pulling them
from the same fingering patterns you already use for a corresponding scale. In doing
this, we're leveraging what we've already got in order to gain something that we want
Know Your Enemy: You have to know what you're up against. The pursuit of any
guitar specific goal, without also understanding what you need to look for, to avoid,
and to contend with, is like going into battle without first knowing your enemy. This is
an ongoing process, and isn't done in one shot. You'll do some of this work before
arming yourself, some of it directly after, and some you'll learn as you go along and as
the battle progresses.
Conditions change and you'll need to adapt your strategy. But, having a good initial
idea of your enemy, what they're about, and how to deal with them is crucial in laying
a foundation for a good, solid, initial attack.
In this case, the enemy could be awkward fingerings, a current lack of necessary speed
and/or accuracy, lack of fundamental fretboard theory and mechanics, or virtually any
other potential problem you might encounter when working toward your goal.
However, the enemy isn't limited to technique and theoretical concepts...it can be another living,
breathing person, too. Consider a scenario in which you're auditioning for a guitar spot against
other potential “competitors” vying for the same gig: this competition is an obstacle, and therefore,
also your enemy. If you find yourself in this position, learn what you can about the other people
hoping to score your gig.
If you're able, find out whatever you can about their stylistic preferences, along with their
theoretical, technical, and musical strengths and weaknesses. Make it a point to seek them out, try
to listen to any of their previous and current work, and go see them play live if that's an option. Pay
attention to how they handle themselves in a live situation, and make a note of any potential
“weaknesses” you find in their stylistic presence and overall “vibe”, as these are things you can
capitalize on by being stronger in those areas, potentially increasing your chances of a winning
Now, to be clear, I'm not advocating intentionally sabotaging their chances of scoring your
gig...but, your ethics are yours, not mine. Know and understand your enemy in whatever form it
Focus on Winning Battles, Not the War: While it's a good idea to keep an eye on the bigger prize relative to
our ultimate playing goals, it's all too easy to get caught up in the greater end result and lose focus of the task
at hand. This is why we want to focus on winning individual battles and not the war in one fell swoop, as the
war is ultimately won through successive, cumulative, and smaller victories.
Also, guitar playing is a process, so you're never really “done” with all of it anyway, much less by “doing” it
all at one time.
Take things one step at a time, conquer one obstacle at a time, and eventually, you'll get to where you want to
be through persistence and decisive action. Don't try to understand every aspect of music theory at once: pick
something that's immediately relevant to the task at hand, work with that until you have a good, practical
understanding and are able to apply it, then move on to another, preferably related concept and follow the
If your current battle involves integrating scalar and chordal relationships up and down the fretboard, work
with that until you have a clear, practical, and applicable knowledge of it, and don't worry about rhythmic
variations of these concepts until later.
Chances are, you won't be able to effectively apply elements of different styles and
techniques until you have a clear knowledge of the concept anyway, so to focus on
such things in the beginning is really a waste of time. Let each successive victory
build on the foundation laid by previous wins, and in time, you'll have accomplished
far more than you might have thought possible, and certainly far more than if you'd
taken a haphazard, “anything goes” approach in the beginning.
Get your battle plan together, and put it into action as soon as you can. You'll not
only achieve better long and short-term results, but you'll also likely find the entire
process more enjoyable, too. Who knew that waging war could be such damn fun?
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