I have been playing guitar off and on since I was 12 [6 years ago].
Originally I started playing guitar because I desperately wanted to be like my hero Tom Petty. So, for about two years I studied rock rhythm guitar, but made little progress. Then I decided to just give up on guitar and occasionally just play some basic tabs.

However, at 15 I discovered the music of Eric Clapton and was inspired once more. I learned all my basic chords, many scales, some technique stuff, and some basic theory.
I also started guitar lessons which helped my development greatly.

Three years later I am now no longer in lesson and also no longer really making any advancements with guitar. I'm in college and really can't afford lessons. I don't know if I should study blues or rock. I don't know how to practice effectively.

I'm really at a tough spot, but eventually I want to start performing guitar publicly so I need to improve. Any help is appreciated, thank you.

  • It sounds like the trouble here is you're not sure which goals you have. Check out the first couple of help pages: questions for open, general discussion aren't covered here (besides, you don't really want somebody else to tell you what you want!). But it might be a valid question if you pick a concrete goal and then edit along the lines of "to achieve ___, how should I go about it." Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 18:31
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    From a guitar technique perspective Tom Petty to Eric Clapton is a big jump. Where do you rate yourself on the original goal of emulating Tom Petty? Abandoned goals, jumping from incomplete goal to goal, can undermine motivation, because you never see things through. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 21:16
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    "I don't know if I should study blues or rock" Eric Clapton studied blues hard because he loved blues. You should study individual songs you actually like that can be achieved on a single instrument. I love old shoegaze, but its not a genre that I can pull off without other band members present. And always have three goals: one quick and easy (Wild Thing); one you think is one year out (House of the Rising Sun); and one you think might take years (Mahavishnu Orchestra).
    – Yorik
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 22:27

4 Answers 4


Join a band.
If you can manage it, one where the other musicians are slightly better than you. There's no better motivation than having to 'get it right on the night' in front of other people.

They give you the set list. You have to learn it to performance standard. Motivation.

I learned more from playing with competent musicians when I thought I had to try hard to keep up than I ever did by studying licks & scales in my room, or copying tabs.
I still learned licks & scales… but the motivation was different.

You also learn how to arrange your guitar parts around other players; timing, give & take, stage presence… all the things it needs to turn yourself from a bedroom guitarist into a performer.

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    This. If you take a big-picture look at the human history of making music, very little of it has looked like one person in a room by themself. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 18:32
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    @Abby Also: "I want to start performing guitar publicly so I need to improve": With respect, naw, you don't. Just start small if you want, like an open mic, but you improve by performing. Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 18:52
  • I was literally going to answer this Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 19:10
  • A book, a book! (Come'on, I didn't ask for it for quite long ;) )
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 21:47
  • @Tom - LOL. One day maybe, who knows? ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 7:13

Agreeing whole-heartedly with Tetsujin's answer - it's what I've done dozens of times - but it's not easy to make that first move, and find a band that accepts you. After all, most bands which search for a replacement member will be looking for someone of decent quality. It's rather a Catch 22 situation.

In the meantime, keep learning scales, arpeggios, chords, learn to read at least a chord chart, in time, and listen to as much guitar music as you can. Learn to listen and play back quickly, so in a band situation, you're not the slow one everyone else is waiting for. That's a sure way to have a short stay in any band.

A looper will be a great tool for you to 'make your own' band, sort out your timing, and listen to your efforts in your own time. There are also many, many backing tracks available these days on the 'net, for you to play along to. Learn to discern whether a track deserves maj. pent., min. pent., blues, or whatever set of notes as appropriate.

Go to open mics, probably with a backing track initially, to play a couple of well rehearsed numbers (and that's the place to find other musos!); get used to playing, say, 12 bars in any key/genre thrown at you. All the time listening to what you can bring to the party rather than being the guy who widdles all through each number.

Form even a duo, which can play a full set, and offer it to friends and family, getting a feel for playing in front of a (hopefully) friendly audience.

Another thought occurred: look at some of the electric guitar exams that are available. Rockschool and LCM (formerly RGT) have totally graded systems, which you can pick up at your level. They guide through and offer systematic ladders to climb, whether you take the exams or not. Obviously taking the exams is a better option - yes, they'll cost, but that will concentrate your practice and playing all the better! Even an occasional lesson would then be better than nothing, keeping you on the right track. I've had 'occasional' students do just that, with good results.

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    I only knew two scales for the first 4 years I was in a band, and we played every venue in our city and neighboring cities. you don't need to know any theory, unless you want to join a band with members who think that you do.
    – yarns
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 10:54
  • @yarns - that's as maybe. I was the same for several years. Not even knowing one scale. Trouble was, it took a long time to learn each new number. Now, I can get a number sorted with a band in around 20-30 mins. What a waste of time in the early days!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 11:23
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    One thing about going to college is that there's an entire campus of people far from home, looking for new opportunities, friendships, collaborations. New bands spring from that environment faster than McDonalds can make burgers.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 18:19
  • yeah depends what you want to play, i always did originals and yes, it takes me a long time to learn songs but that's perfect for the guys i play with. they're too busy with life to be rushing the music. also i'm older now and still discovering music, if i could play any song in 20mins i think it would get boring?
    – yarns
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 19:43
  • @yarns - no, because instead of spending all night learning one song, we can knock of a good half a dozen - probably all different.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 21:36

You've been playing for 6 years but "eventually I want to start performing guitar publicly"? What's keeping you? Most people join a band THEN start learning guitar! (OK, that's a joke, but if you're not performing after 6 years, what ARE you doing it for?)

Your motivation is next Monday's Open Mic. Or next Sunday's church service. Or whatever sort of music performance you're into. But SIX YEARS and you haven't started yet? Sheesh...

  • I was literally in a band before I started playing bass, aged 13. I was originally the drummer [& had also been playing piano for 5 or 6 years], but another guy was better than me, so we discovered what a bass was… bought one Friday, learned how to tune it Saturday, first gig Sunday.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 15:01
  • i didnt do a gig for the first 8 years... but i was 5 when i started playing
    – yarns
    Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 19:44

Just play what you like!!! Seriously, you're in study mode now with school no doubt so that's probably going to make you think that you need to study but just playing things you enjoy playing is enough, especially if you're going to be playing for the rest of your life..

best thing might be to join a band that's not serious but dedicated. Members who jam regularly but have other commitments like career and study. Literally anything that you're interested in doing, I suggest you do it.

If you're just playing for an opportunity to make money or become famous, that's beyond me, somebody else would be more suited to answering that.

  • oh there's not much in the way of earning a living from music around my area so musicians generally have the mantra 'don't quit your day job'. There are a few who do, mostly full time musicians. I know in other places its easier to pick up a passive income from it as a side thing
    – yarns
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:38

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