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Guitar Practice Interview With Troy Stetina


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This exclusive guitar practice interview is with Troy Stetina, who is a world renowned guitar teacher and author. His instructional guitar books have sold over 1 million copies worldwide and he has taught guitar to many high profile artists, including Mark Tremonti of Creed.

I have also personally used several of Troy’s instructional books when developing my guitar playing skills and I have learned a great amount from them. Troy is a great guitar teacher, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to interview him for his insights regarding practicing guitar.

Mike Philippov: When you used to practice various guitar technique exercises, how did you decide when it was time to move onto something else in your guitar practice sessions?

Troy Stetina: First, when you begin repeating a motion, you get it better and more controlled. But after a while there comes a point when you start losing focus and making more errors. That’s the time to move on and come back to it later. Another time to move on is when your mind starts to wander a lot because you have repeated it so much it’s becoming a bore. Don’t bore yourself. That’s counterproductive.

MP: What do you do to keep your guitar practicing fun without becoming distracted from the specific guitar playing skills you are trying to improve?

TS: That’s a problem for most people. The more you do guitar technique exercises, the better your skill level develops, but the more you get burned out and bored with it. You need both. So for me, it always comes back to music. When I was younger, it was about the music I was learning. Now it’s about the music I’m creating. Either way, the guitar playing skills I want to improve are revealed to me as I’m trying to play music and I’m not reliably performing it at the level I want. I figure out what the skill is that’s in my way, and I set off to see how many different variations I can create that keep drilling that same skill over and over. Learning how to do this well is probably the most important things that a guitarist can learn, in order to develop their skills well and yet remain inspired about playing. Exactly how to do this is a central concept taught in my “Sound and Story” DVD.

MP: What do you think makes you different from all the other guitarists who aspire to become great but have a very hard time improving their guitar playing?

TS: Maybe the ability to analyze what exactly is the problem and figure out creative ways to practice it? Maybe the willingness to do that? Focus? Love of music? Opportunities that kept me playing guitar professionally. I don’t know. Maybe all of the above. In any case, I’ve never felt that I was particularly gifted when it came to coordination. I think that if you spend enough time, and practice guitar efficiently, anyone could learn to do what I do.

MP: How do you approach practicing the elements of musical creativity in your guitar playing?

TS: First, I do NOT bore myself with a rigid routine. Yes, you need some structure, but don’t overdo it. Basically I just “listen” to the music in my imagination, then capture that on the guitar.

MP: How do you approach the process of warming up your hands before practicing guitar? Do you have a regular warm up routine?

TS: Nothing regular. As soon as it becomes a ‘routine’, my brain turns off and then it’s no longer valuable — I’m no longer really present. The key to warm up isn’t what you play, it’s HOW you play. Don’t push it. Let it happen in it’s own time.

MP: Did you ever feel overwhelmed when practicing guitar because you had too many guitar practice materials to work on? How did you decide which guitar practice materials were worth your time and which weren't?

TS: No, because back when I was learning, there were no guitar materials! My methods were among the first. There were no tabs; I had to learn everything by ear. Today there are sooooo many methods and materials out there, all battling for attention, all claiming to do this or that better than the next. It’s crazy. And it’s mostly lies… just who can market the best, with the best “hook” line. The actual content is in most cases very disappointing IMO.

MP: Do you believe that there is a particular guitar playing (or musical) skill that one must seek to practice/improve regularly, regardless of one's current level as a guitar player? If so, what is it?

TS: Yes. The ability to connect your inner ear to the fretboard, so you can create melodies and guitar solos on the fly, playing not from patterns or pre-made ideas, but actually create it all in the present moment. There is nothing quite like that! My approach to getting there is laid out in my Fretboard Mastery book.

MP: What guitar playing skills did you have the most trouble developing? What guitar practicing approaches did you use to finally master them?

TS: Sweep picking was always somewhat difficult for me to do well. Some motions are still awkward. I guess my approach to that is avoidance!! ;) Sort of kidding. When the music I create requires it, I will buckle down and nail it if need be.

MP: When you were learning to play guitar during your former years, how much focus did you put onto learning songs of other bands and musician? Do you think that "learning to play songs" should take up a significant portion of one's guitar practice time? (Why or why not?)

TS: Yes. I think it’s necessary to see how others who are accomplished in your chosen style(s) are getting their musical results. Then the next step is to amalgamate your interests and find your own unique voice. Trying to find your “voice” without enough experience first is kind of like painting with 2 or 3 colors. You are much more limited.

MP: Did you ever have extended periods of time when your regular practice sessions were interrupted (or when you had very limited amount of time to practice for several weeks or months at a time)? How did you manage to maintain your guitar playing during such times?

TS: Oh God yes! Over the last 20 years or so, it has been an ongoing battle to keep playing enough. All the demands of life, family, earning a living, etc., creep in and before I know it, I’ve gone months without touching the guitar! When I was 20, I remember taking a week off once, and it was disastrous to my skills. But in recent years, it doesn’t make that much of a difference; I’ve gone through the process of getting it back so many times it maybe takes a few days or a week at most. Dusting off skills I had previously developed is a very different thing than developing them in the first place — It’s a super time-compressed version of the same type of thing. And that has given me a valuable perspective on skill development I think.


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