What do you do when dealing with a difficult lick, riff or phrase?

By September 22, 2020 No Comments

By Jake Willmot

Well the first thing to do is realise that this is normal. No matter how good you get you will occasionally come up with something or try to play something that you find hard to play. So don’t give up. What you need to do is apply some practicing tips which I will give your right now.


1) If it is a really long phrase just practice the hard part over and over.

Many people when they are practicing a phrase or part of a song that they struggle, they make the mistake of playing through a long phrase or part of the song from start to finish over and over. This may fine for certain things, but chances are you don’t struggle with the entire phrase. You more likely struggle with a small chunk of the phrase in the middle or the end. Some parts you play well but a certain part of it is sloppy. Instead what you should do is identify the hardest part of the phrase and practice that part over and over for 15 minutes.

This will help you make progress and be able to play something a lot faster than if you were going through the entire thing for hours.


2) When learning a long or difficult phrase, play up to the first few notes.

A common mistake is to try and learn an entire phrase or entire song at a slow speed than gradually build it up. This may sound good but it is a lot to remember. Your brain can’t process that much without spending a lot of time on it.

Instead what you should do is play the full speed if you can but don’t play the full thing. Play the first 3 notes over and over at full speed until it becomes easy for you. If that is way too hard play the first 2 notes. Then once 3 notes becomes easy you play full speed up to 4 notes then 5 then 6 etc. and you do you this until the part is learned.


3) Look for the flaws in your playing, solve them one per practice session

You may need an excellent guitar teacher to do this but try and attempt to do this yourself. If you find that playing certain things is really difficult even after you know what the idea is and you have memorised it, it is because there are certain things that you are doing that is holding you back from being able to play that idea. For example if you have a speed picking idea but your picking motions are bigger than they need to be, that will be an issue that is causing you problems in your playing.

Or if you can play an idea but you are not muting the strings you are not meant to be playing that is the reason you have excessive string noise that makes your playing sound bad under distortion. If there are multiple issues, do not try to solve them all at once, instead focus on one problem at a time and focus on the other ones at a different session.


About the author: Jake Willmot inspires his students by giving them the best guitar instruction in Devon, Exmouth. Want to learn to play fast and you live there? You are in luck!