Could Your Guitar Playing Use a Re-Engineering Cycle?
Written by Gary Fletcher   

Gary Fletcher shares guitar tips and lessons at his blog Not Playing Guitar.

Here's a post about a technique from Software Engineering that can help you organize your guitar practice to get the most out of the skills you learn. When I'm not playing guitar I work as a software engineer to pay the rent. I was recently reading about the new features of a developer tool I use when I came across the passage below (edited slightly to make it appropriate to this context) that gave me an idea to improve my guitar practice.

What then is the theme of the new version? Rather than trying to find some way to yet again radically increase the power of the tool, we decided to spend a cycle on making what we already have work better with the other stuff in our programming platform. Now actually "works the way you'd expect it to" is not really a theme that gets people excited, but sometimes you've got to stop running forward at full speed and take some time to fix the existing stuff that is annoying a lot of people.


SW development is often performed in cycles, or iterations, that add new features to a product. Sometimes the software becomes confused and unwieldy in this process. A re-engineering cycle is used to fix this problem, it doesn't add any new features, it just re-structures the existing ones to make them more coherent and work better. As you learn guitar you can find that your skills get into incoherent states like this too. You probably spend most of your time and effort finding and learning new skills, but you don't pay as much attention to how all the skills and knowledge you absorb fit together. I bet that if you take a look at all the skills you've learned you'll find a few things dangling there, with no real place to fit in.

It might be some blues licks that you can't really place in a song or solo, some chord inversions you learned in a magazine but don't know what to do with. Or maybe you have a skill that falls apart when you try to play at faster speeds. If this applies to you it can be a good idea to add a "re-engineering cycle" to your practice every now and then to sort things out. In a re-engineering cycle you deliberately avoid learning new skills. Simply make sure the ones you've got already are perfected and fit well together. For example, can you play all the chord shapes you know equally well anywhere on the fretboard? Are there a couple of chord changes that always seem to trip you up? Or what about those blues licks you learned, do you know how they fit into the scale patterns you know?

Take a break from the constant search for new information every now and then. Simply focus on perfecting what you have and understanding how all the bits fit together to help you create fun music.


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