Develop automated pattern recognition

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An effective strategy

When you've given yourself sufficient time to learn to play all the notes on the top two strings, it's time to move on. But remember, the top two strings should feel like home now. You should be able to clearly visualize all the notes on this set of strings quickly and effortlessly. If you still feel a little slow at this, here's another strategy you can use:

Place your guitar besides your TV-set in an upright position. Then put on a good movie and start "practicing." Here's what you do: Every five minutes you look at the top two strings on the fretboard and visualize all the patterns across the neck. Start in a new place on the neck every time. Then get back to the movie. If you felt that you had some weak spots, focus intensely on those areas on the neck for 30 seconds. It's essential that you look away and forget a little and then re-learn and remember it again, as many times during the movie as possible. If you have more than one guitar, leave one of them besides the TV so you can practice visualisation every single time you watch TV.

Move to another neighborhood

When you feel like you know the "neighborhood" well enough, move on to another. And the next part of the town that you must live in, is the middle two strings. Now go through the exact same process as you did with the first two strings. Start with the first pattern nearest the head of the guitar. Focus on where that pattern is located on the neck. Then play the next, then integrate the two before you move on. Because you have played these same patterns on another set of strings, this will be quite easy. But do the exercise anyway. Be sure to focus on really mastering this. Follow the procedures described in the previous article all the way up the neck. When you feel that the patterns on these two strings are deeply embedded in your brain, then move on to the bottom two strings. Then follow the same procedure as before.

Automating pattern recognition

Now you should be able to play effortlessly across the entire fretboard right! Nope. The brain isn't that clever. and here's why: When you've learned to play effortlessly across the entire fretboard, you're no longer doing it! It's sounds pretty confusing but notice what goes on the next time you wash your hands. Look at your hands - Notice how you are not doing the washing. It's a program you ask the brain to run. Yes you are in control, but you only do the ordering and direct the general direction of the program. All the minute and extremely precise movements is a program that you have installed in your brain by consciously repeating the movements - over and over again. Now you can talk, drink, eat or smoke while you wash your hands. It's automatic. It's no longer you doing it, it's your friendly brain.

Going on to the final level

The part of the brain that has taken over, is not only able to perform very complex movements, it's also able to remember an amazing number of series of movements (Patterns) And there's literally no limit to how many patterns it can learn and store. When you're able to visualize the entire fretboard clearly, you have reached the first level; you have a conscious image of the task at hand.  You are now ready to go for the final level.

The trick is to hand the whole thing over to this super fast part of the brain and automate it. Some people refer to this as, "having it in my fingers" because it feels like your fingers remember the patterns. So how do we get the brain to automate and remember all these little dots on the fretboard? How can we navigate over the entire fretboard as easy as we wash our hands? Actually, it's the easiest thing in the world if we know and understand this one distinction:

1. The more complex the pattern the longer it takes to embed in the brain 
2. The complexity doubles every time you add one more item to the pattern
3. The time it takes to embed the pattern is equal to the complexity level

The size of the challenge explodes through the roof

I'm no math wizz, but I do understand this: The more complex the pattern, the longer it takes to embed. but it's not an equal deal! Learning a pattern that consists of six notes may take 5 minutes. but learning and mastering a pattern of twelve notes doesn't take 10 minutes - it takes much longer. Think about it: How easy is it to learn and remember one six note pattern? It takes minutes! But how long does it take you to learn and remember three times that information, like and entire three notes per scale pattern of 18 notes. It doesn't take you three times as long, it can take you hours and sometimes even days before it's thoroughly embedded in the brain. The reason for this is described in the three points I've just listed for you: As the size and complexity of the pattern goes up, the size of the challenge explodes through the roof. Here's how it looks once again:

(Yes you've seen this kind of illustration before, repetition is the mother of skill! :)

As you add more notes to the pattern, you double and triple the complexity and thereby the time it takes to learn it.

The glorious road to turtle speed

Here’s what most people do: They lay out the scale patterns and practice them all one by one. Moving from one to the other without really mastering any of them. After months of practice they know all the scale patterns, and they can combine them across the neck - at turtle speed! Why? Because the information is still stored in the conscious part of their brain! it hasn’t even begun to travel into the super computer in the basement that works at lightning like speed and with extra terrestial precision.

Diminished Blues Lick

Playing the diminished triad over a blues scale can yield som pretty awesome results. Play around with these notes over the E-blues scale and experiment with bending an entire minor third from each note in the triad.

Strike only once with precision

And then after three to six months of intense practicing and learning they look at their favorite guitar player and go “I’ll never get that far. That’s just so impossible, that takes decades to learn” no it doesn’t take decades, it takes an entire millennium with that strategy! Mark my words:

Masters master things now, today, this week, this month. They don't aim to reach mastery "some day in the future". If you want to be a master, then start by mastering one thing, today. What are you going to master totally this week? what are you going to master completely this month? Are you going to take just three notes and play them as fast and precise as Paul Gilbert now or in the near future? Or are you going to dabble with ten of his licks? Are you the big muscular guy who tries to punch the Karate master 100 times and misses every time? Or are you the master himself who strikes only once and sends the opponent to the ground with that one single blow? Decide now, who you will be and make a real decision. It will be the most important decision you make with regards to your skill level.

Most people play easy songs when they begin to learn to play the guitar. I took the songs I liked instead and played the first two cords over and over again until I mastered them completely, then I moved on to the next one. And when that’s all you take on, it takes you no time to master it. Now I am definately not more intelligent than most people, but I was just lucky to get this one thing right - and that meant everything.

Here’s what I recommend:

1. Decide to only play in the key of C-major / A-minor for three months (When you practice)
2. Decide to only play on the bottom down strings for an entire week
3. Decide to only play on the middle two strings for 4 days
4. Decide to only play on the bottom two string for 4 days

When you plan it like that, you ensure that you will really master one thing before moving on to another. You turn, what ever you practice, into your "old neighborhood", because you “live” there long enough. You might want to extend the time periods depending on how much you practice during those days. Here’s why people find it hard to master the fretboard: They don’t do this! Nobody does this. Everybody takes on too much at one time. It’s human nature.

I had ten thumbs on my hands and no talent. I had to fight and sweat for everything I know, but I new this one thing. When you consistently act on this little piece of knowledge, You will bring yourself ten times further than anyone around you. And they’ll point their fingers at you and say “Look how talented he is” But you’ll know that talent is just an effective way of thinking and acting. Well, once you master these three sets of strings it's time to have some serious fun! It's time to go for the entire six string, four notes per string patterns.