When to Move on When Learning a Song: Bite-Size Guitar Podcast Episode 10

Episode 10 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how to decide when to move on when learning something new such as a song, technique, or scale.

I’ll talk about the difference between having a ‘good enough’ mindset and a ‘perfection’ mindset and how they can change the way you think about guitar. This is an important topic that you may not have spent time thinking about, so have a listen to the episode to learn more.

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If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.

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Useful Resources

Here are some helpful guides to help you get more out of your practice sessions:

If you want to learn some new songs (full or partial), check out these guides for ideas:

Learning songs outside of your normal range of music is a great way to mix things up and challenge yourself, so check out some of the songs in the above guides.

Podcast Episode 10 Transcript

Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 10 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.

In this short and to-the-point episode, let’s have a look at when you should move on when learning something new such as a song. I’ll go through two different ways of thinking about learning something on guitar and how it can change the type of guitarist you become.

In this episode, you’ll learn three things:

  1. How to decide whether you should keep working on a song or move on to learn something else
  2. How having the mindset of good enough or perfect completely changes your direction as a guitarist
  3. Whether you should learn full songs or parts of songs

Let’s start by looking at how you currently might think about all of this and what your other options are.

Good Enough vs Perfect Mindsets

Over the years as a guitar teacher, I’ve noticed that guitarists tend to have one of two mindsets when it comes to practice and learning something new.

The first category is the ‘good enough’ mindset. These guitarists will practice a song until it’s good enough that they can play through it without too much trouble. At that point, they’ll stop practicing the song and just enjoy playing it.

The basic idea is that you will work on something until it’s good enough that you don’t need to practice it anymore. Then you can move on to something else.

The other mindset is the perfection mindset. These guitarists won’t stop practicing a song just because they can play through it without too much trouble. For them, that’s not good enough. They’ll keep practicing it well past that point. For these guitarists, the goal is to be able to play that song flawlessly. To know the song so well, that they will never play any mistakes or imperfections.

You may not perfectly match one of these two examples, but you can probably already tell which one is closest to you. Do you work on something until it’s good enough then move on to something else? Or do you obsess over every new thing and keep pushing yourself to try and completely master it?

Have a think about which mindset you fall into. How did you decide that mindset was the right approach for you? Did you sit down and spend some time thinking about this before you started learning guitar? Or is this just something that happened without thinking about it?

I’m guessing you probably didn’t sit down and consciously weigh up the two mindsets and choose one that suits you before you started learning guitar. Nobody does. So weighing up and understanding these two mindsets now is worth it because just understanding these two mindsets can make things easier for you later on.

Before we take a closer look at the two mindsets, I’ll just say that neither one is bad. This episode isn’t about convincing you to play a certain way, instead, it’s about finding the way that is right for you.

Is Mastery Your Goal?

An easy way of thinking about good enough vs perfect is by looking at what your goal is as a guitarist.

Do you want to just enjoy jamming along with songs you enjoy listening to? Then having a good enough mindset will work for you.
Somebody who just wants to casually play guitar doesn’t need to worry about perfecting anything. If it’s good enough, that’s all you need to enjoy it.

What about somebody who wants to master the guitar? If you want to become a high-level guitarist, you should set your sights on perfection, right?

At first, the answer seems obvious. Yeah, you definitely need to aim towards perfection if you want to master the guitar. But the more you think about this, the less obvious it becomes.

Let’s say you’re working on your vibrato technique. What does perfect vibrato even mean? Are you going to spend an hour every day working on vibrato? For how long, a week, a month? How will you know when it’s time to move on to other things or to stop working on it?

This is a basic example, but it’s the same whether you’re looking at a skill, a scale, or a song.
What does it mean to be able to play a song perfectly? Not playing any mistakes is not the same as playing it perfectly. How will you know when you’ve reached perfection?

In many ways, having the perfection mindset is a good thing. It can push you to aim for a higher level and motivates you to keep practicing past the point where you’re happy with your results.

But at some point, having the perfection mindset can start causing more harm than good. If you do want to aim for mastery, have a listen to episode 6 of this podcast where I talk about working on your strengths vs your weaknesses. That episode will help you figure out what to spend your time on if you want to master the guitar.

Moving On With Songs

Whether you have a perfection mindset or a good enough mindset, you’ll probably still wonder when it’s time to move on from a song or whether you should work on it a bit longer.
A handy way to help you decide when you’re done with a song is to think about why you’re learning the specific song. Why do you want to learn this song and what’s your goal with learning the song?

For example, are you learning this song as something fun to jam with? Well, once you can get through the song without many mistakes, you’ve hit your goal and can move on if you want.

Did you choose to learn the song because it uses a technique you want to learn? Then maybe instead of learning the entire song, just focus your attention on the parts that use that technique. By focusing on those parts, you’ll learn the technique faster. Then you can decide whether you want to learn the rest of the song for fun, or whether you should move on to something else.

If you keep in mind the reason why you want to learn the song, it makes it easier to figure out what you should focus on, how long to spend working on it, and when it’s time to move on.

Even if you have a perfection mindset, there will be times when it makes sense to move on to something else instead of spending more time perfecting a song. Don’t forget you can always come back to a song in the future to work on it.

Learning Full Songs vs Parts of Songs

One more thing to think about for now is how to think about learning full songs vs parts of songs. Some guitarists aim to only learn complete songs from start to finish. They’ll only move on to learning a different song when they can play the current song in full. Other guitarists will learn a lot of parts of songs, but not songs in full.

The chances are you’re somewhere in between and you know some full songs and some parts of songs. If you’re somewhere in between, that’s great. You may lean more towards learning full songs or lean more towards learning parts of songs. That’s fine either way.

It only becomes an issue if you take either of the extremes as in you only learn songs in full or you only learn parts of songs.

If you can’t play a single song from start to finish, you’re missing out. Being able to play a song from start to finish is a milestone achievement every guitarist should experience. If you can’t play a song from start to finish, pick one you really like and commit to learning it in full. You can still continue to learn parts of songs as you like, but make sure you know what it’s like to be able to play a song in full.

Some people put off learning full songs because it seems overwhelming, but if you break the song into parts and gradually chip away at each part, you’ll get there.
Don’t be the guitarist who can play a million riffs, but doesn’t know a single song in full.

On the other hand, if you only ever learn songs in full, you’re also missing out. It might seem strange to say that because you’re learning songs in full, but you’re still missing out. There’s a lot you can learn from studying parts of songs. Learning riffs, parts of solos, or licks helps you grow as a guitarist.

But you don’t have to learn every song in full. If you hear an interesting riff or lick in a song, it’s perfectly fine to just learn that lick and not invest time into learning the full song. If 10% of a song has interesting guitar parts and the rest of the song is boring, don’t waste your time learning the full song. Learn the 10% that sounds interesting and move on to something else.

Try to aim for a mix between learning full songs and learning parts of songs. If you ever find yourself leaning too far one way or another, mix things up again.

The big lesson to take away from this episode is that answering the question on when to move on from learning something isn’t straightforward. There isn’t one answer that fits everybody. You need to consider why you’re learning a song and what your goals are.

If you’ve never thought about this topic before, start thinking about it. You might find that you’ll enjoy guitar far more by changing the way you approach learning songs.

Two Exercises To Work On

Over the next week or two, I have two exercises or goals I suggest trying out to put all of this into practice.

The first exercise is to pick something such as a lick, riff, or technique, and aim to work on it for an entire week aiming for perfection. Don’t let yourself move on to something else and really try to perfect that riff or lick. Try to get really good at something to see what it’s like to aim for perfection.

If you haven’t done this before, it’s definitely something you need to try out. See how much effort is involved to take something from sounding pretty good, to sounding amazing, then further if you can.

The second exercise is to simply ask yourself whenever you’re working on something, “is it good enough for now?”. Adding in the ‘for now’ is an easy way to put the practice in perspective and whether you’ve hit your goal or not.

If something is good enough for now, it means you can move on to working on something else. You can always come back to the other thing, so you won’t get trapped in the ‘it must be perfect’ mindset.

So in other words, try out the two ways of thinking about guitar so you can figure out which way suits you better. By the end of the week, you’ll have good idea whether you’re already on the right track, or whether you should make a slight change.

Check out the page for this episode at guitargearfinder.com/podcast for some useful guides on practice and some songs and riffs you might want to learn.

Try the two exercises this week and think about your goals for anything you’re working on.

If you’ve found any of these episodes helpful, it would mean a lot to me if you could take a second to leave a review on your podcast app. I hope you’ve found this episode helpful and I’ll talk to you again next time.


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