Don’t Just Learn Songs, Learn to Play the Guitar
I have found that there are two types of students generally speaking. One type that just wants to learn their favorite songs regardless of difficulty or skill level. The other type has a desire to understand the ins and outs of what they are playing and focus on technique and theory. Let me say, first, there is nothing wrong with being a casual player that just wants to play tunes. However, problems arise when they attempt to play songs that are well beyond their skill level. This can lead to frustration and development of bad technical habits. Often, when the wall is hit, it is so discouraging that the student gives up all together.
Balancing Song Playing With Guitar Theory
There should be a balance of learning songs and theory/technique. The best way to learn, in my opinion, is focusing on a song that applies a certain concept that you are trying to learn. For example, if you are learning the pentatonic scale, practice the scale itself and find a song that uses that scale. This is where having some professional instruction comes in handy. The novice will have a hard time determining what songs use these specific concepts. Expanding your technique and skill level in the following 3 areas will greatly expand your ability to play and understand your favorite songs: Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios.
Scales, Chords & Arpeggios
First, scales are the building blocks of music, specifically the Major scale in Western music such as Pop, Rock, and Country. Knowledge and understanding of scales can greatly improve your melodic sense and ability to improvise (solo) over chord progressions. Second, chords are the foundation to a songs harmonic structure. It is not enough to just know chords. You need to understand how they are formulated and their relationships to each other. When this theory is understood it makes learning songs much easier. Many songs use the similar chord structure. When you learn the relationships you are now learning music, not just a song. Lastly, arpeggios are just chords played one note at a time. Knowing arpeggios helps you understand the make up of individual chords. Playing arpeggios is a great technical workout, not to mention quite useful in improvising. I cannot stress enough the importance of learning these 3 concepts. The road to being a good guitarist is the combination of technique / theory and learning songs in a logical progression.