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The One-Minute Problem-Solver Method for Polishing Guitar Music


In most every piece of music, there lies a problem spot. At least one combination of notes causes issues.

And to learn and polish the piece we must find the solution for the troublesome passage.

Do we spend all our time working out the bugs? Do we stop everything and focus only on the spot? Maybe, but it only need be for a minute.

First, Define the Challenge

Ideally we find a lasting solution that will enable us to play through the area reliably. That’s the goal.

Often we only note where the problem is, but not what the problem is. So each time we reach the measure in question, we grow anxious and most likely blunder.

But to find the solution, we need to clearly define the exact nature of the problem. Only then can we move forward on a solution.

So when we first encounter a hard bit in our music, the best next step is to define the challenge.

As an example, a well-defined challenge could sound something like this:

  • “When changing from the C chord to the G7 chord, my 1st finger is not landing on the 1st string properly.
  • The stretch between my first and 2nd fingers should be larger than feels comfortable.
  • My 3rd finger on the 6th string is touching the 5th string and muting it.
  • And the middle joint of my 2nd finger is collapsing.”

Once we know exactly what is going on, we can look for possible solutions. For the problem above, it may be thumb placement. Or it may be the amount of tension we’ve brought forward from the notes before this spot.

Often, the act of identifying the exact issue can reveal the solution. Other times it takes experimentation. And while some fixes are easy, others take time to become reliable.

Guitar Tricky Spots Sometimes Just Take Time

For a tricky spot that demands techniques or abilities we don’t yet have, we need to let time do its work.

We may need to build up strength or flexibility. We may need to master a complex choreography of movements.

Many of the solutions we find will take more than a day to ingrain.

For these, we could drop everything and repeat ad nauseum. Or, we could take an easier route…

The Easy Route: One Minute Per Day

Once we know the solution to our problem, we can practice it a few times each day. And this doesn’t need to take any more than a minute or two.

If we consistently perform the movements in an intentional way, we will master them.

And if we can be patient, we can rest assured knowing that everything will come together soon. The problem will get solved, and we’ll be able to flow through what used to trip us.

The key is to slowly play through the spots with no mistakes, using the solutions we’ve decided on. The only thing that matters is precision and accuracy.

Precision and Accuracy: Quality Over Quantity

Speed doesn’t matter. In fact, it can undo our previous good work and make polishing take longer.

Instead, we need only a few precise movements. We need to keep our attention on the fine details.

Even one repetition of the passage each day will lead to smooth playing. So long as we do it daily.

Let it Germinate

The secret ingredient in this method is time. The solution germinates over days and weeks.

Much of our learning happens as we sleep. Our subconscious minds process what we’ve done and learned that day.

Because of this, we get as much benefit from short, well-focused practices as we do longer sessions on the same material (provided we do it daily).

So all we need to do is to give our minds a few perfect run-throughs. Then, in our beds with the lights off, we ingrain the movements and thoughts into permanent memory.


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 


I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.





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