How to Test Your Mastery

...Or, "How to Get the Most out of Music Theory".

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that just because you've mastered a pattern on the fretboard, you've mastered that particular scale (or arpeggio, or whatever).

However, that's just the start! To truly test your mastery, ask yourself these questions:

1. Can I really hear this scale, arpeggio, etc? Give yourself a starting note then try to sing the scale. Play a random note, then assume that's the 3rd of a major 7 chord. Can you sing the rest of the notes in the arpeggio? If you can't hear it, you don't really know it.

2. Can I create music with this scale, arpeggio, etc? Assuming you can hear it, the next step should begin to happen on its own - you should be able to create music with the scale. Are you able to improvise or compose lines that use the scale? Can you play double stops or chords from the scale?

3. Can I use this scale without conscious effort or thought? This is the final test of mastery of any musical topic or skill. Does it show up in your playing automatically? When you're put on the spot, what can you play? That's what you've truly mastered.

I once read an interview with the incredible Allan Holdsworth where he said it usually takes 2 years between the time he begins working on a new musical idea to the time it shows up naturally on a gig. Allan Holdsworth. Two years.

I mention that to encourage you...when you feel like you're not getting there (wherever there is) fast enough with your playing, remember that it takes time. Lots of time. Everyone who's ever accomplished anything on guitar went through similar struggles. Hang in there.


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