How you practice guitar is just as important as how much you practice.
You can't learn the guitar without lots of practice, of course. According to experts, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill.
But I can tell you from firsthand experience that HOW you practice can have a huge effect on how fast you move forward in your guitar studies. Playing the same Green Day song over and over for 10,000 hours won't get you very far. And there are mistakes you're making in learning new songs that are making it take longer than you need.
These are 3 tricks for practicing more efficiently so that you can accomplish your guitar goals quicker.
1. Use a metronome. If you listen to a newbie guitarist and an experienced guitarist playing the same song, what's the first thing that sticks out about the newbie? Probably the flimsy rhythm and groove, right? Playing fast and whipping out a bunch of sweep picked arpeggios won't mean much if the meter is no good. Using a metronome while you practice will help develop your internal sense of tempo and allow you to play with steady, solid meter whether you're playing solo or with a timekeeper, like a drummer.
Use a metronome with everything you're playing: warmup exercises, technique workouts, new songs, old song, everything.
2. Break up the song. You brain can only take in so much new information at once before it starts dropping a few things. Instead of trying to tackle the whole song at once, break it up into small chunks that you can easily accomplish. Depending on how complex it is, that may be a whole section, a single phrase, just two measures, one measure, maybe just a couple of beats at a time. I've played pieces that were so complex I literally had to work on them one or two beats at a time. You want to go however small you need to accomplish each section without too much work. The goal is to be able to play each chunk 5 times in a row without a mistake before going on to the next one. As you start to collect a few chunks you can start sewing them together to create larger chunks. With each larger chunk make sure you can play it 5 times in a row perfectly before moving on. It may take 20 or 25 times through to get your 5 times in a row correct, but it's a solid benchmark that tells you that you really have the part down.
It may seem tedious at times, but I guarantee you'll learn the song in less time than trying to bang away at it from top to bottom a bunch of times.
3. Slow down. I often have to tell my students "Don't play faster than you can." It sound obvious but everyone tries to play faster before they're ready. Of course you need to push yourself into new territory regularly, but don't try to play a song at 220 bpm if you can't keep up at 100 bpm. You're simply creating more work for yourself than you need to be doing. Instead, use this sequence to get the song right AND fast.
Start with a tempo that you can comfortably play the song at. Play the song (or chunk of song, as we'll see in step 2). Make sure you can do your 5 times in a row, as above. Then crank your metronome up just one notch. That's only two to six beats per minute faster. The effect is that your brain doesn't really notice a big difference between the tempos, and therefore, won't fight you on playing. Keeping bumping up one notch at a time until you reach the tempo you're shooting for.
An important thing to remember is that music is a cumulative learning process. You'll learn and retain things that will apply to the next song. If you're working one measure at time now, you'll be able to take that knowledge and work two measures at a time on a similar song. The more you learn, the faster you'll be able to learn new things. The reason a pro guitarist can quickly sight read off a page, or learn a new song by ear in just minutes, is because they put in the slow and steady work early on.
Using these three tips you'll be able to master your chosen songs much faster. How you practice is just as important as how much you practice. Put smart practice strategies to work and you'll be a blazing guitarist in no time!