“In no other profession is the cost of being unprepared so high.” –FM 7-0, Training the Force
Given that their job involves regularly risking life and limb, it makes sense that the army would train hard to know their procedures inside and out. Obviously no soldier should go to battle thinking “Now how do I load this rifle again?” Poor training means decreased odds of survival, which in turn means decreased odds of protecting civilians.
Given that the stakes are so high for the army personnel of any country, it’s little surprise that armies would invest lots of time, money, and brainpower into effective training methods.
I stumbled across the U.S. Army’s “Crawl-Walk-Run” method in a beat-up field manual (FM 7-0, in case you’re curious) that I found in a used book store. I recognized right away how useful this philosophy could be for guitarists.
It’s not just about fighting. This is the most efficient and effective way to learn anything new–and to learn it flawlessly.
During the crawl stage, your job is to just start learning about a new technique, chord form, scale, song, whatever. Usually this means at least one of the following:
- Watching and listening as a teacher demonstrates the technique.
- Having the technique explained to you, aloud or in writing.
- Listening and observing carefully.
- Analyzing the technique.
Ideally you’ll have access to a good teacher who can answer your questions, but if not you can always consult a well-written book, website, or video that demonstrates the technique. Watching demonstrations will help you build a hi-res mental image of what the technique should look, sound, and feel like.
If you’re confused about the technique or concept, keep watching. Ask questions in forums. Research the technique further if necessary.
Persist until you understand, because you can’t even begin practicing a technique until you understand it correctly.
When you have a solid understanding of how the technique should be executed, you’re ready to enter the walk stage.
During this stage you’ll walk your fingers through the motions of the new technique, slowly and carefully. Be as precise, clean, and correct as possible. Again: Go slowly. It’s called the “walk” stage for a reason. This isn’t about being quick; it’s about being smooth, clean, and precise.
During the walk stage you want to go for precision, not speed. Slow down to a tempo where you can play accurately and cleanly. If you make a mistake, stop and try the passage over again.
Then–only gradually–work your way up toward actual performance speed, taking pains to play cleanly and precisely.
Again, you’ll ideally have a teacher here to watch your technique and make corrections, but good teaching materials should also give you ways to check yourself while practicing alone.
It can be hard to tell how you’re doing while you’re actually playing the guitar, so you might try recording your practice so that you can listen back and hear yourself more objectively.
Practicing with a metronome is a good idea; it allows you to hear whether you’re playing accurately on the beat or not. It also allows you to control your practice speed and dial it up slowly.
“Progression from the walk to the run stage for a particular task may occur during a one-day training exercise or may require a succession of training periods over time.” –FM 7-0, Training the Force
Finally, when you reach the speed at which the song or technique is to be performed–and everything still sounds as clean and precise as it should–you’re ready to play the piece from beginning to end in a performance, or to start using the technique in your own playing. This is the run stage.
After a performance you’ll want to take notes on any rough patches, and retrain to correct any mistakes.
Start it all over again
When the song or the technique is totally nailed down, you want it to stay nailed down–so you may want to schedule regular daily, weekly, or monthly retraining to maintain your speed and accuracy.
Meanwhile, you’re ready to start crawling (Step 1, above) on new challenges. These new frontiers might involve:
- Playing at even faster tempos.
- Combining the mastered technique with other techniques simultaneously.
- Applying the technique in more complex musical situations.
- Using the technique to improvise.
- Learning more complex songs.
Taken all together, the Crawl-Walk-Run method gives you a systematic way to perfect just about anything.
First, you learn how to correctly execute the technique by listening to explanations or watching a demonstration (crawl). Second, you work through the technique slowly and cautiously, correcting errors as you go (walk). Finally, you increase your speed gradually until you’re fast and accurate (run).
This method requires patience and determination, but it pays off with noticeable progress. In time, it allows you to play things that once seemed impossible–and as any soldier or artist will tell you, that rush of accomplishment is priceless.