Quantity or Quality?

In general, is it better to work on one song until you can play it perfectly OR is it better to work on several songs and get them to 80% perfect?

My brother says I spend too much time trying to learn and play one song perfectly. I wonder if he’s right. His approach is to learn a riff he likes, get it to where he can play most of the reps perfectly…and then move on to something else.

I’m looking at this through the lens of hobby guitarist just trying to get better every day.



I reckon 1 perfect one for every 5-10 partial ones.

Perfect ones may be your own compositions, in my opinion.

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Hey @Rivethead! Based on your recent technique critique I would recommend working on a bunch of riffs / licks / songs that you can use to develop your elbow mechanic.

So make sure that all the “fast” string changes happen after a downstroke, or can be forced into a downstroke by adding a hammer-on pull-off here and there. Or maybe you can “cheat” and even change the riffs/licks a bit so that they sound approximately the same but are easier with the elbow-downstroke-escape mechanic :wink:

We usually recommend a bit of variety at this initial stage of “fast picking development” (where you have the fast motion and are starting to apply it to musical scenarios), so the answer for now could be to have a few songs to practice and not to obsess over a single one.


Thanks @tommo!

I wasn’t thinking about developing my elbow motion when I wrote that post but your response makes a lot of sense in the context of developing that motion.

My guitar playing sessions are usually split 50/50 between working on techniques and working on a song I like.

I’ve spent months learning and refining the rhythm guitar part in “Always Somewhere” by the Scorpions because:

  1. I love the song and the Scorpions
  2. It’s mostly just picking individual notes of chord - something I don’t have a lot of experience with (I normally just play songs with power chords :grin:)

But I think I’d be better off learning lots of stuff imperfectly than focusing on perfection for one song. I think this is just my obsessive-compulsive side showing up…

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Just as an FYI, I used to do that but now I decided I don’t have enough time / it may not be the best way to go for me. So nowadays working on songs and working on technique are basically the same thing for me… if that makes sense :slight_smile:

EDIT: another issue has always been that I am also obsessive, so I ended up wasting almost all my practice time on academic exercises and had little time left for actual music.


I think in general it is ‘depends’

  • what the player’s goals are
  • what kind of challenges are occurring in the repertoire in question
  • what the player’s skill level is in relation to those challenges
  • sounds silly but: how much the player enjoys repeating the same thing over and over…and over

Tommo is referring to getting specific elements of picking together, and it sounds like your brother was speaking super generally. I think it’s hard to generalize that much and still be useful, because it ‘depends’ on the specifics above.

For a hobbyist, enjoyment is a very serious factor, because you don’t want to hate playing guitar, or not feel satisfied with what your’e working on. Personally I get super bored playing the same thing for more than a week at most but I have students that want to keep coming back to one tune for months.

A big factor with this question is the ‘point of diminishing returns’ ; at a certain point the thing isn’t going to improve much unless you’re really reworking your approach, or maybe it’s just a tune that’s too difficult for that moment. I think if you’re diligently practicing something for a week straight and no real improvement, it’s probably time to either move on or break elements down even smaller.

My .02 from the ‘teacher’s lounge’


Yes, I also found that in this case moving on to something else and picking up the “problematic” piece later can help! At the very least, it avoids that one gets stuck on one thing and stops developing repertoire :slight_smile:


Thanks for the awesome response!

Yes, there’s a feedback loop there. Having that self satisfaction of improving my playing is super important.

This is it. This point really hit home with me. Thanks!