The Skill Development “Cheat Code:” Emulate More Masters… More Often

Podcast Transcription:

Hello, my friend.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to develop the skill of freestyle rap from scratch.

And I have paid close attention to the experience from the very beginning . And documented my process.

And it is uncanny how much it has mirrored what I went through when I first started learning the guitar.

And here’s the most important thing:

That which inevitably causes me to gain the greatest leaps in scale and progress is mimicking the masters deeply, widely, and continuing to increase the complexity of the pieces that I tackle.

Put another way:

  • Cover more songs.
  • Cover more songs from more artists.
  • And continue to increase the difficulty level of the songs that you are covering.

Of course you don’t want to get stuck in the imitation game. You don’t only want to be covering music from other artists.

In between the time that you spend learning songs from other artists, you want to make it a priority to start assimilating the skill into your own playing by improvising or jamming or writing your own riffs.

We talk about this in the Meta method of the Guitar Acceleration Methodology.

Don’t skimp out on that creation process.

But recognize the absolutely staggering amount of value that you can get from seeking to emulate the masters as accurately and precisely as you can.

In other words, you want to be able to play in sound so much like the master that you are emulating that your playing and they’re playing becomes almost indistinguishable.

That might seem like a tall order. And in fact it is, and that’s kind of the point.

I’ve seen this happen in multiple places, though. I’ve noticed that the quality of my writing is dependent upon the number of books that I read, along with the diversity of the authors and subject matter, and the complexity of the text.

I’ve noticed that my abilities on the guitar is primarily dependent on the complexity of the masters that I emulate and the quantity of the songs that I learn.

(And that I memorize and that I play repeatedly until I can sufficiently sound like the master themselves.)

This is something like a cheat code when it comes to skill development.

Because it’s simple and straight forward. It’s not easy, but you know that with every single song that you learn memorize and master from any given master that you seek to emulate… you will measurably improve your skills.

You will notice things on the fret board that you didn’t notice before, and you’ll start to see shapes and patterns that weren’t there before.

But you’ll also assimilate a whole host of skills that are working in harmony with one another.

So you’ll be doing alternate picking. You’ll be doing sweet picking. You’ll be doing bending and vibrato. You’ll be doing the hammer-ons and pull-offs.

You’ll be doing all kinds of things in order to emulate the master in a way that makes it indistinguishable that you are the one who’s playing; not them.

As mentioned, I’ve done this with freestyle rap as well.

And one of the main reasons why I am bringing it up today is because I’m astounded by the lack of quantity of songs that I’ve learned, memorized and mastered that have led me to my current capability.

It’s an inspiring thought because I feel like I’m getting pretty good at freestyle rap.

But knowing that I’ve only invested a very small amount of time into mimicking the masters in order to attain the level of skill that I currently have is highly encouraging.

I did this when I looked at my bookshelf one day.

I asked myself and actually counted:

How many of the books that I own have I not read?

And how many books throughout my life–barring when I was a teenager–have I read?

Because in some sense, that precise amount of literature consumed is directly proportional to my communication skill, my writing abilities and my general knowledge.

And if I feel good about where I am, I can, in some sense, attribute it to what I’ve read.

And of course it doesn’t work precisely like this, but if you imagine that if I multiplied the number of books that I’ve read by two or three or four…

Theoretically, my productivity, my knowledge, my skill, and everything that goes into how I benefit from reading would multiply by two or three or four.

This can’t be the case–in terms of it being a black and white linear amount–but it is certainly something worth considering.

And it makes me wish that I knew how many songs I had learned, memorized and mastered from certain guitar players back in the day.

If I think about it for maybe an hour or so, I could probably come up with a rough estimate that would be fairly accurate. And I might find out that there aren’t really that many songs.

In fact, if I were to guess that really haven’t been that many.

There have been enough. And they’ve certainly been songs that have increased in complexity over the years.

But the point is: if you decide to go ham with this emulation of the masters and instead of just emulating a few masters, instead of picking a single song, or even just a section of a song from a single master… instead you decide to learn the discography of a particular guitarist.

That’s obviously an ambitious and probably an unnecessary pursuit, but if you decide to learn the discography or a single album of a particular guitarist, your skill level will skyrocket in a short period of time.

And it’s a very satisfying and fun experience. I love being able to play songs that I love. It’s just such a motivating thing to do. It’s very challenging depending on what the song is, but I love doing it.

If I were to boil it down very simply– I know it’s technically more complicated than this–but it would be safe enough to say that one of the main reasons why I’m the guitar player that I am today is because I decided to learn, from start to finish, the bulk of the Images and Words album by Dream Theater.

There was a point when I wanted to learn every single note of that album. I don’t think I ever quite achieved that, but I got pretty close.

And of course there’s been much more than that over the years.

But I would say that that was the most hyper-concentrated and concerted effort that I put into emulating the masters throughout my journey as a guitarist.

And it had the most consequential impact on my playing and my knowledge of the fretboard and my ability to spot patterns and shapes and my ability to write the sort of riffs and solos that sound similar to John Petrucci.

(And I’m not comparing myself to John Petrucci… he’s obviously leaps and bounds above my skill level. But I am suggesting that being able to even be kind of like John Petrucci in my capability with the guitar is an inspiring thing and it’s led me to a full-time career as a guitarist, so I’m pretty happy about that.)

So don’t neglect the Nanosynthesis approach to developing skills.

Just pick your favorite guitarist, the guitars to inspires you more than anyone else. And pick your favorite songs from that guitarist. You don’t have to do their entire discography. You don’t have to do albums.

But you can pick your favorite songs from that artist and go ham. Really dive deep into what they do and emulate them and get it to the point where your playing is nearly indistinguishable from their playing.

If you can do that, you’ll up-level your skills in a way that’s fun, satisfying, and fulfilling… but in a way that’s almost ridiculous in its scope.

I mean, it’s kind of crazy to me when I think back on it, how absurd it is. The only reason why I can play the way I can play is because I obsessed over covering Dream Theater songs when I was younger. You know, That’s an oversimplification, but that’s definitely one of the main reasons. There’s no doubt about it.

So with this rap adventure that I’ve been on… I’ve noticed that it’s not even been full songs that I’ve learned. It’s just been some bars. It’s been a few verses here in there. And there really haven’t been that many of them.

And yet those verses and those masters that I’ve emulated … they are one of the main reasons why I am at the level that I am. And I feel pretty satisfied at this level. I’m going to keep pushing and to keep going, but I’m pretty stoked about it. I feel capable. I feel fluent.

I feel like I can wield the skill and the way that I wished I could wield it from the very beginning of the journey. And that’s saying something.

So here is a simple action that you can take…

Take an artist that you love and admire.

Start with a single one of their songs or solos (if you don’t want to tackle an entire song, which is totally fine). And learn memorize and master that song or solo.

Recognize that your skill level and your capability seems to be uncannily tied to the quantity and the complexity of the songs that you learn memorize and master from masters that you’re emulating.

There’s something incredibly empowering about this. It clarifies and simplifies what it is that you should be practicing in the first place. What it is that you should learn next.

It makes the whole thing much more intrinsically rewarding.

And it leads to measurable increases in your skill in a short period of time.

So enjoy the ride. Keep me posted on what you do and we’ll talk soon. Take care.

One Reply to “The Skill Development “Cheat Code:” Emulate More Masters… More Often”

  1. It’s nice to hear that most times we overcomplicate things when it comes to increasing our skill level. Hearing “just learn your favorite songs, solos, etc., from your favorite artists and you’ll increase by leaps and bounds” sounds way too simple for us. But what if simplicity itself is the key to accomplishment.

    Maybe even subconsciously, but I often find myself sabotaging my own progress by stopping short of finishing the tasks I set out to do. Back in the spring of this year, I attempted to learn the “80s style solo” by Marco Sfogli (see my attempt here:, but for some reason, I never pushed through to learning the remainder of the solo.

    Whether it’s chasing too many shiny new objects or just the fear of success, this has always been a personal struggle with me. I get right to the edge of success and then, for some reason or other, abandon the project entirely—or procrastinate for years on finishing it. By then, I’m already burnt out on the project and having regrets over all the other opportunities I’ve missed and would have been able to participate in if I’d gotten the first project done in the first place (Seth Godin calls this “ship it”).

    I find this happens quite frequently with the Gamification spreadsheet. I get started, then, halfway through the month, I abandon it and start working on other scenarios. It’s a neverending cycle I wish I knew how to break.

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