I recently completed my entry into the 2013 Guitar Center Bluesmasters contest. I started in early February, and just finished last April. Regardless what happens with the contest, I'm really pleased at what I've learned over the last couple months really drilling into one 4 1/2 mintue piece of music. Outside of one particular Bach sonata, I can't think of a time I've spent so much time on ONE song, even ones I wrote.
1) Bends in certain places on the neck tended to be off pitch and uncomfortable, and I think I've gotten better there.
2) I really got a wake-up call on my vibrato, and it's 100% better. I was "feeling" the vibrato with my fingers, but hearing it with my ears, it was weak. I'm using my ears a lot more now, and I'm more conscious of it.
3) I worked hard on phrasing my tone throughout the 4 1/2 minutes - I tried a lot of options, and I think I had some good ups and downs in terms of tone. It's not just about the notes...
4) My "lead" rhythm is much tighter - I tended to rush, especially when playing fast licks.
5) I became a lot more conscious of "playing the rests." Holding notes for just the right lenght. Letting the rest sit for just the right lenght, and then coming in exactly when needed.
6) I learned to relax while playing, and actually ended up finding specific places in the song to take a long inhale & exhale to keep myself calm and prevent rushing. This was really important on the last day after 20 attempts at getting "the take."
7) I got more familiar with my new guitar and got to explore it quite a bit - pickups, tone knob, coil tap, etc.
8) I learned what it takes to get from point A (first 'rough pass' take) to point B (comfortable enough to submit). It always feels like "I should be able to do this." And yes, I could do it. It just took a couple weeks of dedicated work to be able to play perfectly all the way through - no flubs, no weird 'unconscious licks', less-than-ideal tone, etc. It's like night and day, but I really had to drill some of the secitons and break down exactly what I was messing up.
9) I improved my instrumental writing skills. I have done a lot of songwriting, but mostly lyric-based, verse-chorus-bridge type of stuff. Writing instrumentals is unfamiliar territory for me, and this was a good exercise in that.
10) Better ear for detail - while working on my piece, I listened to it enough times to really pick up on all the detail in the backing track - the rhythm guitar adding a maj7 note here, an accented note by the bass and drums there. I was able to work that into what I wrote so it sounds more like playing with a band, and less like playing with a backing track.
Anyways, the point is that it was a bit of a revelation spending two months on one 4 minute blues/rock song - really going into the details of my own playing. it wasn't just writing something or learning an easy song, it was learning a whole bunch of stuff I never expected to learn. Wonder how often other folks spend a lot of time on one song and really digging into the details, and if it was as eye-opening for you as it was for me.
I don't want to post a link to my take and come across as "spammy" on the lesson lofts. If you want to see it, PM me or check out my thread in the Electric Guitar forums. I'd love for you to watch it, but I want to keep Lesson Loft clean of "watch my video, help me win" type of stuff.