Courtesy of Colleen Kinsey
You’re getting ready to walk onstage at a packed house with the familiar buzz of a crowd bleeding with anticipation. Two problems: you’re currently playing in your unfinished basement, and your crowd consists of an ominous spider in the corner of the room.
So, how can we move out from the basement and onto a stage? Here are the top five ways to master your guitar and be the rock star you know you can be.
1. Buy a metronome to connect to your groove
The easiest task on this entire list will be to buy a metronome and actually use it! Even if you play the guitar really well, your skills are worthless if you’re ahead or behind the beat, and it's also a surefire way to irritate your band-mates.
Not only will a metronome help you with maintaining your rhythm, but it'll also improve your technique. You can use it to see how quickly you can run through scales and exercises. It’ll help you nail your guitar solos, and you'll learn "where" you're playing within the measure. The metronome will make the rest of your band happy and make you a far better guitarist.
2. Envision yourself as a future success
It’s incredibly important to set short- and long-term goals for yourself. Make sure they’re specific and you have a plan to attain them. Some short-term goal ideas include writing your first song or booking a gig at your favorite bar. Your short-term goals should align with your long-term goals, or what you want to achieve in the next couple years.
These goals can consist of what type of musician you want to be down the road, getting your band signed, or maybe it’s opening for certain bands you admire.
The easiest way to measure your progress is to write down your goals and check them off when you complete them and re-evaluate periodically. Make sure you’ve created an efficient and effective practice routine that aligns with these goals.And, it's also important to review these goals with another more experienced musician. Ask your guitar teacher, or a guitar guru online about what seems realistic. There's nothing worse than creating "Unrealistic Goals." They almost always are unattainable.
3. Find your inspiration
It’s difficult to find creativeness in your daily routine: driving to work, sitting in traffic, and spilling your coffee on yourself is a little lackluster. Spice it up by going to concerts and finding as much live music as possible.
Take lessons with a top guitar instructor. Work with a mentor. Meet with producers. You can talk to almost anyone anywhere these days over Skype. And, it's quite affordable to Skype call some pretty big names in the industry. You'd be surprised at how open and easy many of these top industry musicians are.
Try exploring outside your genre as well. This gives you material to write your big hit or learn techniques you hadn’t thought about incorporating before.Learn a Jazz piece, or a Soul number. Learn how to play Latin grooves and some Classical Guitar. It's amazing what will come of this work!
Seeing really awesome guitarists live is also very inspiring, so be on the lookout for your "guitar idol." Many players have multiple guitar idols based on different techniques, styles and skills.
4. Think beyond "basic" guitar-specific skills (Learn Theory)
Musicians who have mastered the guitar aren’t great at just playing one set of songs in one style; they’re great because they’re well-rounded musicians. Having a good understanding of music theory will help you master your guitar.
Theory can help you play by ear, so when you hear a really groovy guitar lick on the radio, or if you’re listening to your guitar idol, you can copy it on your instrument. This is where creativity happens. You can play around with new stuff and maybe you'll hear yourself on the radio one day!
Without theory, you’ll get stuck. You will only be able to re-create that rhythm or melody, but you won’t be able to transfer it over to your guitar or down on paper. Theory may sound boring, and in the early days it might feel confusing, but in reality, it helps foster creativity far faster and more interestingly than if you don't "get" how theory really works!
5. Jam with musicians who are better than you
To really master your guitar, you need to challenge yourself! Find people to play with who are both a little bit better than you, as well as, a LOT better. If you have a competitive side, or want to skirt away from embarrassment, you’ll try pretty hard to keep up.
This is also where finding an excellent guitar teacher comes in. And, let me stress this one, "An EXCELLENT Teacher." Never go to a guitar teacher because they're close to your house or because they fees are the cheapest. You want the "Guru." the guy in town who's taught for decades and is known as the local "King" of guitar teachers. There's usually a few people like this in every large city. Find them, book classes and go. They will make a HUGE difference in your ability, and your outlook for what is possible.
Playing with very skilled musicians (and even those just above your skill level), will help you learn new; rhythms, grooves, and techniques that you haven’t thought of yet. You can even find different ways to voice chords, play scales, licks arpeggios and intervals. The opportunities are endless! What’s really exciting is when you surpass your jamming buddies and have to find a new group to practice with.
If you aren’t able to find a group that challenges you, start with technology. the internet and various software programs can do the work for you in the early days. The internet is full of software and computer programs to create virtual backing bands. A good free option is JamStudio.com. They have tons of different instruments mixed with different loops and beats to play around with.
Whether your goal is to land a gig at the local coffee shop or open for Jack White, these tips will help get you out of the unfinished basement with the ominous spider and onto a real-life stage.But, you'll need to get going with these directions. Nothing happens if you sit idle.
Colleen Kinsey has a passion for guitars and ukuleles. She enjoys jamming, teaching, and getting others involved in music. Her website focuses specifically on guitars and ukes.