Getting better on guitar is all about constantly learning more and more material. Learning more sound, techniques, scales, phrasing and music has to become a regular part of your day to day studies. Every guitarist can improve a lot more once they put in some thought about what they’re doing and especially how they're going to spend their time...
1. Play Music With Other People
It’s obvious. No two people play guitar the same, and for all the wood-shedding you do on your own, you’ll learn more by playing with others. They might have new ways of voicing chords, a unique rhythm style, or simply turn you on to new influences. Playing dual-lead guitar, honing your rhythm while someone else plays lead (or vice versa) or swapping licks. A guitarist’s best friend is another guitarist.
2. Purchase Guitar Lessons Books and Videos
Print may seem old fashioned, but good guitar books can be a real boost to your playing. Whether it’s chords, scales, theory or all three – read more, and you will learn more.
3. Learn Your Favorite Songs Note-for-Note
Yes, it’s a tough ask. But if you want to play like your heroes, try and learn exactly what they do. It will help you appreciate the art and skill of playing guitar like a legend.
4. Get One-to-One Professional Music Lessons
Lessons are not just for beginners. And, a more experienced player shouldn't have a "beginner" level teacher. Every player has quirks (some bad) and a seasoned pro teacher can really help iron them out. You’re never too old to learn from a professional teacher. You have nothing to lose, other than learning more.
5. Make Daily Recordings of Yourself
In your head, you may think you’re playing great. Record your practices (solo or band) and you may hear differently. It’s a simple way of hearing what others are hearing. It could be sometimes painful, but will help you identify where you need to get better.
6. Use Technology to Improve Your Skills
Guitarists often get obsessed by physical wood and wire. And, we all know that a great guitar can make you sound better, but they won’t always help you play better. From impromptu recording to chord apps to amp/FX emulation software, there’s a host of tech that can help you.
7. Play a Lot Slower - SLOW DOWN
Sure, you may want to be fastest guitar-slinger in town. But when you slow down your playing, you’ll learn more about your own phrasing and rhythm.
8. Maintain Tempo Through the Use of a Metronome
This will also help you with tempo. Even quirky rhythm, before or ahead of the beat – see Keith Richards – relies on knowing where the beat lies. Solo practice with a metronome will help you.
9. Buy Guitar FX Pedals and Mod-Your-Sound
Some great music happens simply because of FX pedals. U2’s The Edge once said, “I don’t think of playing through effects,” ..... “I play the effects.” Keith Richards said, The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” wouldn’t have worked without his Maestro fuzztone. Color your sound, try using multi-effects pedals and listen as a new world opens up.
10. Maintain the Care and Condition of Your Guitar
We’ve all let our guitars “just-be” for months. Get a pro set-up, tinker with action, keep it clean… Even a simple change of strings can help you play better, (not to mention more in tune).
11. Test Different Guitar String Types and Gauges
Try different gauge strings. As you know, guitarists can be creatures of habit. But heavier strings can help both your tone and fingering strength, while lighter strings may suit bigger bends. Experiment! Billy F Gibbons has the thickest tone but his top E is only a .007. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s top E was a .013. Changing string gauge may just bring out your best inner-self.
12. Try Using a Guitar Capo
Who defaults to playing songs in the same key with usual-suspect chords? I know I sometimes do. But buy a capo and you can be in another world. Capos are cheap, you don’t have to retune, and you can suddenly be playing your usual progressions in E-flat or A#. It will help you learn more about your playing and harmonic possibilities.
13. “Build” Your Songs and Solos
Shredding scales is all well and good but the best songs and solos have structure, tempo changes and memorable licks. It may be a cliché, but listen to Jimmy Page’s solo in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” – now that’s how you build-up to a solo. It may be your time to shine, but don’t just gush everywhere – think about structure and let your solos build and breathe.
14. Test, Try and Swap Instruments
It could be hard, but try playing a different instrument once in a while. Guitarists playing bass will soon learn more about groove. Play a piano and you’ll find yourself thinking more about notes and scales outside of your 6-string comfort zone.
15. Play Outside of Your Comfort Zone
You may love only one style of music. And that’s fine. But try playing some other styles. Funk maestro Carlos Alomar went through hell on David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album, being asked to play more “grinding” guitar alongside Robert Fripp. “It was very interesting,” says Alomar. “I learned a lot and when I came back to my more natural style, I felt really fresh about it.”
16. Don’t Just “Jam” Endlessly
Everyone just likes a random jam – ask the Grateful Dead. But when in band practice, stick to a regime and work on your songs. Be sure to follow a set list at rehearsals. It’s too easy to go, “let’s play some blues in A.” ...Play songs, you'll improve your bands sound more and when you focus on the songs everyone's ability benefits.
17. Write a Song a Week
You don’t need to be the new Bob Dylan of lyrics to write a song. Writing a song with your own lyrics and vocal melody will help you learn how your guitar fits into songs. Phrasing, space, when to play rhythm, when to think about any solo (see 13), chord changes etc. You don’t have to share it. But do it for yourself. It will help you understand songs much better.
18. Book a Gig - Let's Do This!
Think about your school exams. There’s nothing better than focusing your mind than a looming deadline. Book a gig, even if it’s just an open-mic night. You’ll be amazed how much drive you have to play better.
19. Try Playing Without a Guitar Pick
It could be scary if you always use a pick. But listen to the likes of Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler – unique players who play their electric guitars only with fingers. It’s a good exercise to see if your fingers actually work better than picks. There can be wonderful sound in just using your fingers.
20. Take Time to Reflect on Your Musical Side
Playing guitar like mad is great and all, but human beings need to take breaks. Every now and again we need to just take a day off and go to the beach. Go for a long drive, visit a friend, take a long walk or just lay in the sun and read a book. Too much of anything can bog us down, and stifle our creativity. We need time away from the things we enjoy in order to build-up the desire, keep us motivated and remain fresh.
21. Document Where You're At (Keep a Log)
It's easy to get caught up in songwriting, recording and playing with your band. So, you need to spend time keeping a log of what your week requires. If you're a busy person, this is even more important. Use a calendar system, and keep things simple. Any basic daily log will do, but have a plan for your time and document what is important in your week.
22. Do Everything Possible to Remain Healthy
Being a musician - being any sort of creative person - requires a lot of energy and focus. You cannot afford to get sick. Of course, you will... inevitably it will happen, you'll get the flu. But, everything you can possibly do to keep it away helps. Eat well, take vitamins, exercise, meditate, sleep well, drink less alcohol and stop using drugs. It's so important to treat your body like a temple. Respect it and maintain the best possible health that you can. It sucks playing a gig when your sick, so do everything you can to remain healthy.
23. Read About Famous Players/Musicians
Plenty of world-class musicians have written biographies and have had documentaries filmed about their lives. And, through reading and watching these you will gain valuable insight for not just what to do, but also what not to do. Even one statement in a biography can make a big impact on your life as a musician. So, take the time to find out the ways that some of the most well-known players have lived their lives. It'll educate you and probably even surprise you to explore their lives as musicians.
24. Push Yourself to Become Better
Too many players will feel like, "I'm good enough at that." Or, they'll think that learning Jazz or how to perform Classical Guitar - or even just learning to read traditional music notation is too demanding, or the study will take too much time and effort. But, if you push yourself and dedicate your time - you'll find out that it will come to you with practice. Just like everything else you've learned has come to you. Push yourself, it will surprise you what you're capable of.
25. Remain Happy and Pleasant - No Matter What
The final point is probably the most important. Remaining of a good nature with your personality. If you've met a lot of older musicians, you'll tend to discover a common trait. They're miserable. It is so common. They wanted so much more in life, but instead they got shafted. At least that's how they've decoded to view it. This is so sad. Think about it, millions of people go to work in an office cubicle. They hate their jobs, their boss, their co-workers. And, then there's somebody who has played music their whole life. But, they're miserable !?! It almost makes no sense. So, maintain a happy and pleasant attitude. After all, you get to play music every day. What an amazing job!! What an amazing life!!!
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