The Guitar Players Guide: 6 Tips to Rapid Improvement

Are you a "self-taught" guitarist? If you are, then there's one thing that you lack and that is feedback from either a teacher or from any player who is better than you are...

Guitar players who are self-taught have to rely on trial and error when it comes to basic things such as strumming or even holding a guitar. Truth be told, teaching yourself guitar runs the risk of developing some playing habits that can actually hinder your playing and make improving as a guitarist very difficult. 

If you’re a person who wants to “do it yourself,” you certainly have a lot of options. And, in order to help those of you who are “going at it alone,” I’ve listed a series of common traps that new players fall into.

Be careful for these traps, because if these traps are watched closely, they will enable you to either avoid or get past them rapidly.

Rapid Improvement Tip #1). 
How are you sitting?

Good guitar playing starts with paying attention to the basics. And nothing is more basic than how you hold the guitar, whether you’re sitting or standing.

Whenever you’re having trouble playing a chord, or making a switch from one chord to another, you can often correct this by simply correcting your hand-posture or your sitting or standing position while holding your guitar.

For additional information on developing correct guitar playing posture and sitting position check out my lesson on correcting bad guitar posture habits. It is titled, "Correct Guitar Posture."

Rapid Improvement Tip #2). 

How are you strumming?
Keeping the beat and playing a steady, confident groove is essential for every guitar player, even those who only want to play lead guitar, (in fact it's even more important for lead players).

Most beginners, (especially those who’ve never had a teacher), think that strumming involves an incredible amount of force and power from the strum-hand. This is not accurate.

Strumming comes from the wrist and forearm and should involve very little whole arm movement. To strum your guitar, use the same amount of wrist /forearm action that you’d use to shake somebody's hand.

Rapid Improvement Tip #3). 
Where are your fret-board hand's thumb and fingers sitting?

One of the main key's to fretting notes quickly and cleanly is to keep your fingertips on the strings with your hand relaxed and your thumb in the back of the neck.

Good fret-hand posture and hand position will help you tremendously when it comes to placing your fingers in the best playing position. But you have to make sure that your thumb isn’t making your fingers’ job harder to do.

Wrapping your thumb up around the top of the neck of the guitar, (as you would a base-ball bat), pulls the fingertips down and keeps them from making clean-sounding notes. Instead, let the pad of the thumb simply rest on the back of the neck and have your fingertips dictate where the thumb is positioned, not the other way around.

I've helped a lot of self-taught guitar players with both proper holding of the guitar, balancing their hand position, and with knowing how to place their fingertips on the neck through my online Skype lessons.

Rapid Improvement Tip #4). 
Are you using your ears?

Music is all about sound and listening, it is not visual. Professional musicians will invariably tell you that listening is the most important talent for any guitar player to develop.

Rhythm is something you need to learn to feel and hear. Relying on your eyes to tell you when a chord change occurs will almost always put you behind or even off the beat.

Work on using, and then trusting the development your ears and try leaving your eyes behind for a while. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to make more progress.

next time you start learning a new song, work at committing it to memory. Once it becomes second nature you'll find that your playing and feel begins accelerating to much higher levels of perfection.

Rapid Improvement Tip #5). 
Where is the count, what is the beat?

Many beginners think that the idea of strum patterns has to do with "how many hits" they need to make onto the strings. But, this is the rookie system of working on rhythm.

Someone who really knows how to strum a rhythm pattern would never obsess about the “down and up” strumming. To a pro, its all about learning to play in a steady rhythm.

You’ll be amazed at how up-strokes and down-strokes simply fall into place once you’ve learned how to count out the rhythmic groove of a song. For a basic eighth note strum, the down-strokes occur on the beat. If you’re strumming sixteenth notes, then the down-strokes happen on each half beat.

If you can get yourself to count out a four-beat pattern there will be very few strumming patterns that you won’t be able to figure out in the future.

A part of your daily practice should be converting any rhythm you come across into the correct feel of “down and up” rhythm strumming.

For more help with your strumming in general, you may find my lesson, "Rhythm Guitar Excellence," as well as my lesson, "Better Strumming and Picking" quite helpful for gaining the best level of technique involved with strumming on guitar.

Rapid Improvement Tip #6). 
What developmental stage are your fingers at?

One of the most over-looked areas for new players is the regular routine of doing guitar technique drills. technique allows us to switch chords faster, and play scales faster. It also opens the door for more inventive lead playing.

Ultimately, you'll want your fingers to move from one musical idea on the neck into another as a competent flowing movement, with the most simple direction of the hand as possible.

If it's a chord change you’re working on, take stock of how the fingers rest in their place, and as you move them, keep each finger relaxed, but don’t lose contact with how they need to interact along the guitar strings.

If you press your fingers hard onto the strings - soften up on the grip. You don't need a ton of force to play notes on the neck. In fact, the more relaxed that you are, the better you'll play.

Pay a lot of attention to how you have your fingers on the strings. What is it like when you're playing a chord, or a scale? Do the hands and fingers feel good? Are they relaxed? If they are not, then make a conscious effort to relax.

Try a simple exercise where you raise your fingers, as a unit, just off the strings. Keep them close enough that you can put them back on the strings at the same time.This effort focused on control will make a big difference to how you play everything on the instrument.

The object of doing any exercise is to get your fingers acclimated to working together on the strings. Eventually, they will learn to leave one musical idea and arrive at another as a team. That doesn’t necessarily mean all at the same time, (nor should it), but when you have more control, you will play much better music.



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  1. Great video! A must to improve! I will work on this lesson today as well as other Wasson techiques and lesson plans.