How to Think Like a Guitar Virtuoso...

How does a guitarist go from strumming "G, D and A" chords to becoming a guitar wizard? What has to happen for a guitar player to make that leap from being an average beginner player to being a simply outstanding player?

These are questions that every pre-teen discovering music and the guitar will ask, either out loud or more often than not - inside their head. There's just something about being the best that invokes curiosity. Knowing who the best guitarist is and admiring those who are the best is just human nature.

It's a question and a search that people just do, and it involves the discovery of the skills that can be practiced and duplicated to re-create what "the best" in any field both have with respect to skills and how they do those skills. It's important to people because we can learn those same skills - and then - those skills can become a part of us.

Once the guitar-bug bites us, we start craving more and more guitar skills under our fingers. Those skills allow us to be able to play all of the songs we enjoy. No matter what level we're at, we intuitively understand that having more skills will equal greater ease.

As practicing guitar players we understand that the skills we build for playing the guitar allow songs to come out easier. That "musical flow" is the juice that keeps us hungry for learning more songs. And, the desire for skill drives us to study more guitar techniques.

But, what is it that propels some guitar players to blow past the norms? What happens to some players that allows them to become virtuoso players?

Developing past the normal levels of ability will obviously involve more work, more practice, more dedication and a lot more time practicing guitar. But, there are a few other factors involved as well. These include three main principles. They are; knowledge building, exposure and having the right psyche.

- Knowledge Building -
Understanding terms, musical concepts (like key signatures and harmony), and knowing how musical topics relate to the fingerboard, (i.e., scales, chords and arpeggios). These are at the very core of, "knowledge building."

This category of musical information is at the very heart of knowing how music operates, but it even goes deeper than that. It allows great musicians to be able to communicate with others, and it allows the musician to be able to communicate better with themselves. Skills like; ear training will really improve when players understand how music operates, and the ability to communicate what a player hears in their head with terms is vital to higher development.

The study of music theory and how it relates to the neck is a key factor in every serious guitar players knowledge building. Knowing your musical keys, your scales, intervals and how all of the chords relate to them is critical. Once you have these principles organized on your neck, you'll be able to understand what your learning, what you are listening to and how all of those sounds relate back to both music theory and to the guitar.

Get started by learning the notes on the neck, the key signatures, and the basic concept of harmony on the fingerboard, (harmony = how chords exist in key centers). Use a good music theory course to carry on from there. The Creative Guitar Studio Harmony Theory course will really help you learn this information if you put the time in.

- Exposure -
This area is one of the most vital areas to becoming a really great guitar player. It all begins with learning about one playing style and developing yourself to be able to gain confidence over an initial group of general playing skills. Then, a guitarist can start to expand from those skills into more techniques and eventually more styles, which leads them to gaining even more skills.

This means that styles and playing techniques are essential to gaining better skill and advancing onward toward more refined playing techniques. Exposure does this faster than any other method.

For example, let's say there's a guitar player named "Max" and he only takes guitar lessons from a blues guitarist, (who really isn't big on music theory). Max does a lesson once every week and he's done that for two years. Max feels that in general he's getting quite good at rock /blues playing. But, Max never plays with others, he's never been on stage, and he has next to no exposure to any other styles of music.

However, let's say another guitarist named "Phil," started at around the same level as Max, but Phil was taught by his uncle who is a very versatile professional player and has a top-40 band. And, Phil's uncle gets Phil to join his top 40 band, and so Phil learns 60 or 70 songs across a whole range of styles. And, Phil plays in that top-40 band for two years. He's on stage once or twice a week. Phil learns about all kinds of different chords, scales, music styles, theory, rhythms, how to interact with the bassist, vocalist and the drummer. In other words Phil's exposure level is really expansive.

Who do you think would be the more versatile level of guitar player? Max or Phil... I'd definitely go with Phil. The exposure Phil would have to songs, styles and technique, combined with all of his stage experience would build a level of confidence that Max just wouldn't have. So, keep in mind that you've got to stretch yourself to gain exposure. Once you have that, your guitar playing will expand very rapidly.

- The Right Psyche -
The biggest factor for virtuoso level guitar playing is by far a persons own psyche. The mind, soul, or spirit, of a musician makes all the difference to how a guitarist will develop their playing skills.

I recently had a new student come into the studio who told me an interesting story about why he quit taking lessons (years ago when he was a teenager). What happened was he had been taking guitar lessons for almost three years and he felt that he was doing pretty good. That was until he saw a class-mate of his at school grab a guitar and rip out the main riff from Led Zeppelin's, "Black Dog."

Well, my student - back then - wasn't working on any songs with his teacher (he was just studying the easy-play songs out of one of those "Alfred Guitar Method Books"). And, knowing that his class-mate had only been playing for about a year, he felt devastated when "Black Dog" comes ripping out like nobody's business. And, that one experience caused him to give up on guitar. He quit for years because of that one experience.

So, instead of his psyche making him go back to his teacher at the time and saying, look I'm done with this easy-play guitar book, I want to learn songs. And, I want to start with learning how to play "Black Dog." Instead of doing that, (and discovering that "Black Dog" wasn't even a very complex riff), he instead decided, "I'm not doing very well, I'm just going to quit."

In psychology, the psyche is the center of thought, feeling, and motivation. And so, it both consciously and unconsciously drives the body's reactions. So, when my student saw that his class-mate was ripping out "Black Dog," he was floored, it just devastated him.

And then, his psyche took over and told him, "You stink at guitar, look at this guy, he's only been playing for a year - you've been playing for nearly three. Look what he can do, and you can't."

His psyche told him that he sucks and he should just quit, and unfortunately that's exactly what he did. Now, I'm willing to bet that this same type of scenario has occurred (maybe in different ways), but it has occurred millions of times all over the world. But, nothing like this has to happen to you. Because now you know, that how you're thinking makes a huge difference to how your progress happens on the instrument.

Thinking like a virtuoso guitar player doesn't require anything more than constant never ending knowledge building, combined with broad exposure to all kinds of playing styles, and maintaining a healthy balance regarding how you relate to your own psyche. If you keep on track within these areas you'll constantly improve. But, if you neglect one of these areas, you'll stagnate. And, it'll be really tough to grow as a guitar player.

So, study hard, learn everything you can, keep an open mind and always go easy on yourself. Remember the reasons you started learning guitar in the first place. Because it was fun and it made you feel good when you could play a part at a decent level of skill.

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