20 Ways to Become a Better Guitarist

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Our friends at Pro Guitar Shop have written a fantastic article on the “20 Ways to Become a Better Guitarist”.  We are happy to provide the article to you in our newsletter here!

Play music with others:

This is probably the single best piece of advice anyone can offer. Music is rarely a solitary activity. Whether it’s a rock band, a jazz trio, or a full orchestra—it typically takes a village to bring music to life. A bedroom player who has mastered the instrument is going to go back to square one once he or she starts playing with other musicians—the communication and instincts that are developed by playing music with others are both irreplaceable and unteachable. You just have to do it and live it to get good at it.

You can always benefit from guitar lessons:

One of my favorite pieces of (true) rock lore is the fact that Randy Rhoads used to look up guitar teachers in the towns where he toured and would squeeze in taking a lesson if he could—even though he was on top of his game already, Rhoads knew that he could always learn more and that getting lessons from a diverse array of teachers would only make him a better overall musician. No matter your skill level, you can always benefit from lessons—especially if you take lessons in a genre outside your normal oeuvre. If you’re a rock player, take jazz or flamenco and vice versa.

Take a workshop:

There are countless workshops offered throughout the world—sometimes by music schools, sometimes by manufacturers, sometimes by famous players themselves. Take a few days and attend a workshop, not only to pick up some new skills but also for getting the chance to play alongside other musicians. The workshop format—where you dedicate a couple days to focusing on your instrument—can be incredibly inspiring.

Read a book:

It’s impossible to have too many reference materials. Even professionals usually have a chord dictionary hanging around. Having a chord, scales or arpeggio tome handy can offer you a way to kick start your playing when you find yourself in a rut.

Play licks in other fretboard positions:

As an exercise, try playing some of your favorite licks in alternate positions on the fretboard. Taking phrases out of their intended box and playing them elsewhere on the neck forces your brain to go “off-book” as it were, hopefully opening the floodgates of creativity.

Don’t fear the computer:

Though many of us are die-hard analog kids, playing our magnetic-pickup wooden guitars through tube amps—it’s foolish to ignore all of the amazing advances happening in the digital world. From modeling software to phrase trainers to online lessons—there is a ton happening in the digital guitar world, most of which you can access from almost any device: Android, iOS, Mac, PC, etc. I have a MIDI-capable guitar and from time to time, I’ll plug it into a software instrument such as Reason or Native Instrument’s Komplete suite and practice while using plug ins for non-guitar instruments—a grand piano or string section, for example.

Learn about music theory:

With the ease of reading tablature, it’s easy for guitarists to learn to play without necessarily learning a lot of music theory—just by using their ears to match up what they’re reading in the tab with what they’ve heard. A little theory goes a long way—consider picking up a book, studying online, or even take a local course at a community college to shore up your knowledge of theory.

Learn a new instrument:

Once you know one instrument (and hopefully at least a little theory), it’s a lot easier to switch over to another. Playing multiple instruments helps keep your mind actively engaged and prevents you from getting too stale on the one thing that you’re best at. Piano is a fantastic complement to guitar, but any instrument will do: ukulele, saxophone, tuba! At the least, if you’re playing in a band, switch instruments once in a while to break up the monotony.

Play with musicians who are better than you:

It’s easy to be a bit sheepish about playing with people who can play circles around you, but don’t psyche yourself out—as often as possible, play with musicians who are better than you; they will raise the level of your playing and you will probably be surprised how quickly it happens.

Milk notes for all they’re worth:

The one-note solo is a real thing and it is awesome. Just because you’re capable of speed doesn’t mean you should use it. There’s a time and place for speed, but make sure you know when that moment is. Don’t be afraid to squeeze every last drop out of a note or a couple notes. You can do so much with so little.

Buy a weird effect pedal:

Overdrives are a dime a dozen. There are plenty of non-traditional effects pedals on the market today—try adding one in to your rig and challenge yourself to find ways to use it and implement it in your music. It might not stick around forever, but it might open up channels of creativity in your playing that your old TS-9 clone never will.

Keep your guitar in tip top shape:

A race car driver can’t do his or her best driving if they’ve let their vehicle go to hell. Your instrument is the vehicle for your music; take care of it for your best playing to come out. Make sure it is properly intonated and set up, keep it free from dust and spills, use the case when you’re not playing. Be sure it isn’t in shambles.

Use a metronome once in a while:

In the iPhone age, it’s easy to play along to recorded music—but playing to a metronome is key. Being able to lock into a tempo while you’re playing and not relying on backing music to cover you is a necessity.

Learn when not to play:

There’s a time and place for everything . . . your four-finger tapping solo has a place, but don’t forget that there’s also going to be moments when not playing is more powerful than playing. A well timed rest in a song, or even in a lead, can create great tension or be an extremely powerful moment.

Be honest about your weaknesses:

No one is amazing at everything, even (your favorite guitar hero’s name here). Periodically take an honest inventory of your guitar strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your vibrato sounds like someone is having a seizure, maybe your right hand dexterity is less than dexterous. The great thing about weaknesses is that they give you something to work on and it’s never too late to turn them into strengths.

Stay focused

It’s easy to get lost in playing without achieving maximum results from playing, practicing or both. In a band scenario, try to set a time limit for rehearsal and don’t get too off-track talking about the latest funny videos you’ve been watching on the Internets. Stay focused and try to get the most out of every minute that you’re playing.

Book some gigs:

No matter how good you are or are trying to be, playing live is a great way to get better. There’s something about playing in front of an audience (whether it’s five people or 500) that elevates your game—not to mention how much you’ll learn about gear and sound from having to tear down and set up your rig a few times. Warning: your desire for a roadie will skyrocket.

Go see live music:

Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so important to go watch/listen to other musicians. You can go see bands that play music that you’re already into, or you can roll the dice on some bands that you’ve never heard of. You’re guaranteed to walk away with something, whether it’s a new technique to try out or whether it’s what NOT to do (like, for example, gig without a backup!). Even better—pick up season tickets to the symphony, if you don’t normally listen to classical fare, and expose yourself to an entirely different world of music.

…And see shows that break the taste barrier:

You’re not getting much diversity in your diet by playing metal and only going to metal shows. I’m sure even the crustiest metalhead can admit that Django Reinhart is an amazing guitar player, so if they can admit it to themselves, so can you. Go check out shows that are a genre or two apart from your normal tastes and watch what they’re doing, make some mental notes and enjoy yourself. Diversity is where the fun is.

Have fun and break the rules:

Just remember that if it doesn’t make you happy, you shouldn’t do it. Don’t be afraid to break the rules, but do remember that you have to know them in order to break them. Music is a never-ending pursuit—keep pushing yourself and keep looking out for how to take the next step. There will always be one more ahead of you to take.

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Eric Van Tassel