10 Tips for Becoming a Great Guitar Player
Knowing where to start in order to improve you guitar playing can be hard. Sometimes, you may not even know how or where you need to improve your playing, but you know you want to grow as a guitarist! This article is here to help you and provide 10 tips to help you become a great, well-rounded guitarist.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
No matter what website you visit, or great guitar player you ask, the first step to becoming a great guitar player is practicing. The Law of 10,000 is a documented, scientifically-proven fact that states that you become an expert in something by practicing it for 10,000 hours! Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 10,000 hours to spare. Even if you spent 30 minutes a day playing, it would theoretically take you 54 years to become an expert. We know this isn’t true, because most famous guitar players become famous or experts of their field well before they are in their 60s and 70s. So you need to maximize your practicing time, covering all areas of your guitar playing to make you a well-rounded guitarist, capable of performing in any kind of venue. This will help make you an expert in a significantly less amount of time than 10,000 hours. With the right amount of practice and concentration, you can become a great guitar player in a year or two.
2. Listen, Listen, Listen
Anything you play on guitar has probably been played by someone else so far. The key to becoming a well-rounded guitar player is to learn from other guitar players. The first step to this is to listen and find what you want to learn! Almost all great songs were inspired by other songs written by other people. So when you’re looking for inspiration, try learning a couple of songs and use what you have learned to create your own. The next thing you know, you’ll have your own song that’s completely unique!
3. The More Licks, The Better
The next step to becoming a great, well-rounded guitar player is building up what is called your “lick vocabulary”. This is somewhat similar to step number 2, but is more cumulative. Building a lick vocabulary is when you learn bits and pieces from multitudes of songs, and then use that compilation of licks in your own playing! All great guitar players are walking “lick dictionaries”, inspired by their favorite guitarists. So pick your most inspiring guitarists, and learn their stuff, and apply it to your playing.
4. Keep An Open Mind
Do not shut yourself down to any genre of music. There is something to be learned from all forms of music. Any innovative techniques that were introduced to guitar playing were when a guitar player took an idea from genres of music different than what they were playing. The more you study and listen to music, the more you will realize that licks and riffs are universal and don’t have to be constrained by the style that they are typically played in. A blues lick in the key of E minor will work for a rock, jazz, country, pop, funk, whatever-else-you-can-name so long as it is also in the key of E minor. Don’t limit and constrain your creative juices by only being inspired by certain genres of music! The times when my guitar playing grew the most were the times when I was exploring other genres of music that I had not been open to before! The more open you are, the more ideas can flow in your head and be used later on in your playing. Sometimes it is hard to know where to start with a genre. The internet is a very useful tool for that problem, offering sites like Pandora and 8Tracks, in which you can use one band to find many others!
No, I don’t mean hit the gym. I mean exercise those fingers of yours! The best way to do this is to learn finger exercises that will strengthen your fingers and increase your playing speed. Doing this will allow you to learn licks more quickly and efficiently. You can have all these ideas, but if you don’t have the muscle to make them come to life, they aren’t any good. So it is just as important to exercise your finger muscles with finger exercises as it is to exercise your brain by building up your “lick vocab”. What good is it to know licks if you don’t have the strength or speed to play them? Having good technique is important, and the best way to develop good technique is guitar exercises. For 5 Exercises to improve your playing, check out my article here.
6. Buy Good Equipment
You can’t become a guitar god on a $99 guitar. So if you’re serious about guitar-playing, show that you are by investing in good equipment that will help you grow as player. If you want to be a quality player, you need to have quality equipment.
7. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
There’s no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers. Curiosity wouldn’t have killed the cat if he was a guitar player, rather it would have made him better at playing! Whatever question you have, someone else probably has the same question too! Don’t be afraid to inquire in order to improve your understanding of the instrument and playing. Any questions you have, you can ask me, and I will try my best to answer them!
8. Find a Jam Pal
The most efficient way to practice is by practicing with others. Playing with others teaches you teamwork, improvisation, and you also learn from them by listening! It can also open your mind to other forms of music that you didn’t consider before. The more people you play with, the more well-rounded and adaptable you will become as a guitar player! The reason guitar teachers are an effective way to learn is not just because you have a mentor teaching you, but you are also playing with someone as you learn.
9. Record Your Ideas
If you have a good idea, don’t let it go to waste. Even if you think it’s a bad idea, record it! Some of the world’s best songs were what their creators thought were trash. Slash absolutely hated “Sweet Child of Mine” and it became a hit! Recording your ideas also allows you to further flush them out and turn them into something tangible. A riff is cool, but it is useless unless it has musical context. By recording your riff, you can listen to it and come up with musical context to fit it, or vice versa. Recording yourself also allows you to go back and listen to yourself from an objective viewpoint, and figure out how you can improve your playing! Is your timing off? Do you accidentally hit open strings often? These are all problems you can identify and address by recording and reflecting on your guitar playing.
10. Learn Some Theory
It’s hard to write a book without knowing the alphabet. Music theory is the alphabet of the music world. You need to know at least some to become a good guitar player. Knowledge is power, and by knowing theory you will be able to adapt yourself to play in any situation. If you know the key to the song, and the appropriate scales and modes to use over that key, you can hop right into a song and start playing. It’s also important to keep in mind that theory is more of a guideline than hard-fast rules. Theory is a good place to get you started with an idea, but the best ideas are the ones that bend the rules a little bit. For example, blues guitar players broke the rules of theory by playing an E-minor pentatonic scale over an E-major chord progression! One of the most influential genres in history was created by breaking the rules of theory. It’s important to know theory, but equally important to bend it as well.
There you have it! If you follow these steps, you will be on your way to becoming a guitar god in no time!