10 Tips that will make you a better Guitarist!
Today's topic is one that many of us struggle with. Everybody has a guitar Hero whether you are just starting out or you’re a full-blown guitar junkie with tons of guitars, pedal and dare I say even amps. We all have those guitar gods that we look up to and want to be able to play like but no matter what we do we all seem to reach a level where we feel we have reached the ceiling of our ability and just won't be able to get that good…
The secret is really simple it all comes down to Practice, and in this post, I will share with you a few tips that if followed to the letter will help you break through that annoying ceiling you feel trapped under. I have personally put this into place and I have been seeing results week on week.
For those of you who are like me and like to get to the point, this is a synopsis of what I hope you take away with you after reading this:
• Practice exercises that you enjoy.
• Play to a Click.
• Only you are accountable for your improvement.
• Put together a Practice Plan.
• Use a Timer to maintain focus.
• Play while standing.
• Shuffle your practice plan.
• Keep pushing yourself.
• If the exercise gets too comfortable, Chuck it.
• Practice at slow tempos.
“Every time you pick up your guitar to play, play as if it's the last time.” - Eric Clapton –
1. Practice what you love!
It is very important to remember why you picked up the guitar in the first place so with the same breath it should come as no surprise that if you practice the songs and exercises that you enjoy, practicing won't be such a chore and will quickly become a good habit this way. Besides, life is too short to struggle with things that don’t bring you joy especially when it comes to your time with your guitar.
There are so many tutorials out there these days (Thanks, YouTube) so if you are not practicing the songs and exercises that keep you focused on the reason you got into the guitar in the first place, it just means you are practicing the wrong stuff. The key here is not only spending time practicing but rather enjoying the time spent practicing.
“Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use.” - Stevie Ray Vaughan –
2. Tick Tock, Tick Tock remember to keep accurate time
A very wise man once said Practice Makes Perfect but an even wiser man said “Practice Makes Permanent” so it is incredibly important to practice to a Click or Metronome so that you are practicing things Right and strengthening your internal metronome at the same time. That said though I know, I know “But Practicing to a Click is boring as Hell!!”
In this day and age, we are lucky enough to have Drum Machine Apps at our disposal, these come in both free as well as paid for versions but they really are a game changer. Not only will you feel as though you have an actual “drummer” accompanying you while you practice your scales but without even knowing it, It could also help you develop a stronger internal sense of time
iOS: Drum Beats+, Drum Beats by Alvin Yu or Time Guru
Android: Drum Beats Metronome, Drum Beats+ Rhythm Metronome or Time Guru
This tip, in particular, is Gold! Not only will it take the monotony out of your practice sessions but you will find you are more productive during the time spent practicing.
“Rock stars come and go. Musicians play until they die.” - Eddie Van Halen –
3. Take Responsibility
The fact is that nobody is going to keep you to a routine or schedule other than yourself, so step up. Get a feel for when you are getting too comfortable with a certain exercise or song and actively push yourself to change things up. Set small targets for yourself and once you have reached them push on to something more intense. You will know when it is time to move on… remember just about anything is possible as long as you set your mind to it. You may not be able to eat an entire Elephant in a single sitting but one small bite at a time, eventually you will chomp up the whole thing.
If what you are working on starts to lose its appeal or you are not enjoying your sessions as much anymore, take a step back and play the stuff you love. Just don’t lose the love for the instrument, the more you play the more you will improve. The guitar is funny like that, you improve almost 100% week on week as long as you keep playing. The only real limitations are those you set for yourself.
“I just go where the guitar takes me.” - Angus Young –
4. I’ve got a Plan!
Make sure that before you even pick up your guitar, you know what you are going to be working on (It’s kinda like going to the Gym but for your brain) Keep a notepad handy (or keep it on your smartphone) I just find it is more tangible on a piece of paper but I’m old school like that… Make sure to keep a training plan this will help you to stay focused.
Write out a list of things you aim to work on for example:
• Warm Up (5 minutes)
• Dexterity (5 minutes)
• Scales (5 minutes)
• Chords (5 minutes)
• Picking speed (5 minutes)
• Finger picking Technique (5 minutes)
• Repertoire (15 minutes)
“The guitar has a kind of grit and excitement possessed by nothing else.” - Brian May –
5. Make Time
If you are like me and you are always saying “I just don’t get the time to play anymore” just remember that that’s a lie because 6 games of Fifa later you realize that you have been sitting on your ass “unwinding” where you could be allocating time to that beautiful guitar collecting dust over there in the corner.
Put together a structured practice routine and use a timer (there are hundreds of these kinds of apps on both iOS as well as Android not to mention that every phone has a built in timer functionality in its clock). This more than anything is going to keep you focused! So something like 5 minutes per section to focus on and a 10-minute workout on your Repertoire will make sure you don’t get carried away on any one specific section of your practice session plan. When the Timer stops, move on!
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you'll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you're gonna be rewarded.” - Jimi Hendrix –
6. Get up off your a$$
Besides the fact that sitting while practicing, or playing for that matter, does little to nothing for the development of your stage presence. It’s a really good idea to practice standing. If not your whole practice session, at least 15% of it. There is no question that playing while standing is by far harder than playing while in a seated position thanks largely to the obscure angles you will now be subjecting your hands to in order to pull off those chords and riffs. However, making this part of your practice routine will force you into the more common playing position and although this may seem uncomfortable at first, the payoff is a big one as over time you will notice it becomes second nature to play comfortably in either position.
You don’t want to find yourself in the position of being flawless in your performance (while seated) but then one day find yourself on a stage, shocked at how much harder it is to play while upright screwing up riffs you could previously play in your sleep (again while seated). Avoid this from becoming an eventuality and practice while standing, you Will thank me later for this little gem.
“The guitar is your first wings. It's assigned and designed to unfold your vision and imagination.” - Carlos Santana –
7. Scrambled eggs
Yes, a fried egg is good every now and again but a fried egg every day can get old faster than you think. Scramble those eggs up. Scrambled eggs are good for you.
To avoid your sessions becoming monotonous, change your exercises up at least three times a week. Start your session from the top of your exercise plan, then from the middle down and top to middle or just shuffle the exercise numbers up completely or drop it on its head and start from the bottom and work your way up. This way the creative spark will continue to flicker and you won't get bored and end up setting the guitar back down in the corner where it can become either a clothes horse or your tandard household dust collector.
One thing that needs to stay regimented is in terms of being the very first thing you do is your warm up scales as you will do more damage to your muscle memory not to mention your hands themselves without firing them up before you get cracking with your practice session no matter what sequence you decide to do the rest of your exercise plan in.
“Nothing can duplicate the sheer power and feeling you get from standing in front of your amp and bashing on your guitar.” - James Hetfield -
8. Never Stop Challenging Yourself
The old saying goes “No Pain, No Gain” and the same rings true when it comes to practicing. If you are not continuously challenging yourself, there is no way for you to improve. As soon as it becomes comfortable it may very well be time to press on to something a little more outside of your comfort zone. A good way to gauge this is to be able to identify after every single practice session what you managed to improve on.
“A guitar is like an old friend that is there with me.” - B. B. King –
9. If it gets Old, “Let it Go!”
To ensure that you don’t stagnate, make sure to do a little housekeeping every month or so. What do I mean? If you feel like you have gotten what you can out of a certain exercise, drop it like a sack of… Time to troll the internet (I like youtube) and find something new that is relevant to the learning path you are on and just remember to keep pushing the boundries of your comfortability. If it feels easy, it is and its time to kick it up a gear or two.
"Turn on, tune up, rock out." - Billy Gibbons –
10. Speed Kills, Remember, It’s All Above Muscle Memory.
This one does not only apply to the rules of the road but a common misconception is “If I want to shred as fast as the legen--wait for it-- and I hope you're not lactose intolerant, because the second half of the word is-- dary! Legendary! Joe Satriani that you have to practice fast… Nothing could be further from the truth. 'slow and steady wins the race' Remember “Practice makes permanent…
So with that said, spend approximately 30% of your practice time playing slowly, and I mean really slowly. Like 45 – 50 bpm slow. It’s all about building muscle memory so best you teach those muscles to do it right! This is a BIG one so let it sink in as this one tip alone will not only help you improve but ensure that you stand out. Remember, there is a very big difference between being able to play fast and playing fast and clean. This little tip will make all the difference I promise, as very few have the patience to put the time in to really teach their muscles correctly.
“I've always been on a personal mission to save the guitar.” - Tom Morello -
So there you have it, 10 sure fire tips to becoming a better guitarist. Believe me stick to these tips like glue and I guarantee you will see 100% improvement week on week. Hopefully you got something outta this. I’ll be back with another post soon. Feel free to drop a comment below if there is something you would add to this list or a topic you would like me to cover next.