What are the main keys to improving your guitar playing skills? Focus and practice. And what are the keys to improving your practice skills? Commitment and discipline Wishing to become better at anything, including guitar playing, without these traits is nothing more than a pipe dream. Face it: the chances of becoming the next guitar god are pretty slim. But that’s not why we’re in this. We do it for the love and passion we feel about improving our guitar playing prowess and for making the music we love.
Not too long ago, I interviewed my friend, Kelster Von Shredster, and asked him what held him back in his progress to guitar mastery.
“Lack of focus,” was his answer. “If I could focus more, I think my guitar playing would radically improve.”
I also asked him what keeps him motivated to play.
“When you love guitar as much as I do – and I’m sure many guitarists feel like this – I don’t really ever consider it practice or a chore. I play all the time and I play every day. I don’t think there’s a day (where) I don’t pick up the guitar.. I play every day. I love it and I’ll never stop.”
I firmly believe that passion and love for the guitar are huge first ingredients in improving your guitar playing but they are only a part of the equation. You need discipline and by discipline, I mean you need a set routine. Just like the champion athlete who “takes shots til eight” (Tom Cochrane), or shoots baskets until all his/her teammates have left the gym, the true guitar professional will focus on the fundamentals that make him or her a true guitar master and keep repeating them over and over. Scales, finger exercises, and studying music theory may not be everyone’s cup of tea but they are essential building blocks in your foundation as a musician and proficient guitarist.
I asked Kelster about his practice routine and he answered,
“(I play) an hour a day…But I don’t really have a set practice regimen and I’m weak in that respect. I really need to be more disciplined and focused.”
Which is why, as he says, after thirty-eight years of playing, he hasn’t progressed as much as he would have liked to.
“If I could focus more, I think my guitar playing would radically improve,” he added.
What does it take you may ask? In my opinion, you need to break it down into smaller and more manageable steps. As a guitarist, there is always something new to learn and there will always be some area of your guitar playing that you will feel needs to be improved. Having a goal and making a plan to achieve your goal – bit by bit – will help you get there.
“Incremental increases will get you to where you want to get to,” says Kelster. He added, “slow and steady wins the race.”
For myself, when I practice, I usually start with finger exercises. The exercises I use come from a book I bought at Long & McQuade a few years ago. The name of the book is “Shredding Guitar Workout,” by German Schauss, Alfred Music, ISBN-10: 1-4706-1518-5. At the very front of the book, there is a series called “warm-ups.” To me, they are not only warm-ups but are also incredibly useful finger exercises, which have vastly improved my digital dexterity. I try to do these exercises at least four or five times a week, and anytime before I get up on stage to play live.
As well as these exercises, I also practice scales and arpeggios. Whenever possible, I also practice triplets. Not only do these routines help to keep my fingers and hands flexible and limber, they also help me to better understand the way my instrument sounds and responds to the different things I apply to it.
Learning new songs is also a great way to become a better player. And when you feel confident enough, writing and recording your own music will also help you down the road on your guitar learning journey.
In a blog post on www.blog.reverbnation.com, dated May 20, 2020, author Patrick McGuire outlines “Four Things You Can Do Today To Become A Better Musician.” In the article, his four recommendations are:
“Set a weekly music-making schedule;”
“Take online music lessons;”
“Start learning music theory;”
“Create goals by week, month, and year.”
All great advice and I hope you (and I) can stick to at least some of the recommendations.
To watch my full interview with Kelster Von Shredster, click the link below.