Continuous learning in the world of guitar can be an arduous and frustrating endeavor. But if you truly have desire to improve, learn and perfect your craft, don’t despair because there are certain concrete steps you can take now to help you on your journey to guitar mastery.
Practice every day
As simple as that. Practice a little every day. Just 10 minutes a day; that’s all it takes. But as they say, practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Make sure what you practice is useful and helps you on your journey. I value skills development over simply practicing songs by a large margin. Once you master basic guitar skills, learning new songs becomes that much easier.
Make sure to have a practice routine or practice regimen, if you prefer. For this, I recommend talking to a good guitar teacher or coach. You can also refer to instructional books or instructional videos on YouTube. My practice routine involves running through some finger exercises to maximize my dexterity. I then practice scales and arpeggios. Then I practice exercises that I learned and continue to learn from one of my favorite instructional books, “Shredding Guitar Workout” by German Schauss, Alfred Music, 2012, that I bought at Long & McQuade Musical Instruments. Then, if I have time, I will practice songs that I am currently learning or writing.
Along with practicing every day, try to learn something new about playing guitar every day. When you’re advanced enough, I recommend learning and practicing scales and arpeggios as much as possible. I also recommend practicing and learning chords, especially barre chords. Barre chords are so liberating and offer so much versatility. Learning them also helps you better understand scales and learning scales helps you learn barre chords – they work hand in hand.
Practice with a metronome and/or a drum machine
One of the best things about the ability to play guitar is being able to play with other musicians and in the process, forming good friendships. Do yourself and your future friends a favor and learn to play in time. I’ll admit, my timing hasn’t always been the greatest and I have been criticized for it in the past. When receiving criticism you can either learn from it or sulk and get all defensive. I chose to learn from it. A former guitar teacher of mine insisted that I always practice with a metronome, something which I have done faithfully for well over ten years and it has improved my guitar playing immensely. For this advice, I am eternally grateful to him. He also made me learn and practice triplets, which are tremendously helpful for developing one’s guitar playing style.
Learn to play drums
I borrowed this advice from Guitar Player magazine. I read an article in that great magazine a few years ago, which recommended that one of the best ways to improve your guitar playing is to learn to play drums. This advice is a corollary to the previous point in that learning to play drums will teach you to play in time. I took drum lessons for about a year and try to play a little drums any chance I get. It really has helped to improve my timing and my guitar playing in general.
I would rather play with another guitar player who is more or less limited in his or her playing but plays in time, than play with a guitar player who thinks they are the next incarnation of Jim Hendrix but can’t play in time. I’m pretty sure most other musicians would agree.
Join a band
Being in a band will push you to keep improving your playing and your timing. When playing in a group, keeping time is your most critical task. You have to keep the same tempo as everyone else. Playing in a band will go a long way towards developing your timing. Being in a band will also force you to learn songs thoroughly because knowing your parts is a close second to keeping time in terms of critical band skills. It also helps if the other band members are a little more advanced or more talented than you are because there’s nothing like the push of trying to emulate those you admire.
As well as joining a band, keeping in contact with fellow musicians through social media, text, and good old fashion telephone conversations to exchange ideas, advice and tips will help your development as a musician. I find it kind of amusing and a maybe a little scary just how music-centric my Facebook feed is – a product of my interests and obsessions I suppose.
Learn songs that challenge you
Even if you don’t ever plan to ever play that complicated and confounding song you’re learning in front of anyone, pushing your limits will definitely improve your guitar playing. You will never run out of songs to learn. Always strive to go beyond your current limits in order to expand and improve your playing. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish and at how much you can advance as a guitarist by striving to learn new material that challenges you.
Bonus tip: Write and record your own material (especially if you pay for studio time)
There’s nothing like the clock burning up your cash to force you to come prepared. Even if you are recording your own material, practice and rehearse it. I am always amazed at how easy it is to flub my own material. Arrogance is the enemy of improvement. Don’t assume you can go in cold and record your tunes. Trust me, I know from experience. You need to rehearse your material over and over to avoid embarrassment and more importantly, to avoid wasting precious (and EXPENSIVE) studio time.
Yes…I know: I have a laptop, recording gear, and a DAW too. But getting recorded by a trained professional is a whole other level of recording and well worth the investment. Having a trained professional who has worked with all kinds of professional musicians before you is very intimidating and will force you to step your game up considerably. Besides, the studios I’ve worked in have thousands of dollars of equipment that dwarf the quality of my home studio. I use my home studio to work out my ideas and to practice.
Having your stuff recorded in a professional environment is a sure-fire way to improve your guitar playing and singing, if you are also a singer. It will also help to improve your songwriting. The engineer/producer doesn’t have to say anything out loud. You can pick up on his/her nuances and find out in a hurry if your material measures up to his or her other clients.
Guitar mastery is a never-ending journey fraught with danger and challenges. If you are committed to improvement, embrace the journey and all the ups and downs that come with it.