How to Become a Better Guitar Player
The journey of learning guitar can be filled with struggle and frustration. So many players, at all skill levels, become static in their progression from time to time. And it does take a lot to have the discipline to improve, but if you’re reading this then you probably agree that the end result is worth it. So, what does it really take to get better? Well, the simple answer is always going to be practice, but it goes a bit deeper than that. There are specific things you can start doing that most people learning don’t do. Below I’ve outlined the topics and tips that I think will make the most difference in how quickly you progress at guitar.
Start Learning by Ear
Learn to hate tabs. Yes, they can be nice to have in a pinch or for those who never learn how to read a staff, but don’t rely on them. In fact, try to get them out of your playing all together. Tabs often lead to so many of the little nuances getting overlooked and sometimes they’re just flat out wrong.
As a guitar player, your ears are second only to your hands in terms of importance. The better you develop them now, the more you will thank yourself later. You can go as far as to do some ear training to start being able to recognize different chord types and intervals. Yet, even if you just want to get better at learning songs, listening and figuring it out is a way better option than just looking up the tabs.
Give Song Writing a Shot
This applies even if you have no intention of ever being a songwriter. I think that all musicians can benefit from attempting to write their own music from time to time. Diving into this process will start to expose you to things like song structure and layering.
Writing music seems a lot scarier than it actually is. Don’t feel like you have to write a masterpiece on your first try. Because first off, you won’t, and secondly you have to fail for a while before you can get good at anything.
Even if you really don’t love the idea of being a “songwriter” I urge you to give it a try. You may be surprised just how much it can teach you about playing guitar.
Learn All the Notes on the Neck
This one is something most people wait way too long to do and others never seem to bother. Making the transition from thinking, 0-3-5 to E, G, A is a massive step towards developing your level of comprehension on the neck. I know we all hear those stories of some of the greats who were able to master the guitar without any music theory at all. But, for most people learning just a little bit can go a long way. If you really care about understanding the guitar, or music in general, learn your notes.
Nobody Cares About Your Tone
This is a harsh reality, but one that should not be ignored. The truth is, unless you are a working studio musician or super successful in some other way, your tone is not going to matter to anyone. Even if you are playing out a lot, the vast majority of people care so much more about your proficiency on the instrument. And it certainly will not be what makes you a better player.
I will admit that tone can benefit both your motivation to pick up your guitar and the overall enjoyment you get from playing. So, no I am not saying you should forget about gear and tone entirely. However, don’t be telling yourself that it is the key to playing better. We all know that S.R.V. would sound like himself whether you handed him a Custom Shop or Squier. In the context of becoming a better guitarist gear really does not matter.
Practice More Frequently
Ever go a few days or maybe even a week without picking up your guitar? This is super common with many people due to the nature of work, family, holidays and life in general. But I want to strongly encourage you to push yourself to pick up your instrument every day of the week. There is so much good that will come with maintaining a routine of playing guitar every single day.
But don’t think that you need to dedicate all your free time to practicing. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that shows shorter practice sessions can be much more effective than longer ones. The most important factor here is frequency. Basically, 15 minutes a day is much better than 2 hours straight on the weekend. And that 15-minute length is what I find to be a great daily goal for most people. It is short enough that you should be able to convince yourself to do it, but long enough to be productive.
Ultimately everyone is going to have to find whatever time that they can, but if you are able practice every day results will come much faster.
If you use your practice time to work on things that you have already mastered you're likely not going to end up where you want. I know plenty of players who have been playing the same few songs for years. Unless you really only want to become better at what you already know, you have to be practicing new things.
Don’t noodle. This is one I myself am very guilty of. We all have those licks and chords that feel so great to play that they become our go-tos. Well, if you really are serious about improving, try to mitigate these habits with more productive practice.
One of the very best ways you can spend your time practicing is to attack what you're bad at. This sounds simple enough, but it takes a certain amount of commitment because it is never as appealing on the surface. However, the rush that comes from actually learning something you struggled with is well worth it.
The final note I have for healthier practicing is to take things slow at first. Even if what you are playing isn’t focused on speed, still take the time to learn it slow. What this process will do is ensure that you are not glossing over mistakes or fine details. It can be easy to get the gist of something and never fully have it down. But if you commit to learning it clean people will notice the difference.
Nearly 9/10 people who attempt to learn guitar give it up within the first year. This is obviously for a slew of reasons, but I think it can largely be boiled down to a lack of progress. And honestly, this problem can exist in guitar players who have been playing for decades. I hope if you find yourself in this position that the above information will help you continue along your journey at a stronger rate.