Let’s face it we all want to get better on the guitar. The question is how do we achieve that aim. Well we have distilled the collective knowledge and years of experience of every guitarists we know to compile our 10 top tips for getting better on the guitar. So here we have it our list of the 10 top tips for getting better on the guitar.
First up on our list is…
1. Choose your guitar wisely
This might sound like a strange thing to say but, mark my words, if you have a rubbish guitar you will lose the will to live and play guitar very quickly. What are the things that are going to make your life difficult as a novice guitarist? Think fretbuzz, string de-tuning or the action being too high, poorly dressed frets or a warped neck even crappy electrics. These are all things that I have encountered and have driven me absolutely nuts.
But it is not just a guitar that is poorly set-up that will dampen your enthusiasm. It can also be a case of choosing the wrong guitar for the music that you want to play. If you are a die-hard metal head you may want to avoid an acoustic guitar and instead head straight for the electric guitar section. Think of the type of music that you want to play and the type of guitar that your heroes play and then look for a similar guitar that matches your budget. I would also advise not going for the cheapest guitar that you can find. If you do then see above for all the issues you may find. To help you choose a suitable guitar we have reviewed some of the best affordable electric and acoustic guitars.
This is an easy one. I don’t know of any great guitarist who could just pick up the guitar and shred from day 1. They all became great on the guitar because they put in the hours. Practice, practice, practice and one more for luck – practice makes perfect. I am sorry but there is no way of getting around it, if you want to become an accomplished guitarist, then you are going to have to put in the hours and practice. Much of what we do on the guitar is all about training the muscles in our fingers and hands to do the right thing at the right time. Most of the technique that a guitarist learns is driven by a combination of muscle strength and muscle memory. Believe me when I say that if you practice a chord or a scale pattern long enough you won’t have to think about it, your fingers will just form the chord shape or skip through the scale. This is what I mean by a combination of muscle strength and muscle memory.
However, your practice also needs to be disciplined. Develop a practice routine which you do every day. This could include running through chord shapes or scale patterns up and down the length of the neck. One thing that will help you to structure your practicing is discussed in our next tip.
3. Get a Guitar Tutor
For those times where you just lose all your motivation and you feel that the guitar was designed to make you look stupid this is when having a good guitar tutor pays off.
A good guitar tutor will be able to keep you motivated by constantly teaching you new tips and tricks so that you can feel that you are starting to master the guitar. They will teach you the right way to learn to play the guitar and hopefully stop you from picking up any bad habits. You will also find that you will learn far quicker from a tutor than you would if you were teaching yourself. I can’t remember the number of times I have encountered something when learning to play the guitar which I just couldn’t get my head around. When you don’t understand something it prevents you from truly mastering it and this is very true of the guitar. Having a good guitar tutor will prevent this from happening.
Now I know that guitar tutors can be expensive, but if you have a good tutor they will more than pay for themselves in terms of the accelerated progress that you will make. But there is an alternative which is very popular. The growth of on-line guitar lessons in recent years has been quite remarkable and there are a number of providers out there that provide a wide range of lessons at very affordable prices. The two biggest providers of on-line guitar lessons are GuitarTricks and JamPlay. Both are based in the US, have huge numbers of users and provide excellent lessons at a fraction of the price of a physical guitar tutor. I can recommend both as excellent and well worth giving a go
4. Join a band
Certainly, if you are a novice on the guitar the idea of joining a band may well be a daunting one to you. However, it is amazing how quickly you will learn new things and progress on the guitar if you are surrounded by other musicians.
Let’s face it the guitar is a social instrument not meant to be played solo in your bedroom. What is more your talent will never be recognised if you only ever play the guitar in your bedroom. So pluck up your courage and get out there and find a band to join. Often it is a good idea to find a band that is of a similar level to you. If you are a novice and you have mates who are like minded form a band and practice. The competitive atmosphere created in a band environment, if harnessed correctly will help you progress far more quickly than you would if you were just strumming away by yourself.
5. Play slowly
I must admit that I am always blown away when I see a guitarist blaze out a solo where their fingers are flashing across the fretboard. However, don’t be hypnotised by the flashiness for every speed shredder there is a whole load more slow hand guitarists that are just as good if not better than the speed freaks. Think of Eric Clapton, David Gilmour or Brian May. They don’t play fast but they have created some of the most memorable guitar solos in the history of the guitar.
The one thing that you have to remember is that playing slowly is not easier. In fact you could say that it is a lot harder because when you play slowly if you get something wrong it often sounds pretty bad. So take it easy, slow everything down a bit and then once you have mastered the riff you are learning you can speed it up a bit. That leads us on nicely to my next tip which is to…
6. Play cleanly
When I say play cleanly I don’t mean play without distortion, although I will get to that in a minute. When you play something, whether it is a chord, scale pattern or song you should learn to play it cleanly with absolutely no mistakes. Remember our discussion on muscle memory? If you play something for long enough your muscles will gain a “memory” of that repetitive action and do it again without you even thinking about it. Well if you learn to play something badly, that is the memory your muscles are learning. Therefore every time you come to play that chord, scale or song you will always play it badly. So remember, slow it down, play it cleanly first and then speed it up as and when you can play it cleanly.
7. Play with a clean tone
You may not believe me but distortion covers a multitude of sins. If you want to play sloppy then turn up the distortion and fret away. However, you won’t become a good guitarist. Distortion creates a muddiness that can cover up for fretting mistakes which you just wouldn’t be able to get away with if you were playing with a clean tone. When you practice you should try to make sure that most of your practice is done on the clean channel of your amp. Only when you can play something without mistake on the clean channel should you then consider cranking up the distortion. Believe me if you play clean when it comes to playing dirty you will sound a whole lot better.
8. Learn as many chords as you can
I know that when I took up the guitar the only thing I wanted to do was to impress everyone with my soloing. For me playing a screaming cool guitar solo usually at lightning speed was all I wanted to do. However, a guitar solo does not make a song so you better learn those chords. Learning chords and understanding how they are created and fit together will make you a far better guitarist than learning to play scales really fast. Try to learn as many chord shapes as you can in all positions up and down the neck. If you do this you will be surprised how quickly you recognise common chord patterns that are used to write songs and will make you a better guitarist.
9. Learn the notes on the fretboard
This is a very boring tip but it will help you in the long term to become a better guitarist. Learning the positions of all the notes on the guitar fretboard, although not essential, is helpful to help you develop quickly as both a guitarist and perhaps more importantly as a musician. If you know where the notes are on the fretboard you can quickly find the root note of a chord or scale or change the key of a song. For years I fumbled around with key changes because I didn’t know the positions of the notes on the fretboard. But after a particularly embarassing practice session, within a day I had learnt the notes and have never looked back. Once learnt, never forgotten. Learn now and expand your potential as a guitarist.
10. Play with a beat
Whether this is with a metronome, drum machine or a real live drummer please always play with an actual beat and not just along with the natural rhythm of your body! You will be surprised how many guitarists just pick up the guitar and jam thinking that they are really rocking. However, when it comes to actually playing the music with a beat, to steal a quote from the Full Monty, their timing goes to cock. I know I was one of those guitarists and you don’t know how embarrassing it is to have the drummer point this out to you in gruesome detail.
Please for the sake of good music ask yourself this question. Can I play in time with a simple beat? If you don’t know the answer to this question then you have not been practicing with a metronome or drum machine, so go get one now. No excuses just do it!
That is it our top ten list of things that will make you a better guitarist.
However, I always believe in giving a little bit more to my readers. I will therefore give you one last tip as a bonus extra and that is…
Bonus Tip – Confidence
I think that there is one thing that will help you develop far quicker as a guitarist and that is confidence. If you can have confidence in yourself and your ability as a guitarist you will become a great guitarist. You may not become the next Jimi Hendrix or Steve Vai but you will have people who will watch you play and be truly mesmerised by your skill.
If you try and implement some of our 10 top tips for getting better on the guitar there is only one thing that will happen. You will get better on the guitar.
I wish you every success with playing the guitar.
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