For beginners and guitar veterans alike, everyone wants to know how to become a better guitarist. We see the greats and their flawless technique, we listen to monsters of the guitar and their mesmerizing melodies, and then we sit down and wonder how we can play like them.
There are many ways for you to become a better guitarist, but there are some things that I have found out over time through my own playing that would have helped me at earlier stages of my guitar career.
Here are 5 tips that can make you a better player.
1. Set up a Daily Practice Routine
Ah the dreaded word, practice. As someone who just wants to jam and have fun, I don’t like hearing the word either. But the importance of a daily practice routine cannot be stressed enough.
No I don’t mean sitting down and noodling on your guitar for an hour a day. We all want to have fun, and it’s better to noodle than to not play at all, but if you want to get better you will need more structure.
Let’s say for example you have an hour every day to play. It will be beneficial to you and your playing if you block out sections of that hour to work on specific techniques or other stuff.
I always make sure to prepare my routine before I start. I can give you an example of one of my past routines to help guide you.
My first 10 minutes would be spent practicing spider exercises. These are cross string exercises that are meant to increase the dexterity in both of your hands. Not really making music here, just working on technique.
The next 10 minutes would be for practicing scales. I would focus on technique, play slowly, and make sure every note would ring out. I would also use a metronome (very important).
After that would be practicing new chords for 10 minutes, then practicing transitioning between those chord shapes. After that would come theory, and then practicing a song to add to my repertoire.
So for an hour a day I worked on 6 skills. I would only practice for the 10 minutes I allotted to each one. I would give equal time to each skill and never went over the 10-minute mark for each skill.
Its also beneficial to save the last 10 minutes or so for just noodling. That way you can have a lot of fun applying what you just practiced in more natural situations.
I promise if you add a structured practice routine to your schedule, you will see improvements very quickly.
2. Try to Limit Finger Pressure When Playing
This one will be easier for beginners than it will be for more advanced players because of muscle memory, and not everyone will have this problem. I personally struggle with this one, especially when playing barre chords.
Have you ever seen a guitarist that is so smooth and buttery when they play that it looks completely effortless? One of the reasons is that that person has taken the time to figure out exactly how much pressure they need to apply when playing to make a note ring out.
I wish I would have known this when I started playing. It would have saved me a lot of hassle and trouble. If your hands hurt when you play, or if you have trouble playing smoothly then try this out real quick.
I want you to get out your guitar, yes right now. I want you to play an A note on the 5th fret on the low E string. Now before you press down on the string, let your finger hover over the string until it is barely touching it.
Now start plucking the muted string with your right hand and gradually start applying pressure with your left hand. Add pressure gradually until you apply the perfect amount in order for the note to sound out.
After that, pat yourself on the back because you have just found the perfect amount of pressure to use when playing that will make you able to move around the neck with less effort.
For the more advanced players it will be difficult to go against your tightly ingrained muscle memory, but if you stick to it, the end result will be so worth it. Try to be more aware of how much pressure you are applying when you play.
3. Be Aware of the Space Between your Fingers and the Strings
What do I mean by this? Let’s say for example you are playing a minor pentatonic scale. How far do your fingers come off of the fret board when you move your hand?
Are you moving your fingers far away from the fret board? If so, this costs you more energy and effort when playing. Just like you want to find the perfect amount of pressure, you want to find the perfect distance between your fingertips and the strings in order to maximize your efficiency.
If you watch many great guitarists that exhibit great technique, you will see that they barely lift their fingers off of the strings when playing. That is what gives them lightning fast chops.
But even if your goal isn’t to play fast, practicing this on a daily basis will improve your playing no matter what style you like.
4. Play Out of Your Comfort Zone and Learn New Styles
When I started playing guitar about 13 years ago, I solely stuck to playing rock and blues on my electric guitar. This gave me a solid foundation in scales and chords, but after a while It felt a bit stale.
I then had an uncle offer to give me a nylon string guitar that he found in his shed. I had never played one before so I graciously accepted. I put new strings on it and decided to learn how to play Für Elise by Beethoven.
It was at that moment that I accidentally opened a new door into a completely different style of playing; finger style. This blew my mind. I had only ever known to play with a plectrum before.
I then played only finger style for about 6 years. This brought me into the worlds of bluegrass, jazz, Celtic music, and funk. This all happened because I decided to push my boundaries and learn something that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with.
I started listening to different styles than I wasn’t accustomed to. It was honestly the best guitar decision I had ever made. My tastes changed, and so did my musical ideas and inspiration.
Now I’m not saying you have to go out and get a classical guitar, but don’t be afraid of pushing the boundaries and exploring more varied musical frontiers.
This also applies to the techniques you use. Always wanted to learn how to sweep pick? How about learning how to play a walking bass line?
Learning new techniques and styles will make you more versatile with a guitar and ultimately, a better guitarist. Don’t believe me? Learn a song in a new style that you like and see how much new inspiration you will get from just that one song.
5. Play by Ear more
This is a lesson that I just picked up on because of one of my good friends. About 7 months ago I met one of my best friends. We ended up jamming at a bar one night and I discovered that he was a phenomenal guitarist.
His technique was great, and he really knew how to work his way around the neck, but the thing that impressed me the most about him was his ear.
This guy can pick out any song that you throw at him, and he doesn’t have perfect pitch. I had to know how he got so good at “listening” to the guitar. He told me that whenever he sits down to learn a song, he will try as hard as he can to study the song by listening to it before looking up any tabs or videos.
He only refers to tabs and videos if he is completely stumped on something. That really stuck with me because I always copped out and went directly to tabs and videos when learning a new song.
I never tried to “hear” the song. I would always take the easy way. Since I met him I have been doing the same as him, and my musical ear has drastically improved.
I jam with people better, I can pick out melodies and arrange songs better, and I look at tabs and videos less. Now there are places for tabs and videos, but there is no substitute for an accurate ear.
If you only choose to follow one of the tips of this post, follow this one. It can only help you. And you don’t have to go try to learn Eruption by ear. Start simple. Find a cheesy 4-chord song that’s easy and try to pick out the chords or the melody just by listening.
The feeling of actually figuring it out is so great. Trust me. The importance of ear training can’t be stressed enough.
Take it slow
I realize that all of this information can be a lot to take in, but take it slow.
If you want to improve your guitar skills you need to be practicing consistently and always pushing your boundaries and trying to be better than before. But the benefits will come gradually.
A lot of players tend to look at a good guitarist after they have put in the hard work and effort to get good and get jealous of how good they are.
It’s the hard work and effort behind the scenes that they don’t see. If you want to be great, you need to put in the effort, period. It may not be what you want to hear, but its what you need to hear.
Practice hard, diligently, and every day. You will see progress if you do. Good Luck.
Do you have a practice routine? What kind of skills do you think are important to practice in order to become a better guitarist. Consider leaving a comment below and let me know! Keep pickin’.