10 Ways to Become a Better Guitarist

Posted on Posted in Guitar

As a guitarist it’s most essential to improve. Here are ten items that I’ve been thinking about from my encounters with other guitarists and through my own experience in teaching. I’ve noticed a few gaps in the process of learning how to become a well-rounded guitarist. These steps will help in developing your skill and style.


1.) Figure out the theory on the piano and transfer it over to the guitar.

From a visual standpoint, the piano is much easier to see than the guitar. It helps to run drills such as triad and 7th chord inversions in all 12 keys. It’s easier to see the intervallic relationships with each voicing, especially as you begin to experiment with spacing out the notes in the chord. It also helps to have both hands available because you can play a chord as a reference point to a melodic idea. With the right hand available, you can find what notes work best with the sound of the chord. Most importantly, the piano allows you to think less about patterns and more about the relationships between the notes.


2.) Gradually progress in a logical order to avoid burnout.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Progress should flow naturally. I noticed the importance of this step with my marathon training. When I started doing speed-work, I started running shorter distances of 200 meters up a hill before I progressed to longer intervals. By starting with a shorter distance it made it easier to sprint a longer distance. Focus on the task at hand, no matter how simple. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a concept is too elementary. After all, how essential are key centers and triads?


3.) Give yourself time to keep learning.

We live in an age of distractions. Although it’s really easy to obtain information many times we hit the wall due overloading our minds. This is why it’s important to set short and long-term goals. Give yourself a timetable and keep everything simple. Sometimes it’s better to work only on one concept instead of deciphering five different pictures. You should never force the process. This makes your ideas sound stiff.


4.) Focus on the little things.

Make sure you focus on your posture. Sit up straight and keep proper form. Also, make sure to breathe when playing notes. This will make your playing sound less robotic and more natural. When learning music, exhaust all fingering possibilities to find the most efficient way to play a passage. Studying classical guitar helps develop this skill. Focus on proper technique. Your tone comes from your mind and fingers and not the guitar itself.


5.) Work towards developing your own style.

Though it’s important to have and hear your influences, you don’t want to imitate them. Writing your own material helps. Develop a vocabulary list by transcribing your favorite artists or find a lesson explaining a concept they use. You want to work with piecing together the fragments you like. Use these as a springboard for your own creative interpretation as a guitarist. The process becomes easier if you work on it consistently. You’ll begin to find other ways to expand the material to mold into your own. If you develop your ear and have a working knowledge of theory it will help. The key is to not let theory box you in creatively. Don’t feel afraid to break rules.


6.) Invest in ear training.

It’s crucial to hear intervals, chord qualities, rhythms and melodies. This not only allows you to progress faster, but it also helps you communicate better with other musicians. There will be times when you will have to create a guitar part out of little to no information. If you can hear what the rest of the band is doing, creating a part will become much easier. For prewritten parts, please don’t glue your eyes to the music stand. Look to communicate with other musicians. Individualize the part to fit your style.


7.) When accompanying vocalists, listen to their melodic lines.

A great way to mature as a guitarist is to begin accompanying and arranging music for vocalists. When a singer has to change keys, this helps with your transposition skills (try not to use a capo). It also helps to internalize vocal melodies. This makes your playing more melodic. It’s also a great way to begin to experiment with chord reharmonizations and superimposing. You’ll become more aware of tempo when accompanying singers.


8.) Don’t shy away from playing, but don’t play too much that it becomes a distraction.

In my experience usually a guitarist plays too much or too little. I try to listen as much to the whole ensemble to see what enhances the music. Think about how to contribute to the music especially if you’re playing with multiple guitarists. Check to see what range isn’t covered. Sometimes the music needs constant rhythm, but sometimes it just needs some icing at the top. Listen to space. If you’re playing with a good piano player a lot of that space is filled, so try to come up with something unique that helps shape an arrangement.


9.) Don’t become frustrated.

Working towards achieving the next level of playing takes time. If you’re more advanced, you’ve probably encountered the principle of diminishing returns. It’s best just to diligently work through material consistently. Don’t worry about how and what other people around you are playing. Who knows yourself better than you? Once you achieve that next level, find an interesting way to present it.


10.) Take care of yourself.

I believe in taking days off from the guitar, especially when you’re working extremely hard. It helps refresh the mind. From a creative side, it helps with seeing a concept from a different angle. It helps to sleep well and exercise. It’s easy to burnout from traveling and playing shows each night as well. It’s important to take some time away from that stress. Setting and practicing boundaries helps you maintain a well-balanced lifestyle.


Now that you’ve read these steps, don’t wait to start improving. Begin by writing some short-term goals and then construct a reasonable to-do list. As you work, keep in mind these points. You’ll soon be on your way to unlocking the next level in your musicianship as a guitarist.

About Nick Grinlinton

Nick Grinlinton has written 105 entries on this blog.

Nick Grinlinton is a guitarist, composer and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He is a two-time ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award finalist and has composed and played music for Jerry Seinfeld's web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee". A speedy runner, Nick currently focuses on racing distances from the mile all the way to the marathon. As he continues to train daily, he is currently examining what effect music has towards running. To learn more and to contact Nick, visit his website.

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