How To Improve Your Guitar Skills | 12 Critical tips
If you are an aspiring guitarist who dreams to join the likes of the best guitar players, there are some crucial elements that you should learn in order to reach your potential. The bad news (which isn’t so bad) is that it will take quite some time. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be boring.
Here you will learn how to improve your guitar skills by breaking down your practice schedule into certain focused sessions and you will learn useful ideas.
It’s suggested that you focus on a few areas but not so many that you are overwhelmed or spread too thin. By focusing on a few sections rather than one, you will develop in those areas and later on, you can combine them to create something awesome.
Let’s see an example. If your primary objective was to learn sweep picking and improvisation, there is no reason why you can’t do both. Sure you can practice sweep picking for a year, but when it comes time to improvise you won’t know what to do, so you will need to spend some time learning that as well.
If you devote some time every day for both segments you can slowly combine them, giving you quicker gratification and making the process a lot more enjoyable.
Focusing on one aspect can be tedious if it is highly repetitive.
Moving forward, here are the strongest tips on how to improve your guitar skills using a wide range of ideas.
1. Don’t Noodle Around!
This is the strongest form of procrastination when it comes to reaching your goals on the guitar. A good number of guitar players will spend YEARS playing around but not making any serious progress towards their goals. The temptation of ripping out your favourite song is hard to resist but not having some discipline will negatively impact you in the medium to long-term.
What is noodling around? It's usually doing on the following:
- Playing random stuff that makes no sense whatsoever
- Playing the same song countless amount of times without working towards your goals
Not all noodling is bad though. If you're testing out a new guitar or just want to enjoy yourself then go for it, just always make the time to work on your objectives even if it’s in slow increments. Noodling is highly effective for creating your own unique guitar licks.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
Alexander Graham Bell
2. Listen To Guitar Players That You Haven’t Heard Of Before
One common thing that is noticeable amongst a plethora of guitarists is that they sound the same. The main cause of this is listening to the same influences. If you were to pick five new students to learn the guitar and train them for a year and get them to listen to only one guitarist, there is a very good chance that they will sound the same.
Why? All of the students will derive their licks from the same players resulting in the same sound. Choosing more guitarists is a great idea because it will expand your lick library but also give you some ideas (careful though as a lot of guitarists will sound the same and you might even up rehash the same ideas).
If you are interested in some great guitar players who sound like no one else, then here are some great picks.
There are plenty to choose from, but find licks from players that you like and try to incorporate it into your own style. As you pick and choose what licks you like, you will start to define your guitar sound.
Are you the type to only learn blues licks and have done so for the past few years? It’s a no-brainer that you will sound like a blues player. Do you play Kirk Hammett’s E Minor pentatonic licks? Then you will sound similar to Kirk Hammett.
It’s crucial that you don’t just copy them note for note, but you make the lick into your own. Or if you REALLY want to be original, start noodling around the fretboard and play with random notes until you get a cool sound.
BONUS TIP! Don’t forget to record yourself! The amount of times that you will play something cool, try to remember it, and get it lost in the abyss forever is very common. When it comes to improvisation sometimes you will just feel the music and you will rip out something out of nowhere that sounds great, only to disappear forever.
3. Don’t Focus On The Unnecessary!
You’ve had most likely heard the following (especially from YouTube with all the clickbait going around):
- You need to learn the cage system
- You need to learn all scales in all 5 shapes
- You need to know all of your guitar arpeggios
- You need to learn your 3 notes per string pattern
- The most important scale
- Top things that guitar players must know
Most of the content that you will come across, is simply a waste of your time and is only adding to the complexity of your guitar playing. There is just too much information out there, and it can make it extremely difficult to focus on your goals. One person says this, and then another person says something else.
The best advice that you can receive is to focus on the things that YOU want to learn and forget the rest as it’s just noise. Yes, there will be times that you will have the learn things that you don’t like to reach your goals, but being able to distinguish between that and noise is critical.
4. Consistency Is Key For EVERYTHING
Who do you think will become the better guitar player? The person who practices 7 hours on a Sunday or the person who practices one hour every day? Playing the guitar is very much like going to the gym. If you only practice one day a week (even if it’s doinng long hours) then you are giving your body too much time to rest. The same applies for the guitar.
There are NO excuses when it comes to this, there is always a way to make more time it’s just simply a matter of your priorities. Working on your time management skills will greatly benefit you both in the short run and the long run.
It’s a well-known fact that applying something consistently over a long period of time will usually yield positive results. Of course, this won’t always be the case. It can be crushing when you have been working on something for years only to not see any results.
The solution to this is simple. You have blind spots and you obviously can’t see them, so the BEST solution to this is to hire a guitar teacher, even if it’s just for a few sessions.
Visit a guitar teacher, talk to them about the challenges you are facing and they will tailor a plan that will work perfectly for you. This works because they have been there and done that, so that can show you the easiest and the most effective methods for reaching your goals.
In fact, there is no better way to learn something than to have a teacher. Learning by yourself can be painstaking and is highly ineffective. There is a solid chance that you will run into some bad habits or doing things the wrong way.
BONUS TIP! Be deeply focused. Let’s use arpeggios as an example. Whilst practicing, you will be tempted to break off for a second and experiment or play around. Avoid this at all costs! There is a time and place to do that, and it’s not during practice time.
Every time you can get one more repetition in there, it's one step closer to reaching your goals. It’s as simple as that. You shouldn’t rush the process, but the faster you reach your goals, the happier you will usually be.
Obstacles such as procrastination, uncertainty and inconsistency may leave you with regrets later when you look back thinking “I could have achieved a lot more if I just put in more work”. Put in the hard yards now and it will pay off in dividends.
5. Practice Standing Up
If you wish to perform in a live band situation it’s important that you practice standing up as you will usually perform standing up. It’s highly unlikely that you will sit down when performing. Playing sitting down is a lot different to standing up in terms of the feel.
Even if you only play to yourself, you never know what situation you will run into. If you want to know to improve your guitar skills / become a better player, then having the ability to stand up while you play is something that is great to add to your to-do list.
Obviously, it’s not mandatory, but it’s definitely worth the consideration. As mentioned before only learn the things that you want to learn.
6. ALWAYS Work On Your Ear
Ear training is an overlooked aspect of guitar playing, and it’s one of the most important things that you can add to your bucket list. Anyone who aspires to be a great musician should seriously give some thought to this. All of your favourite guitar players most likely have been working on their ear for 20-30+ years.
Here are some of the amazing benefits to just name a few:
- Play what you hear in your head – This is the holy grail for guitar players everywhere. To have the ability to play what you are thinking when a backing track comes on.
- Learn songs accurately – Are you the type to rely on guitar tabs because it’s just soo much easier? Or do you watch YouTube tutorials? Well, you will find that after developing a strong ear, if you were to play to those tabs that there are many wrong notes.
Keep in mind, as you begin your ear training journey by learning songs you will get it wrong at first but this is ok. Keep learning songs, and come back to the old ones so you make the appropriate corrections.
- Learn ANY song you want – If you listen to uncommon songs, you might find a hard time finding tabs for it. If you do find any tabs, they are probably highly inaccurate.
7. Work On Your Vibrato
It’s common that a wide selection of guitar players can play fast, when it comes down to shaking that string they fall flat. Having a decent vibrato adds a lot of flavour to your playing. Imagine playing your favourite songs without bending the strings, how bland it would sound.
Improving your vibrato on the guitar is quite simple. Start by learning your favourite songs and when it comes to bending, try to replicate it. By being able to produce the same bend you will have lifted your bending ability to another level.
It’s a good idea to attempt to make the vibrato your own. What makes you unique and stand out from other players is the ability to create your own sound, and having your own vibrato is part of that.
8. Sing What You’re Playing!
This is not a referral to singing while you are playing in a traditional fashion. Whenever you play a note make sure to sing it out loud. The purpose of this exercise is to connect your ear with your musical mind so you can play what you hear inside your head. It’s very simple and 15 minutes of practice every day can make a big change.
You don’t need to be a great singer. In fact, being a terrible singer is just fine. When you sing the note, make any sound that you like just make sure it’s the same as the note you are playing.
Additionally, make music with your mouth first then translate it onto the fretboard. Just sing something like “Nah… NAH…Nah.nahhhh!” then try to play it. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. If your ear is fresh this will occur.
Check out this demonstration to find out how to do both exercises:
9. Focus on Hand Synchronization
Ever wondered the cause of sloppy guitar playing when it comes to sweep-picking or even alternate-picking? Bad hand synchronization is the answer.
When your hands are not in sync, they are all over the place and they aren’t hitting the correct notes at the right time. Improving this skill takes some patience but it isn’t difficult and you have heard it a million times. Play SLOW before you can play fast.
Let’s us an arpeggio for this example. If you want to learn the ‘A’ Major arpeggio, then you should be able to play EVERY note 100% clean before moving onto a higher tempo. Trying to shortcut the process by playing something like 95% clean on a certain tempo before moving on will just make you sloppier.
Metronomes are a great tool to invest into. They keep track of your bpm’s and allows you to measure at what speed you can play certain ideas.
Crank up that amp! An easy way to hear if you are sloppy or have bad sounding notes is to simply turn your amp up. You don’t need to blow down the neighbours but have it loud enough so you can hear every note clearly.
10. Stop Being So Stiff!
It’s all too common to have your fingers pressing down on the fretboard as hard as possible, but this is harmful. By removing tension from your body when playing will help you sound more accurate and will make it easier to play.
The first step is to find the pain. Start playing and try to feel where you are experiencing the pain. If it’s on your fingers when gripping the chord, then simply release the tension in that area.
Because you have ingrained yourself into this pattern it will take some time before it truly breaks off, but it will just make playing the guitar so much more enjoyable.
When doing heavy down picking you will feel a lot of tension on your upper and lower arm, try to play with the least amount of resistance. On main guitar riffs like “Blackened” by Metallica, you will find because it’s played super-fast that you will tense up.
Besides having to practice a lot before you can get it down, you also need to pay attention to how you are using your energy.
11. Find A Jam Buddy
It cannot be emphasized enough how beneficial it is to have a bandmate, especially one who is at a much higher level than you. Not only can you learn things that you have never learned before, but you can challenge each other to learn new material.
Having a jam buddy will also inspire you to write new stuff and to also build your confidence in your ability.
In addition to this, it’s a pretty good idea to join a band. By having a few different musicians, you really need to be up your game. You will have to keep in time with the drummer, the bass player, and the other guitarist. You all need to be in sync.
Playing to yourself with a backing track is much, much different than playing with a real person. You will have no choice but to improve as a bandmember, because if you are playing gigs everyone will expect that you are ready.
If you’re not, you might receive the boot so there is definitely some motivation there.
12. Learn Theory
This is probably the last thing you want to hear, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it sounds. It seems that every guitar player, dreads learning about theory but in actual fact, it’s not so bad.
Theory doesn’t have to be boring, infact it can be fun if you know what you’re doing. You don’t need to learn everything, just what is required to reach your goals. There are countless topics on theory such as:
- 3 notes per string
- The caged system
- Guitar modes
- Guitar chords such as suspended, seventh, sixth, diminished chords and much more
- A multitude of guitar scales
- Musical keys
- Sheet music
- Chord Construction
This is a big list, but whatever piece of theory you are learning take it one concept at a time and try to make it as practical as possible. If you are reading a book cover to cover, it’s no wonder you are bored out of your mind.
Not only is this highly ineffective, but you will learn nothing because you have had no reinforcement along the way.
If you are learning intervals then just learn one interval. Learn what an interval and do the appropriate exercise for one interval and slowly move onto the next.
These are the top tips on how to improve your guitar skills. Remember to not rush the journey, enjoy it instead. Stay focused on your goals and remember to set some time on the side to mess about.
Hopefully, this has helped. What are your top tips to improve your skills on the guitar?