How To Get The Most Out Of Your Guitar Playing Ability

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There is a countless number of guitar players who think that the only way to get better at playing guitar is to:

  • Learn new things and ignore improving on the skills that they currently have
  • Work on one skill until they have that particular skill down

They don’t realize refining skills that they have, across many areas, at the same time is the best way to get better. That isn’t to say that learning new things or working on improving a particular skill doesn’t have its place. It does but it needs to be a part of an strategy for becoming a better guitar player.

Learning new stuff

Guitar players that try to learn new stuff all the time are almost always the ones that burn themselves out. The burnout comes from having a lot of things to play but make no improvement in their ability to play anything. They play all that material at the same level which is not the level they want to play at. The key to improving your guitar playing is building up the skills that you have. After that they need to apply those skills to different musical situations.

Why does burnout happen?

Burnout is also caused by: building one skill up so much without improving other skills at the same time. For example: Imagine you are watching/listening to a guitar player that was a fast lead guitar player. They can burn up and down the fretboard with ease and seem to play scales that go on forever. Seems cool right? Let’s now imagine that same guitar player playing rhythm guitar and then can’t seem to ever play tight and in time. No matter how simple the rhythm is they play stiff. They don’t have that same ability they have when playing lead guitar.

Improving disparities in guitar playing

There is an obvious reason for the disparity in rhythm and lead playing. That reason is spending too much time practicing scales and playing fast. While doing so they neglected working on their rhythm guitar playing. If you took a look at their guitar playing you would likely find that they have poor phrasing as well. They might be able to play a bunch of scale runs or arpeggios fast. If you broke those down you would likely find a guitar player who played the same rhythms over and over again. Their lead guitar playing would now seem as robotic to you as their rhythm guitar playing.

Different areas of guitar playing to focus on

In this case the guitar player in the example spent too much time only focusing on building up one skill- speed.  They sacrificed everything else to play as fast as possible. They didn’t see the value in building up other skills while they were building up their speed.  Most likely they thought being able to play fast would be impressive enough. They didn’t pay attention to timing, phrasing, dynamics and playing tight rhythm guitar. They have painted themselves into a corner. If they were in a situation where they are playing outside of their comfort zone, it would be hard to adjust.

Information Junkie

A different take on this is: imagine a guitar player who can play lots of stuff but can’t play anything well. They are always hacking their way through everything that they play. They focus more on adding more riffs, licks or partial songs to their repertoire. This kind of guitar player is the information junkie. They think that learning a bunch of new stuff is going to make them a better guitar player. To them it feels good to be learning something new. They either never think to improve things that they already know or they find that approach to be boring.

Importance of repetition

They don’t value improving through repetition, evaluating their guitar playing and then refining. They think they can do the same exact thing by always learning something new then moving on once it becomes old. This is the wrong approach to take. When it comes to improving it does nothing but keep their guitar playing at the same level. The chances to make any improvement at all goes way down — almost to zero.

The guitar players in both examples focused on the wrong things. They don’t see the value in taking the right approach to becoming a more complete guitar player. By complete guitar player I do not mean being able to play a bunch of different styles of music. I am talking about being able to play rhythm guitar as well as lead guitar. Being able to take a bunch of riffs, songs or guitar solos and play them well and playing them with ease.

Developing discipline

The best way to do this is to develop the discipline to improve your guitar playing in mulitple areas at once. There will be skills that take longer than others to improve. Sticking with them and continuing to improve them will pay off big time. It will build the confidence to know that if you are playing outside of your comfort zone you can adjust.

About the author:

Byron Marks teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced guitar lessons in Manchester, New Hampshire.