Ten Ultimate Guitar Tips
Ten TOP TIPS for Practicing Guitarists!
Whoever you are, whatever your skill level—there’s always room to grow. Guitar is a lifelong passion and hopefully we all have many, many more years of exploring and getting better as players and composers. Here are ten tips to help spark your practicing, playing, and writing.
PRACTICE WITH A METRONOME
Think of practicing with a metronome as your karate training from Mr. Miyagi—you’ll think it’s boring and repetitive and sometimes even meaningless but then, when you least expect it, a drummer starts throwing punches at you and suddenly your instinctive skills kick in! When you practice, use a metronome as much as possible so you learn (and earn) the talent of timing.
KNOW THE NECK
The greatest favor you can do yourself is to know the neck of the guitar inside and out. Find every note everywhere: where are all the As across the neck, the Bs, the Cs, etc etc. Learn the map of notes across the neck then start learning the intervals between the notes and you’ll elevate your playing immediately.
Don’t be so literal all the time, yo. Though it is important to stick to your practice regimen, don’t be afraid to go off-book. Put on a record that you like and play over it. Record a loop of yourself playing a chord progression and then spend some time improvising over it; force yourself to try out different positions across the neck (see above!).
No need to spend 8 hours on the same thing, in fact—I bet if I looked up some actual studies, they’d show that spending too much time on something actually decreases effectiveness. You don’t want to burn out on whatever you’re practicing. Set a time limit for how long you’ll allow yourself to work on something in one sitting OR alternate exercises so your fingers (and mind) stay fresh.
Take the time to break down other people’s parts—it’s a priceless exercise that will train your ear and brain in a way that nothing else does. The more you do it, the better you will get at hearing what you are listening to and understanding how phrases and musical devices work- which is something you can apply to your own work immediately.
USE HEAVY PICKS
Thin picks are great for certain playing styles, but you have to account for them bending against the strings in your strumming and picking. During practice, select a heavier, sturdier pick for better accuracy and control in your alternate picking and strumming.
Want to get out of the box? Use a constraint to force yourself to play differently. One great way to do this is to limit yourself to using one string. Learn a scale on a single string and then use that single string to improvise some phrases and licks. If you really want to push it, limit yourself to one string AND add a slide onto your left hand.
Use contrast to your benefit. Use the whole range of dynamics available to you, not just slow/fast or soft/hard – be cognizant of natural dynamics in your playing and work to not fall into patterns. Use dynamics to create power in your parts—an unexpected shift in volume or intensity can give major impact to your compositions.
STAY IN TUNE
Always keep a tuner handy. Keep your guitar in tune throughout your whole practice—if your guitar goes even slightly out of tune, it sends some mixed subtle messages to your brain and ears and you’ll subconsciously resist practicing because it sounds bad! Stay in tune and you’ll practice longer with less resistance. Resistance: it’s futile.
REWARD YOURSELF WITH FUN
Drilling on scales and arpeggios can be fun in its own way (for the masochists among us) but for many, doing the drills is the arduous work of practicing. Do the work, but always reward yourself—make time to jam with friends and colleagues, sit in on sets, book yourself some shows, or you know, if shopping is your thing, perhaps you earned yourself a new guitar. (Full disclosure: that’s my own personal reward. I must practice a lot to have rewarded myself so many times…)
It’s the weekend- perfect time to get in an hour or two of hard work on our 6-strings (or 7- 8- strings, or bass, or baritone, or uke – you get the picture)… Happy practicing and we’ll see you next week in the Corner!