By Byron Marks
When I was first learning to play guitar, I thought that to get better I had to learn new things all the time. It never occurred to me to take the skills I already had and improve those first. The common thought was “If I want to get better, I need more stuff to learn”. This isn’t true at all.
In this article I am going to show you how being an information junkie can slow your improvement. I’m not saying that wanting to learn more is a bad thing in itself. Improving your guitar playing doesn’t mean that you should learn new things all the time. If all you do is learn new things, you don’t give yourself a chance to improve the flaws in your guitar playing. You are increasing the odds that you are going to become frustrated with your guitar playing.
Let’s look at this a different way. Imagine that you aren’t able to keep a steady rhythm. Playing rhythm guitar in time is a big challenge for you. What would happen if you learned a new song everyday for a month and didn’t practice anything else? The thought most people have is “Awesome, I’ve learned 30 new songs”. Knowing 30 songs is cool, what isn’t cool is not being able to keep a steady rhythm for any of those 30 songs.
The reason the problem still exists after learning those songs is that you haven’t gotten to the root of the issue. That issue is, what does it take to be able to keep a steady rhythm? You thought that learning a new song everyday would be the fix but it wasn’t. Until you fix the actual issue it won’t be.
Instead of learning a new song everyday for a month, spend those 30 days improving your ability to play in time. You can do this with one song and then once the skill improves, learning more songs if you want. Your improved rhythm guitar playing will transfer over to those other songs. You don’t even have to learn a song to do it, you could spend the 30 days working on improving the skill. It is more fun to use a song as a benchmark — being able to play along with a recording from start to finish is awesome.
Here are some ways to improve your guitar playing (Rhythm and Lead):
1. Practice with a metronome or drum machine
– Playing along with either of these benefits you because the timing is always going to be right on. You have a compass to guide you.
2. Practice at slow tempos
-Practicing at a slow tempo gives your brain a chance to focus on what you are doing. It allows you to play relaxed. Playing relaxed is key to becoming a better guitar player. The best guitar players are always the most relaxed ones.
3. Pick a specific rhythm to play
-Start with something like quarter notes, playing on each click of the metronome. If playing along with a drum machine using a standard rock drum beat-play along with the bass drum and snare drum. Strum along with each beat.
4. Speed up the metronome (or drum machine)
-Once you feel comfortable at your starting speed, resist the urge to play a different rhythm. Speed up the metronome (or drum machine) by 5 or 10 beats pre minute (BPM) and do this again. Keep increasing the speed until you can only get through a measure (4 beats/strums) before everything falls apart.
5. Take a video of yourself playing
-When you watch the video you will be able to see things like your picking motion, the level of your shoulders, excess tension, how far away your fingers move from the fretboard… If you see that you are doing any of these things wrong, you can then set about correcting them. This alone will improve your guitar playing immensely. The changes may not happen overnight but they will happen. Stick with it
6. Record yourself playing (audio only) with the metronome or drum machine
-There is an old saying that the “Tape doesn’t lie” and its true. When you listen back to a recording of your playing you will hear if you are keeping solid time or not. You can also use a loop pedal if you have one to record yourself. Once you have created your loop, play along with it and see if you can keep time.
Once you have gone through some or all these steps, pick a different rhythm. Repeat the steps with the new rhythm. Once you have a more solid base you can experiment by mixing your rhythms and seeing how solid those are.
This approach to your guitar practicing and playing will have a massive benefit for you. As your skills start improving go back and play along with a song or songs that you want to learn. Ask yourself how much easier does it feel?
You have improved your skill level. Now, when you learn more songs the skills that you have worked on will transfer over to those songs. You improved your guitar playing but you didn’t learn anything new to do it. This is the way to go about mastering your guitar playing. It is fun to learn and play new stuff. What is even cooler is knowing that no matter what it is that you learn, you will be able to play it well. Your confidence in your guitar playing will skyrocket.
These skills will also help you to be a more creative guitar player if that is what you want to do. Think of how much easier it will be to create your own songs, riffs, licks or solos when you have control of your playing.
About The Author: Byron Marks teaches guitar lessons for beginners in Manchester, New Hampshire.