Everyone wants to be able to improve their guitar playing.
Whether you are just getting started, or if you’ve been playing guitar for years, chances are that you would like to be a better guitar player than your are right now.
While there is no real quick fix to instantly turn you into a master guitar player, there are things you can do on a daily basis to help you make consistent improvements to your guitar playing over the weeks and years of your guitar playing.
In reality, there are no shortcuts to getting better at playing guitar. There is no magic knowledge, special training program, or lost secret that will make you a better guitar player overnight.
But you can make steady improvement in your guitar playing by developing certain habits and incorporating them into your practice sessions.
Throughout this lesson we will look at 7 things you can do on a daily basis to improve your guitar playing, keep your practice sessions interesting, and have more fun with your guitar playing.
Some of these strategies will seem to improve your playing quickly, while others will definitely take some time to sink in.
These things aren’t short cuts, but they will help you improve your guitar playing whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist.
You’ll notice that none of these things are actual guitar techniques, but instead are strategies for approaching your guitar practice.
Taking guitar lessons with a good instructor is a great way to make sure you are getting the advice and coaching you need. These ideas are intended to help you get the most out of your practice time in between guitar lessons.
These days it seems like everyone is busy. It can be a struggle for many of us to find time to practice, even if you really want to get better at playing guitar.
Part of the problem is that your mind builds practicing guitar up to being a bigger and bigger task the more you think about it.
The bigger a time commitment something becomes in your mind, the less likely you are to actually do that thing.
In short - if you assume it’s going to take you 30 minutes or more to get your practicing done, sooner or later you probably aren’t going to do it anymore.
A simple solution to this is to practice more often, for shorter amounts of time.
Instead of a big 30 minute block, try picking up your guitar for 5-10 minutes a few times a day.
Chances are you will end up spending more time actually playing guitar, without it feeling like a chore.
Playing for small amounts of time every day is going to help your guitar playing a lot more than practicing for an hour once or twice a week.
We’re all busy, so try to pick a realistic amount of time for you to play guitar at one time. This is going to be different for everybody, but try to err on the side of too short a time than too long.
If you plan on playing for 5 minutes but end up playing guitar for 15 minutes, that’s not a bad problem to have.
However if you plan to play for 20 minutes but end up not practicing because you couldn’t ind a 20 minute block of time that day, that’s going to have a negative impact on your guitar playing.
One thing that will really help you to practice more consistently is to build a habit around practicing.
Maybe you start picking up your guitar as soon as you pour a cup of coffee, or right when you get home from work or school.
Those events will become a trigger to make you want to pick up your guitar.
This means that over a period of time, playing guitar will become an automatic response to pouring your coffee, coming home from work or school, or whatever you decide you want to build your habit around.
At this point I don’t have the same amount of time to practice as I did when I was in college, but I do practice much more consistently.
Over time, the daily short practice sessions have helped me continue to improve my guitar playing even though I don’t get to spend as much time in the practice room.
Remember - practicing a little bit every day will give you better results than practicing a lot once or twice a week.
Do One Thing At A Time
There is a lot to learn when you’re playing guitar - even when you try to keep things as simple as possible, there can seem like an impossible amount of ground to cover.
The key is to develop your guitar playing skills one at a time, and create a rotation that will let you improve on every aspect of your playing over a the next weeks and months.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you realize how much can go into playing guitar. Whether you want to play jazz, country, rock, classical, worship, or any other kind of music on your guitar, there are certain skills you need to develop.
The mistake that most guitar students make is that they try to do too much at once to play “catch up” on what they feel like they have missed.
This creates an information overload, makes your practice less effective, and makes playing guitar more stressful because you feel like you should be better than you are.
Remember - you can’t be any better at guitar today than you are right now, but you can set yourself up to be a better guitar player tomorrow (and next week and next month).
Multitasking doesn’t really exist - trying to do multiple things at once just makes you shift your attention from topic to topic and doesn’t really let you focus on any one thing completely.
In reality, you can only get good at one thing at a time.
If you accept that and start really focusing on one skill at a time in your guitar practice, you’ll be surprised how much you can improve your guitar playing.
Start by picking a single skill to work on for a period of time - think in terms of weeks here. I’ll tend to work on a single skill for a period of 1-3 weeks, depending on how tricky it is.
If you have more time to practice on a daily basis, you can probably work on a skill for one week and be all set.
If you have less time on a daily basis, try going for 2-3 weeks with a single topic.
The topic is up to you, and will probably always need some fine tuning. Your guitar instructor can help you decide what to work on if you’re unsure.
You could work on a set of scale patterns, the chords to a song, arpeggio picking patterns, finger style drills, rhythm patterns, the list could go on and on.
The real goal is to pick a single topic and work on it for a while.
Once you’ve spent your 1-3 weeks, move on to the next skill on your list. After a few rounds of this, you’ll have a “cycle” you can use to keep making progress across the board in your guitar practice. You’ll find more on this in the next section.
It’s probably occurred to you that if you’re spending all this time working on your major scale patterns, you’re not getting any better at your chords.
That’s OK - in fact one of the keys to getting better is allowing yourself to be “selectively bad” at the skills you aren’t focusing on at the moment.
As long as you’re practicing guitar regularly and playing some songs here and there, you aren’t really going to get any worse at chords because you’re practicing scales - you just aren’t going to be able to make any significant improvements on your chords if you’re trying to get better at scales right now.
Practicing one skill at a time and cycling between the different areas of your playing will help you make steady improvement over time.
This process will let you make deeper, lasting improvements to each guitar skill that you practice, and lay a solid foundation for related guitar playing skills.
Remember - you can only get good at one thing at a time.
Work On Your Weakest Skills First
This one might seem like a no brainer - but if you’re going to get better at playing guitar, you have to practice the things you can’t already do.
While this seems obvious, there are a lot of people out there who spend the majority of their guitar playing time playing through material that they can already play.
This is one of the things that cause intermediate guitar players to get stuck in a rut with their guitar playing.
We all have areas of our guitar playing that we feel more comfortable with - and I’m sure you do too (even if it’s just a couple of chords that you like).
It’s tempting to spend more time on the things you can already do because you feel like it makes you sound good. And it will - for a while.
Over time you will get bored with it and wonder why you can’t ever seem to play anything new!
I’ve seen this over and over again with students who come to me after playing guitar for a while (sometimes even years), but feel like they are unable to get any better.
Once they start practicing on the weaker areas of their playing, they start seeing improvements relatively quickly.
If you want to improve your guitar playing, your best bet is to find an area of your guitar playing that isn’t comfortable for you and start there.
Whether it’s a skill that you just aren’t very good at yet, or something you have never done, this will be a good place for you to start practicing.
It can be uncomfortable to acknowledge something in your guitar playing that isn’t going so good, but it really is the best way forward.
The only different between the easy thing and the difficult thing is that you have done the easy thing more times.
Once you have practiced this for a while (1-3 weeks, as we talked about in the previous section), it’s time to move on to the next skill.
Not everything is going to be super hard for you, but you can always find a way to make an exercise or technique more challenging for you.
If you have trouble figuring out what to practice, ask your guitar teacher for help.
Be sure to cycle your practice material every few weeks. This will help you keep making progress in your playing, and keep your practice sessions interesting.
Different skills you could cycle are:
You could come up with as many or as few categories to work on as you want, the important thing is to cycle the practice material in a way that makes sense to you.
I have had good luck with this concept with my students, and in my own guitar playing. Give it a try, and I’m sure you will notice good results in your guitar playing.
Remember - work on your weakest skills first, and change your practice topics every few weeks.
Use Songs As A Practice Template
Most of us want to be able to play songs at some point. Even if you just want to play guitar in your bedroom, you probably want to be able to play at least a couple of songs.
While playing through songs is fun, you can also use them to get more out of your guitar practice time.
If you use songs you like as a template to practice and understand different guitar skills, you can improve your playing while making your practice time a little more musical.
Songs can be used as a template for you to practice your chords, scales, arpeggios, rhythm ideas, and anything else you might want to work on when you practice guitar.
You can practice changing chords through different sections of a song, work out new strumming patterns, practice arpeggio patterns through the song, and more.
You’ll be improving essential guitar skills that will make it easier for you to learn other songs in the future, and getting better at a song that you already like to play.
It might take a little creativity at first, but you will get used to using songs you know as a vehicle for practicing your guitar skills.
If you’re learning Brown Eyed Girl but you’re working on your pentatonic scales, you might try recording yourself playing the chords and using that to practice soloing with the scale pattern.
If you get stuck, ask your teacher at your next guitar lesson. They will be able to help you figure out what to do so you can use your favorite songs as a practice tool.
Using songs as a template for skill building will help you keep your practice interesting, and build a library of songs you can play at the same time.
Remember - songs you learn can be used as a way to practice new skills, not just as something fun to play through.
Go Slower Than You Want To Go
There is a great piece of advice that you hear from a lot of great players - you have to practice slowly.
You can find this advice from great players and teachers across different musical styles and different instruments.
I even had a saying I would go over with every one of my college guitar students: you have to go slow if you want to learn fast.
Unfortunately, this piece of advice often gets overlooked or even forgotten as soon as you start to practice.
If things are going well, your natural tendency is going to be to speed up. If you start making mistakes, you will probably speed up then too.
People have a tendency to want to “catch up” to where they feel like they should be after making a mistake.
You have to really look for ways to make yourself slow down if you are ever actually going to practice slowly.
Think about it this way - as soon as you can read and understand a chord diagram, you technically know how to play that chord. You can understand where each finger should go, and which open strings to play.
Getting your fingers to do what you want them to do however, can be a different story.
You literally have to teach your fingers what you want them to do in any given situation when you are learning something new on the guitar.
If you can approach a new skill from the standpoint of teaching your fingers where to go, you will have an easier time learning any new skill on the guitar.
You will probably get your new techniques under your fingers more quickly, and with less frustration when you work this way.
As a general rule for anything new you are learning - go a little slower than you want to play.
By making whatever speed you are practicing at feel easy and smooth, you will be teaching your hands to stay relaxed as you play and even challenging techniques or licks will start to feel easy to you.
Learning guitar can be as easy or as hard as you make it for yourself, so make it easy and take things slow as you learn.
Using a metronome can be really helpful in making yourself slow down and keeping yourself honest. Working with a metronome can be challenging at first, especially if you have never used one before.
Ask your guitar instructor for help if you are struggling to get started with using a metronome.
I recommend using a metronome to all of my students at some point, and I use one every time I practice.
Using a metronome will help you learn how to keep a steady beat, and can give you a methodical way to increase your speed once you’ve learned a new skill at a slow speed.
Remember - you have to go slow if you’re going to learn fast.
Listen To The Music You Want To Be Able To Play
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but you need to listen to the music you want to be able to play.
It’s important to listen to a variety of music, and really listening to anything on a regular basis is good for your musical development.
But if there is a particular style of music you really want to learn, you need to spend a higher percentage of your time listening to that style.
Again, this seems like an obvious answer, but I consistently run into students who are not listening to the music they say they want to be able to play.
The old saying “you are what you eat” can also apply to the music you listen to if you’re learning to play guitar. At the very least you should listen to a variety of music that you like, and inspires you to want to play your instrument.
At a deeper level if there is a particular style of music you want to be able to play, you should spend more of your listening time on that style.
Find a band or a particular guitarist in that style of music and listen to them as much as you possibly can.
When I was in college and studying jazz, I listened to jazz all the time. And since I’m a guitar player, I spent a significant amount of time listening to the great jazz guitarists.
Whenever I would play in a different style, I would start to listen to that music instead to start internalize the style I was going to be playing.
One summer I played in the pit orchestra for a musical about the life of Johnny Cash, so I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash.
Whatever music you want to be playing, make sure you are listening to as much of that kind of music as you can.
This doesn’t mean you have to do anything special - you’re not trying to learn these songs note for note (that’s another topic altogether).
You just need to listen to the music you want to be able to play, or to players that you want to be able to sound like.
Having this music playing throughout your day will help yo internalize it so that it can come out in your guitar playing.
Remember - when it comes to music, you are what you listen to
Don’t Just Practice - Play Music
It seems like a lot of people get themselves stuck in “practice mode” with their guitar playing. I know I did.
If you spend all of your time working on exercises, playing scales, or trying to push your technique to new levels, you’re stuck in practice mode.
Here’s the problem - if you are only ever practicing, everything on the guitar starts to feel like work. If this keeps up long enough, playing guitar will stop being fun.
At various points in my playing career, I’ve been stuck in practice mode. When I was in school, almost everything I did was practice and rehearsal.
I’d work on scales, chords, arpeggios, rhythm and time, try to memorize songs, and keep up with the songs I needed to play for my classes.
Luckily, I got to just sit and play music with people a lot while I was in at school - and that’s what made it fun.
The easiest way to break yourself out of practice mode is to just play some music.
When you are just playing songs - not stopping and working on things, not trying to fix things that don’t go the way you want them to, just playing songs.
That is the kind of playing that will help you break yourself out of the practicing mentality and start having some fun playing music.
And guess what - you will still be getting better at playing guitar! Practice is important to improve your skills and learn new ideas, but playing music is really the point of all that practice time.
Making time for yourself to just play some music will help you have more fun, and remind you why you wanted to play guitar in the first place.
Playing music doesn’t mean you have to be performing on stage or anything like that.
It can be as simple as jamming with a friend of yours, playing along with a recording or backing track, or just playing through songs in your room.
The most important distinction to draw is that you are playing, not practicing at that time.
Remember - make time to just play music for fun
Things To Think About:
In this article we learned seven practical things you can do or think about to help improve your guitar playing right away.
These aren’t shortcuts, but are potential habits for you to form in your guitar playing. To review:
If you can start working some of these things into your playing, you will become a much better guitar player over time.
Try starting with just one of these ideas, and building from there. Let me know how it goes!
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