I’ve been refining my guitar playing since 2006 and have made mistakes and learnt a lot. I thought I would write this post to provide insight to aspiring musicians as to what it takes to progress to my skill level and stay there. Here are my top 5 tips:
5) Keep your guitar in view
I’ve heard lots of accomplished guitarists telling beginners to keep their guitars in sight BUT they always suggest this for the wrong reasons. They say it’s so that you can easily pick up your guitar to practise. I cannot stress enough how misguided this is. Here’s my advice – keep your guitar out of its case and in the open. The more public the better i.e. the lounge or kitchen is way more effective than the bedroom. The benefit of this is that any visitors will instantly know that you’re a musician without you ever even having to pick the guitar up.
4) Consistency leads to calluses
Some people say that consistency is key. I’ve subscribed to this advice but not in the clichéd and predictable way that everyone else has. You see I’ve been playing guitar since 2006 – that’s 14 years at the time I’m writing this. Even with this amount of time under my belt, the key catalyst to my ability has been my inconsistency. It’s taken years of discipline but I’ve settled quite comfortably into a rhythm of playing daily for about 1-2 weeks and then not touching the guitar for about 6 months. One of the key benefits of this, which no guitar teacher will tell you, is the confidence you’ll gain from your muscle memory. Even though I have not touched a guitar for 6 months I can strum “Brown Eyed Girl” without thinking. I can repeat playing this song for about 3 times before my fingers get too sore but by the time I’ve played daily for 1-2 weeks my fingers will have hardened.
3) Never learn full songs
Do not waste your time learning to play full songs from start to finish. The only way I have gotten to where I am is by learning a handful of intro’s only. There are a few 4 open chord strumming songs that I’ve wasted my time on mastering but at the expense of adding a few more intro’s to my repertoire. This tactic will differentiate you from every other guitarist around the camp fire. I guarantee you, when friends or family request a song you will be the only one there that can only play the intro. The last time I was on a family vacation and had my guitar out we all belted out “Country Road” about ten times in a row. I feel if I maybe had a few more intro’s to play them they would have stopped requesting Country Road.
2) All the Gear
This was only just edged out to number 2. It really was close as I feel buying gear has been one of the key contributors to my guitar progress. I’ve owned 6 guitars and currently have 3. As per tip #5, 2 are displayed in my home office and 1 is displayed in the living room. I get extra display points because we live in an open plan house so you can see the guitar from the kitchen and the lounge. Last black Friday I managed to upgrade my whole musical level by adding in a Focsurite 2i2 audio interface as well as the Presonus 4.5 studio monitors. These have been priceless additions to my guitar playing and my improvement has quite literally been immeasurable. I spent weeks researching audio-interfaces and monitors which gave me enough will-power to tone down my exercising and really focus on my music. I’m very grateful I went for the 4.5inch monitors as the low e string on my acoustic really hits hard when I record myself playing Brown Eyed Girl. The bonus of getting the Focusrite interface is that it came with a free version of Ableton Live 10. This accelerated my musical journey as now I was able to spend more hours installing the free plugins and trying to add some synths and drums to Brown Eyed Girl. The biggest negative I have with the Focusrite is that it should have come with both Foscusrite and Ableton Live stickers. These would have been great to stick to the lid of my laptop to show people that I’m a musician if I don’t have my guitar with me.
There’s a strong cross-over with skills between instruments. So if you can play one instrument then some of those skills can benefit another instrument. This is one of the reasons why I bought a set of electronic drums. I felt the timing of my guitar playing would improve. I haven’t played the drums too much yet but I always make sure that they are set up and ready should I decide to play. There’s not enough space to keep them in the living room but they’re in a spare room which is visible from the guest bathroom, so any visitors are sure to see them. Just next to the drums is an electric guitar amplifier. It’s quite difficult to get to the plug to power it but I only turn it on once a year so it hasn’t slowed me down too much.
A guitar gear hack that I haven’t read anywhere else is that be sure to buy a guitar that comes with a hard case. That way you can keep the guitar on a stand outside of the case and then stand the empty case up somewhere else. This will give people the illusion that you have one more guitar than you actually have. To maximize your perceived skill level, try and get your hands on a high-end brand such as Martin or Taylor. My next steps to level up my guitar playing are to buy a digital piano and a midi-keyboard. The midi-keyboard must have “beat pads” – preferably ones that light up when played. In a recent discussion with a friend, he suggests a rule that you should always own at least two instruments that you cannot play. After mulling over this advice I’ve realised that If I’m going to take guitar seriously I’ll need to add a bass guitar to my collection.
1) YouTube: More is more
The deciding factor which edged Youtube into the number 1 spot over Gear is the sheer amount of time I have spent over the years learning how to play guitar by watching Youtube. I’m 100% confident that if you took Youtube away I wouldn’t be at the playing level that I currently am. I’ve never revealed this to anyone before but as a world exclusive I’m going to explain the exact steps I take to use Youtube to learn guitar.
- Go to Youtube and make sure your guitar is next to you
- Dedicate at least one hour watching the newly suggested videos that they have for you. You’ll find the vast majority of these won’t be related to music but it’s essential that you watch these so that you will not be distracted when you start playing. I find, personally, I need to watch the “Top 10” videos such as “Top 10 sitcoms of the 90’s” or “Top 10 wealthiest sportspeople” at least.
- With the suggested videos out of the way you should search for a song you’d like to learn. Great channels are JustinGuitar, Marty Shwartz and Andy Guitar. Click on any of the ones you feel looks the best and preferably the most recent. Unfortunately, the teachers all take you through how to play the full songs and not just the intro. Luckily we can rewind as soon as they progress beyond the intro.
- Watch the into part of the song thoroughly and then pick up your guitar and spend the next 10min repeating the intro to the song while trying to play with. The key to my playing has been my three-pronged approach to learning. The first prong is starting with the first video and only practising for 10 minutes with it. The second and third prongs are to move on to a second and then third video of the same song. The benefit to this approach is that you most likely don’t even have to play along with your guitar because the three videos will be near identical so you’ve already done enough practise using the first video.
- After watching the intro to the third and last video it’s vital that you reinforce what you’ve learnt by searching for a cover of the song you’ve just learnt the intro to. I suggest spending the next hour watching covers of this song and generally covers of other songs that people have done. Bank this inspiration because this will help you find the discipline to practise tomorrow.
So that’s it – my top 5 tips on how to be as good at guitar as I am. I hope you enjoy them and they help you.
Before I go – Bonus Tip:
Start a website so you get an opportunity to write about playing guitar rather than practicing. If you’re serious about learning guitar please don’t fall into the same traps that I always do (listed above!). Find someone who can actually play guitar and ask for advice or find a website like JustinGuitar.