So you've been playing guitar for 1 to 3 years now. You might've learned a few Hendrix and Paige solos, a couple Metallica riffs, and you've read through your beginner guitar method book. You're feeling like a pretty bada-s guitarist, and you should. Your friends think you're pretty freaking gnarly, your buddies who also play guitar are jealous and as far as you know there's no way to take your playing to the next level. This is a common situation among many guitarists breaking out of the beginner phase and into the intermediate phase of learning the instrument, and many players never break free from it and go beyond that stage. This article is for the guitarist that wants to breath new life into his or her approach to the instrument, wants to take their playing to a higher level, and explore new Musical territory. Below are some simple to advanced ideas for reaching the next step.
1. Tighten up what you know how to do to a metronome.
Rule number one as a performer is, "If you can't do it to a metronome, then you can't really do it." There are hundreds of thousands of guitarists out there who can play relatively fast and are capable of pulling off impressive feats of dexterity, and you're probably one of them. The problem that most of those players have is they can't do it cleanly to a metronome or any other source of tempo (drums, bass, continuo, band, etc...) To put yourself ahead of these guys, clean up your chops to a metronome. My preferred method is setting a tempo, starting with quarter notes, then moving to eighth notes, then triplets, then sixteenths, and then mixing it up for a few minutes before moving onto a higher tempo. This will ensure that all of your licks are within the groove, and will also make you more time conscious, which will help your sight reading, comping and ability within a band environment.
2. Expose yourself to a new style of music.
Whether you're a classical virtuoso, a jazz guru, heavy metal shredder, or indie aficionado, you can always learn something new from a new style of music. Being really good at just a few aspects of the guitar usually means you aren't very good at the others, which means in most situations you aren't a very good guitarist. Learning to play different styles of music will make you more desirable in a wider range of settings, give you a broader understanding of music, and the ideas you learn in one style will often open up radical new ideas for your preferred style of playing. We live in a time where music is more accessible and more diverse than ever before, it would be foolish to limit yourself to one aspect of it especially when you play the instrument of the century.
3. Learn to emulate other instruments.
The history of the guitar is filled with guitarists imitating other instruments. Classical guitarists have adapted violin, cello and piano music, jazz guitarists often imitate horns and piano, rock guitarists like to emulate the expressive range of the human voice, modern metal guitarists like to use the explosive rhythms of their drummers, Tom Morello has even managed to imitate a turntable. Try emulating the fast and fluid style of virtuosic violinists, the breath based phrasing of horns, the harmonic possibilities of the piano (major/minor 2nds and large intervals), the catchiness and humanity of a pop/rock singer, or the complex and syncopated rhythms of math and prog rock/metal drummers. Learning about the stylistic intricacies of another instrument will expand your knowledge of the guitar while teaching yourself about another instrument, which will come in handy should you want to work with other musicians that don't play "lead guitar."
4. Discover/learn about ideas that are unique to the guitar.
The guitar is filled with little tricks and musical ideas that are unique to it and some of its cousins (Banjo, lute, uke, mandolin, bass guitar) Some of these include Tapping, harmonics, the whammy bar, tremolo (not to be confused with vibrato), bends, and certain chord voicing's and patterns that would not be feasible on piano or any other instrument. Developing these skills and ideas are essential if you wish to evolve from guy who plays guitar, to musician, and finally to guitarist. For examples of "guitar nationalism" I highly recommend having a good look at the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Tosin Abasi, Chuck Schuldiner and Buckethead.
5. Get off your computer/phone and practice!
That conclude my article. Hopefully you find these ideas useful.
About the Author:
Dave Cahill is jazz guitar performance major at Rowan University and a guitar teacher at the Resonance School of Music in Sewell New Jersey.