10 Essential Concepts And Tips Every Guitar Player Should Know

A quick list of important concepts and tips to help guitar players become better overall musicians.

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Ultimate Guitar
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What is it about music that brings so much joy to so many people? I have been playing guitar for nearly 15 years, and it has brought me more joy than any words can describe. Throughout my years as a musician, I have been asked more times than I can count for advice or tips. Recently I was asked by one of my students asked me for my best advice, and I found it difficult to come up with just one piece of advice. Because of this, I have decided to create this list of what I consider to be some of the most important concepts and ideas that every guitar player should know and utilize.

1) Use a metronome. A great musician is of no value if he or she cannot keep time. Either live or in the studio, a musician that cannot keep time will quickly find themselves on the short end of a very angry stick.

2) Slow is fast. Many times I have seen guitarists frustrated because they are struggling with a passage at high speeds. This is a lesson learned the hard way. In my early years as a guitar payer, I would learn a part and try to play it as fast as I can. However, this is just not the right way to go about learning difficult material. You must dissect each passage and learn it inside and out. Play it slowly, focusing on technique and playing it correctly. Once you have mastered it at a slow speed is when you should increase your speed. Use a metronome to help you do this. You will discover that not only will you begin to play better, but you will be able to learn much faster.

3) Use your ears. One of the most important concepts I like to teach my friends and students is the value of your ears. You need to develop a god ear. A well trained ear is essential when trying to play out a melody without any sheet music or tablature to help you out. To start training your ear, try learning simple songs by ear. Doing so will help you recognize chords and melodies when you hear them, and it will also help you improvise when need be.

4) Learn music theory, even if only a little bit. A basic understanding of what makes music work will go a very long way. You should be knowledgeable of your craft. Once I started learning basic music theory, I discovered a thirst to know more and more. Knowing music theory will also help you if you suddenly find yourself being asked to play a I IV V in the key of G. You will know what that means and will know what to play without a problem.

5) Play with other musicians. There is nothing more rewarding, both as a learning experience and a pass-time activity. Playing with other musicians is fun and helps you coordinate what you're playing. It also helps in the creative process.

6) Never stop learning. This is one of my favorite bits of advice. The value you gain as a musician grows exponentially with the more you know about your instrument. Always continue to challenge yourself and learn new things. Learn a new chord every week, or a new scale or lick. Learn how to play blues, then learn to play jazz. Learn some new songs. Just learn something new all the time. It will make you a much better musician in the long run.

7) When you learn a song, learn the whole thing. Every bit and piece. Learn the solo, the rhythms, and the melodies. Learn the names of the chords you are using and the scales the song uses. Learn the key. Learn as much as you possibly can about the song. Knowing it inside and out will help you memorize the song and also help you recognize elements of it in other songs.

8) Practice, practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for proper practice. Without practice, you will not get very far. Practice in small bite sized chunks. Spend a few minutes focusing on a particular technique. Then spend a few minutes on something else. Don't let yourself get too distracted during practice. Once you finish practicing, then you can noodle around for a while. Your brain will continue to wrap itself around the things your practice while you are doing other things. You will find that you will get better with practicing things in sections.

9) Learn the notes on your fret board. Knowing this will open up a whole new door of possibilities. You will begin seeing the fret board in a completely different light. Patterns and scales will jump out at you. Chords will glare at you. You will be able to look at the fret board and just play what is in your head. This is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.

10) Put yourself into your music. It will sound more personal and more emotional if you can manage to put yourself into your music. This is a difficult concept to visualize, but when done correctly it really enhances your music on a different level. Don't just play the music. Put some oomph into it. Bob your head, sway with the rhythm. Make funny faces. All of this stuff sounds cheesy, but you will be surprised when you start to feel the music inside of you and the effect that has on the feel of your music.

My list here could go on forever, but I feel these are some of the more important concepts and tips that I have learned over the years. Give these a try, and you will be amazed at the difference they can make after a few days of dedication. Enjoy, and keep playing those guitars!

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    GV8
    You forgot the main thing: Have a great time while doing all those things! The most important thing is to enjoy and just have fun!
    Sparky-MMA
    Bad Kharmel wrote: Your advice only okay, I'm sorry, but you under emphasize technique, and you over emphasize slow and metronome (which is a huge load of crap, technique is what builds speed not a metronome, metronomes have there place but speed doesn't come from a metronome) all I can really add is technique, technique, technique, technique...
    and learning slow aids technique, which then builds speed, no point playing 100 notes a second if its sloppy, rather play 10 that are clean and articulated properly, then move on up until you can play the 100 a second clean,
    Alex6642122
    ...or download the open source editor TuxGuitar, which can open Guitar Pro 5 and earlier (as well as others such as Power Tab).
    sqrrloncrack
    you are totally right, how could I have forgotten that one? how foolish of me. Great advice there my friend.
    panman79
    My god ear is weak and does need to be developed. Thanks for this article though.
    The_Vinson
    Bad Kharmel wrote: Your advice only okay, I'm sorry, but you under emphasize technique, and you over emphasize slow and metronome (which is a huge load of crap, technique is what builds speed not a metronome, metronomes have there place but speed doesn't come from a metronome) all I can really add is technique, technique, technique, technique...
    Dude, what are you? A shredder without emotion?... Learning to play guitar without keeping pace to a metronome is a bbaaadd thing. I've played with a lot of guitarist who couldn't follow the snares drum and it's a ****ing pain. They could be the best guitarist on the earth, if they can't keep up to a "click", they suck.
    Walldude
    Good advice all of it... Let me add something.. Once you are out of the "beginner" phase.. GET OUT OF YOUR BASEMENT.. Look up Jams and Open Mics in your area. This really goes with the "play with other musicians" thing but it's also good for solo work. Open mics and jams usually allow any skill level and have fairly small audiences. This gives you an opportunity to learn how to play with others, how to "read a room" and how to get over any stage fright you may have. Plus the audience is usually quite forgiving. Once you are playing with others in front of an audience your skills will increase exponentially. You can find local jams and open mics at www.openmikes.org (don't ask me why but it is spelled "mikes"... Also a quick thanks to Alex6642122 for the link to TuxGuitar, nothing better than open source stuff. Thanks man!
    Gedas1255
    It's a great article but you could recomend playing allong some backing tracks too
    sqrrloncrack
    Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment and rate my article. It means a lot! @Bad kharmel - playing slowly is a load of crap? who are you? metronomes aid in learning to play in time, and forcing you to play slowly in time is what solidifies technique. Once you learn the technique and can play it effortlessly at slow speeds, that is when you increase the tempo. using a metronome to do this is killing two birds with one stone. i have been playing for 15 years. i challenge you to take one of your "fast" passages and slow it down and see how well you play it..
    JerryRogers
    Your advice only okay, I'm sorry, but you under emphasize technique, and you over emphasize slow and metronome (which is a huge load of crap, technique is what builds speed not a metronome, metronomes have there place but speed doesn't come from a metronome)
    that comment can only be from someone who has God-fingers never mind a God Ear! Metronomes train you to keep time. Set a tempo, learn the piece, set a faster tempo to challenge yourself. Repeat.
    Norgz94
    I think "God Ear" should be a legit new guitarist or musician term, no lie!
    pHiLLa
    I agree with everything, its just sometimes easier said than done, all those tips will surely improve your playing, but if I can put my 2cents in I'd say number 1 should be commitment. Doesn't help if you do it half-ass. Anyway I'm going to train my god ear now
    sqrrloncrack
    PwnageGravy wrote: Also, I wholeheartedly endorse playing other genres. Jazz has really helped me develop as a player, even listening to jazz guitarists helps a ton.
    Listening to other genres is a fantastic way to think outside of the box, and it's also great to kill writers block.
    Krill3Z
    Well written article and i agree on most of those but.. On the matter of developing speed i urge you all to view this video:
    Shawn Lane is talking about how he did and what he recommends. I'm not sure this applies to everybody but it works well for me, and since its the way one of the fastest guitarists ever did it, it sure is a compelling argument. By the way if any of you for some reason haven't heard Shawn Lane you MUST check him out, in my opinion one of the most uniquely gifted guitarists of our generation at least, and one of the humblest musicians i've seen. I still can't really understand why he isn't more famous...
    stormprooter
    i challenge you to take one of your "fast" passages and slow it down and see how well you play it..
    Yep the difference between a 1/32 and 1/64 is far less than a 1/2 to 1/4 beat note - so mistakes played fast are more difficult to discover - you think it sounds right - but it isn't
    Andragon
    Last time I developed a god ear, I murdered a whole legion of people...
    ragnarr023
    Doing my best to develop my god ear! Not too easy but I'm sure it's rewarding. Shot for the advice, I'll implement it into my everyday life and guitar playing
    Danjo's Guitar
    I definitely need to work on my god ear, but I think I'm making progress on that at least. I also need to actually get a metronome.
    Bad Kharmel
    Your advice only okay, I'm sorry, but you under emphasize technique, and you over emphasize slow and metronome (which is a huge load of crap, technique is what builds speed not a metronome, metronomes have there place but speed doesn't come from a metronome) all I can really add is technique, technique, technique, technique...
    Ghostrelm`
    Unworldly Shred wrote: Develop a God ear. Priceless!!!! lololol
    Is that anything like God Hand and God Foot? ^_^
    PwnageGravy
    Shredd_Hero wrote: A good musician shouldn't need a metronome.
    Disagree. I didn't play with one for years and now that I'm starting it's noticeable how my sense of rhythm isn't what it should be. When you have to learn licks with a metronome, you learn them perfectly since it's so unforgiving. Also, I wholeheartedly endorse playing other genres. Jazz has really helped me develop as a player, even listening to jazz guitarists helps a ton.
    INSULIN
    learn the piano.best thing to learn music.help you play guitar better.
    markuscondren
    I've been playing around 3 months now and this article has helped me get a decent idea of what I need to do to improve! Good article! Thumbs up
    maccaria
    there are loads of great free metronome apps for smart phones, I picked one up and it has helped me immensely, some great advice there, thank you
    Pishiken
    Unworldly Shred wrote: Develop a God ear. Priceless!!!! lololol
    hehe i didnt see it but had a good laugh when i saw this comment
    itsxsteves
    Excellent post, excellent comments. Especially the ones on getting out of the basement and having fun. 10 stars!
    Shelflife
    Great article. The last point is probably the most important in playing and composing music.