101 Ways to Be a Better Electric Guitar Player

Here's a list of 101 different things you can do to improve on the electrical guitar. Suitable for the beginner through to the advanced player.

101 Ways to Be a Better Electric Guitar Player
14
1. Take up lessons - A good guitar instructor will be able to see exactly where you need to improve and give you exercises based on your current ability.

2. Try a thicker pick - The most important dimension of your pick is the thickness. Many people find it easier to play fast with a thicker pick.

3. Tell a story - When constructing your solo, focus on telling a story. Introduce yourself, says something important, and then bring it to a closure.

4. Learn blues theory - Some basic blues theory is really beneficial when jamming with other musicians. This will essentially allow you to play a song without knowing it.

5. Practice every day - Many well-known guitar players practice on a daily basis in order to keep their chops in top form.

6. Stay relaxed - You should be as relaxed as possible when playing your instrument. If you're tense, this will translate in your playing.

7. Practice on an acoustic guitar - If you spend some time practicing on an acoustic guitar, you will find your electric guitar much easier to play when you go back to it.

8. Associate with people who are better - The best way to learn quickly is to associate and jam with players who are better than you. YouTube is great but there's nothing like seeing something in real life.

9. Listen to all styles of music - Don't limit yourself to only one musical genre. Try listening to music you wouldn't normally listen to.

10. Experiment with your action - A guitars action refers to the distance of the strings from the neck. Some people like a low action, while others prefer medium to high. A low action can be great for playing fast.

11. Learn to listen - Unless you're a solo artist, playing the guitar usually involves playing with other instruments (a band). Learn to listen while playing. Are you locking in with the drums? Are you getting in the way of the vocalist?

12. Sing your melodies - Try to sing a simple melody and then replicate it on the guitar neck.

13. Learn to transpose - Are you able to transpose your favorite song to a different key? The reality is that many vocalists like to transpose songs to suit the register of their voice.

14. Practice rhythm guitar - Lead guitar is only one piece of the puzzle. The reality is (unless you're playing instrumental music) that 90% of the time you'll be playing rhythm. Learn to make vocals and other instruments sound better with your rhythm chops.

15. Replace your strings regularly - New strings will give you better tone and are a lot more forgiving in terms of note accuracy.


16. Clean your fretboard - A dirty fretboard will shorten the lifespan of your guitar strings. A clean guitar sounds and plays better.

17. Learn chord inversions - Avoid monotonous chord shapes to give songs the correct coloring. Can you play an Am in more than 4 positions?

18. Experiment with open chord voicings - Try experiment with open strings when playing chords. This is great for arpeggiated chord voicings.

19. Use outside notes - Try experiment with notes that are not part of the regular blues scale. Try to use them so that they sound like the right note.

20. Practice slowly - If you want to play with speed, then the only way is to practice slowly. This will allow you to play fast with great accuracy.

21. Use your volume control - Your guitars volume control is great for zoning in on the exact amount of distortion you're after. Turning down your volume on a high gain sound can be great for adding clarity, particularly for when you're playing rhythm.

22. Experiment with your tone control - Joe Bonamassa refers to this as the "forgotten knob." Learn to use the controls on your guitar first and then experiment with pedals.

23. Practice vibrato - Vibrato is a great way of conveying emotion. Without vibrato, you're playing will sound uninspired and flat.

24. Expensive guitars play better - If you're serious about guitar playing, you should make plans to invest in a high quality instrument ($300+) somewhere down the line.

25. Practice with backing tracks - Not only will this ensure that you're able to play with good timing, but it's also a lot more fun.

26. Experiment with delay - Delay can be great for giving you some "help" on lead parts, and inspire you to play some great melodies.

27. Focus on your picking hand - The way you pick is probably one of the most important aspects that you should be focusing on. Learn to alternate pick for greater speed and fluency.

28. Use a tuner - A guitar that is properly tuned will contribute to people's idea of good tone. Don't rely on your ears for tuning.

29. Use finger picking - In addition to a pick, you should also experiment with picking the strings with your fingers. This allows the guitar to be played like a piano.

30. Record yourself - This will allow you to hear yourself from the perspective of the listener. You can then make appropriate adjustments on areas where you need to improve.

31. Use a capo - This will allow you to experiment with your usual chord progressions in a different key without having to retune. It will open up more harmonic possibilities.

32. Try thinner strings - It's a myth that thicker strings sound better. Thinner strings may allow you to play easier (particularly bending).

33. Play with dynamics - Learn to vary the dynamics of your picking. Learn to play quietly and also loud. This will help to draw the listener in.

34. Play in stereo - Provided the PA system is configured in stereo, you can try experiment with stereo delay and chorus (2 amps) for fat atmospheric tone.

35. Turn down the gain - Too much gain will result in too much compression. Back off the gain to make your guitar stick out in the mix.

36. Get a fret job - Leveling your frets will make your instrument easier to play and also result in clearer tone. If your frets have received a lot of wear, you should have them leveled by a luthier.

37. Play through a tube amp - It's no secret that some of the best guitarists in the world play through a vintage tube amp. A high quality tube amplifier can do wonders for motivating you to perform at your best.


38. Less is more - It's a lot more difficult to play a series of slow notes that sound good after each other than it is to play fast. This, however, doesn't mean that speed is not necessary.

39. Use a switching system - Some people like the way certain pedals color their tone, however if you want the cleanest possible signal path you should invest in a switching system. This will ensure that when a pedal is disengaged it is completely out of your signal path.

40. Try a different cable - Did you know that your guitar cable has an impact on your tone? Try a different cable to see what effect it has on your sound.

41. Stay true to yourself - Don't learn guitar with the intention of emulating another guitar player. This is impossible, as you will always sound like yourself.

42. Learn music theory - Knowledge is power. Musical theory is essentially the language that you can use to communicate with other musicians.

43. Learn to sing - Chances are that if you can sing, you are more likely to get the gig. Artists who hire prefer musicians with vocal abilities so that they don't have to spend extra money on backing vocalists.

44. Let your playing breath - The space between notes is as important as the notes themselves. For example, try to emulate a sax player on guitar. A sax player needs to stop and take a breath; they can't just keep playing forever.

45. Learn to swing - If it ain't got that swing, it don't mean a thing.

46. Learn to improvise - Improvisation is great, because you're no longer limited to a structured way of playing something. Improvisation can be as simple as playing around with the minor blues pentatonic.

47. Play with taste, not speed - Nobody asks how fast an artist can paint when admiring a beautiful painting.

48. Be confident - Confidence is one thing that many successful musicians have in common with each other.

49. Be prepared - Before a performance, you should know your material inside and out. You should essentially be able to play your parts on autopilot. This means that you will be able to express yourself in the best possible way when under pressure.

50. Have a great attitude - Aptitude plus attitude determines altitude. You can be the greatest musician on the planet, but if you have the wrong attitude you won't be at the gig.

51. Play in a different register - If you are playing with another guitar player, try not to occupy the same frequency range. Try to play your parts in a different area on the neck to the complementing guitar part.

52. Play the wrong notes right - Try experimenting with notes that are out of key and try to make them sound right in musical context.

53. Master the major scale - Before learning exotic scales, first master the major scale and all its modes.

54. Learn exotic scales - Exotic scales and modes are great for spicing up your playing and breaking out of the box. The blues pentatonic is great, but there's so much more you can do with your playing.

55. Don't play too loud - This is a mistake many bands make. Playing too loud will result in an unpleasant listening experience for your audience. A tube amplifier does need to be at a certain volume to sound at its best, but it doesn't need to be unpleasantly loud.


56. Use an attenuator - A volume attenuator can help you to play at a reduced volume whilst maintaining the characteristics of a cranked amplifier.

57. Take a break - You should always be practicing, however taking a few days off can really help to bring fresh inspiration to your playing.

58. Practice standing up - If you're going to be performing in front of an audience, chances are you're going to be standing. This may seem unfamiliar if you haven't put in some practice of standing while playing.

59. Use an acrylic sound shield - Placing an object in front of your amplifier will allow the sound engineer to put more of your guitar through the PA system, which will result in better control. This is great for smaller venues.

60. Use more midrange - The guitar is essentially a midrange instrument. Using more mids will ensure that you cut through the mix.

61. Try a volume pedal - A volume pedal is great for swells that are difficult to accomplish with your guitars volume control while playing at the same time.

62. Don't show off - You don't need to show your listeners what you're capable of 100% of the time. People have a lot more respect and admiration for musicians who are able to play what's right for the song.

63. Play what you know - When performing in front of an audience, always stick to your comfort zone. Play what you know you're capable of playing. This does not apply to practicing.

64. Train your ears - If you don't know whether or not you're playing in key, you've got a problem.

65. Try alternate tunings - Stevie Ray Vaughan and other great players tuned down half a step to Eb. Experiment with alternate tunings to see what effect they have on your playing.

66. Ask questions - Never pass up the opportunity to ask your favorite musicians questions about their gear, playing and how they approach practising.

67. Stretch a new pair of strings - If you don't stretch a fresh set of strings, they will lose their tuning. Don't forget to do this before playing live!

68. Wash your hands before playing - Clean hands will prevent unnecessary dirt and sweat from accumulating on your strings, and in turn will make them last a lot longer.

69. Wipe your strings after playing - It's a good idea to keep a cloth on hand to wipe your strings down after playing. This is especially necessary when playing live in order to prevent acid build up on your strings and increase their lifespan.

70. Use fewer effects - Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. You should use your effects sparingly.


71. Use your ears when dialing in gear - When adjusting your effects and amplifier settings, always set them according to your ears and not your eyes.

72. Use YouTube - There is an abundance of guitar lessons on YouTube that don't require you to pay any money to an instructor.

73. Keep your instrument clean - Not only should you keep your fretboard clean, but you should also try and maintain a clean guitar body. This won't help you to play better, but your instrument will definitely look better.

74. Be patient - Often it may seem as if you're never going to nail the part you're working on, however a little patience goes a long way. You will find that the next day you are able to play the part a lot easier than when you sat down and practiced for an hour.

75. Learn effective strumming - There are hundreds of different strumming patterns. Learn to master strumming in a way that sounds fluent and neat.

76. Develop a stage personality - You should devote some time to practicing stage presence too. People listen not only with their ears but also with their eyes.

77. Read guitar magazines - Guitar magazines and publications can often contain very helpful lessons and tips to spice up your playing.

78. Develop your own style - Apart from practicing other people's licks, you should also spend some time coming up with your own licks and ideas.

79. Learn to read music - This will give you an edge in a very competitive industry. Do whatever it takes to get the gig.

80. Learn to palm mute - This can be great for adding dynamics to your playing. Palm mute the notes that you want to ring softer, and gently lift up your hand to increase volume.

81. Don't rely on tabs - Most of the tabs you will find online are inaccurate. An alternative way of learning a song is to do a YouTube search and find a video lesson of the particular track you're interested in learning.

82. Read interviews - Reading interviews of your favorite musicians can be great for inspiration and insight in terms of the music industry.

83. Keep it interesting - Avoid spending all your practice time on things you don't really like.

84. Learn from JustinGuitar - JustinGuitar.com has to be one of the best online guitar teachers, and has something for the beginner through to the advanced player.

85. Learn to transcribe - It's how the greatest guitar players alive today learned to play. You should learn to play melodies by ear and not tablature.

86. Learn basic sound engineering - You want your guitar to sound great through the FOH system. Having some knowledge in this field is extremely beneficial if you don't have a knowledgeable sound engineer already.

87. Stay inspired - Without players that inspire you, or musical heroes, you will have a difficult time motivating yourself to practice.

88. Use different distortions - Many well-known guitar players rarely stick to using just 1 distortion effect. For example, some songs may only require a small amount of gain, while others will require a lot more.

89. Use your effects loop - Some effects, such as reverb and delay, sound better between the power amp and preamp sections of an amplifier.

90. Copy melodies from other instruments - This is a fun exercise and extremely beneficial. Can you play the part taken from another instrument, for example a trumpet, on your guitar?


91. Use hybrid picking - This technique entails using a combination of your plectrum and fingers. Eric Johnson is well known for doing this.

92. Have fun - If playing your instrument is not fun, there is no point in doing it.

93. Learn fusion guitar - Combing jazz chords with rock music can be great fun, and will give you an edge.

94. Learn songs note for note - Once you can play a piece of music perfectly, only then should you change things up.

95. Write music - If you want to reach a larger audience than your local gig, consider writing and recording some music and uploading it to YouTube or Soundcloud.

96. Build your solos - There are many things you can do. Build a solo up from mellow to crazy, or build it up, break it down and build it up again.

97. Don't play endlessly - Nobody likes a guitar player whose solo's go on and on. Play just enough to leave your audience wanting more.

98. There's never enough to know - If you want to take up playing guitar, you should understand that it's a lifetime commitment. There will always be new things to learn and improve on.

99. Experiment with a microphone - Try miking your guitar cabinet and then move the mic around to experiment with the effect it has on your tone.

100. Listen to yourself - Try and focus your attention on the sound coming out of your amplifier instead of what your fingers are doing.

101. Combine delays - David Gilmour did this to really make his guitar soar. Try setting one delay to a shorter time and the other to a longer time.

About the Author:
Dean Hailstone is a professional guitar player, recording artist and touring musician. He is also the editor of PlayGuitarLive.com, a website dedicated to the gigging guitarist.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Dom Hawthorn
    Don't know why there's so many negative comments? I thought there were some excellent points in this article! Sure, some are fairly obvious and straight forward, but still, some really good stuff in there!
    selkayann
    "47. Play with taste, not speed - Nobody asks how fast an artist can paint when admiring a beautiful painting." While I agree with your point, the comparison you used is unfitting. Nobody asks how fast you can write a song while admiring it, but the resolution of your playing (the accuracy, which includes speed) is very important to enjoy the song. You'd enjoy the Mona Lisa much more with Da Vinci's accuracy than with a kindergartener who has the exact same ideas.
    Seriden
    Why all the hate? I thought this was a very good article, especially for beginners. Expensive guitars generally DO play and sound better than less expensive guitars. Most of the things in this list I found to be true the hard way.
    badfish_lewis
    So much BS in this article: 32. Try thinner strings - It's a myth that thicker strings sound better. Thinner strings may allow you to play easier (particularly bending). *It's personal preference. This is an article about how to become a better electric guitar player right? Please enlighten us how this would make you a better player 80. Learn to palm mute - This can be great for adding dynamics to your playing. Palm mute the notes that you want to ring softer, and gently lift up your hand to increase volume. *No shit, that's a basic skill. 45. Learn to swing - If it ain't got that swing, it don't mean a thing. *Of course...
    heavywinter1123
    You sound like you are just LOOKING for something to complain about. The strings MAY make you a "better" player because they MAY allow you to play easier as far and bending and shit(it's in the article) when you are struggling less you MAY be able to learn better and quicker so THATS how it could make you a better player. As for palm muting no shit it's a pretty basic skill what in the world is wrong with it being a basic skill? it's one that will make you a better player if you learn it just. Again you seem like you are just fishing for things to be edgy and bitchy about. About the swing. What didn't have anything substantial to actually complain about here so you just tried to seem like a too cool for school dick? "of course.... I'm not trying to be mean but you didn't add anything with your comments, you came off like a 15 year old kid just trying to pick at things to look cool. Hell I agree so many players that don't bother with feel,swing emotion. Honestly for the most part fuck technicality it's great to know theory and what you are doing but I see so many players obsessed with how technical their playing is. But I will add one that I didn't see om the list. Learn to play other instruments, like as many as you can learn to play and write with them so that you don't wind up becoming just another boring guitar player. Keep in mind rock music has been around for like 60 years now and that almost everything in it's been done to death. Learn to write MUSIC
    cmvideo
    There are a lot of good points in here but just waaaaay too much. It's like trying to say everything you learned in 30 years of playing guitar. A lot of this is subjective to the palyers personal style and taste. But there are some very good points in here... unfortunately they are getting buried. Brevity! The best point IMO are #3 Tell a Story - This could be more of a personal thing but I'm not a big fan of pointless shredding. Tempo, dynamics, build ups... that's what makes a good solo. Not the speed (although mixing in speed properly is a big +) #6 Relax - AMEN. My guitar teacher never told me this back in the day and this would be the #1 thing I tell my students. Your hands need to be relaxed. Once you tense up, which is the natural instinct when trying something difficult, it becomes 100x harder. Don't clutch the neck like it is a hammer or something. #7 Practice on an acoustic - Definitely helped me. It's just more difficult to play on a larger guitar/neck. I alway practiced my scales on an acoustic then when you switch over to an electric it seems like you are flying. #27 Focus on your picking hand - probably something many players over look early on and it will cost you dearly later because you can definitely create bad habits that are very difficult to break. Playing is all muscle memory... if you teach yourself the wrong patterns, it is sooo hard to break them. You can get away with sloppy picking for a long time and not even know it but once you hit the more complex and speed material, you need to be picking correctly. I kind of fell off shortly after this because the article is so long and has so many subjective points mixed in.
    andyjohnston
    I totally lucked out. The first guitar I ever got happened to be one which played and sounded great. 25+ years later, I still have it.
    seemykids99
    So much negativity "this is all common sense" "this is all beginner stuff" "these are all subjective". Not every article is written for the all knowing guitar Gods that inhabit this website (though if half of you knew a quarter of what you think you do you wouldn't even BE on here) you would be giving your own lessons and writing your own article or cutting your latest album. Collection of asshats I swear.
    heavywinter1123
    People start thinking they are above basic stuff. I always like to revisit the basics when I am feeling in a slump. Probably a good many kids and teenagers on these sites also, might be why so negative. They are at that point in their lives where they feel they know better than everyone else and are just looking for things to criticize whether it comes off as valid and reasonable or not. It's a healthy part of growing up though, the mind enters that stage where "nobody gets it but me" in a few years they will likely look back and laugh at themselves.
    FretboardToAsh
    Well, since I haven't anything better to do at the moment... 15. Replace your strings regularly - New strings will give you better tone and are a lot more forgiving in terms of note accuracy. Subjective, I personally dislike the harsh edge a the tone fresh (wound) strings have, and prefer them broken in by a week or two of play. On the unwound strings I am the opposite. 24. Expensive guitars play better - If you're serious about guitar playing, you should make plans to invest in a high quality instrument ($300+) somewhere down the line. Expensive is not the same as quality. Too many people are fooled by pricetags and glitter. 28. Use a tuner - A guitar that is properly tuned will contribute to people's idea of good tone. Don't rely on your ears for tuning. So dead wrong it physically hurt my eyes reading this. Go study physics for a bit longer, and train your ears, you'll find out why because I've not enough room here to explain it all. Suffice it to say that while some have decided a note has a certain frequency, that doesn't mean intervals are just as absolute. It is also why every fixed-note instrument is always out of tune in one way or another. 37. Play through a tube amp - It's no secret that some of the best guitarists in the world play through a vintage tube amp. A high quality tube amplifier can do wonders for motivating you to perform at your best. Again, subjective and depends on personal taste, style and genre. 84. Learn from ***** - *****.com has to be one of the best online guitar teachers, and has something for the beginner through to the advanced player. Ah... so it's just a big fat commercial? Good to know. 76. Develop a stage personality - You should devote some time to practicing stage presence too. People listen not only with their ears but also with their eyes. I think the word you're looking for is 'experience'. People most definitely do not listen with their eyes. 81. Don't rely on tabs - Most of the tabs you will find online are inaccurate. An alternative way of learning a song is to do a YouTube search and find a video lesson of the particular track you're interested in learning. Because certainly the amateur that made a tab is different from the amateur on youtube.
    bass.desires
    Oh, you don't use a tuner? I'll see you in 10 minutes then while your tuning by ear on a noisy stage.
    copperwreck
    I agree with you on most points - except the "listening with your eyes" one. I've seen some great players where I felt I could go listen to a live recording instead because they are so damn boring to watch. There was a series of articles here on UG recently that covered everything about playing live, including what to wear and how to act I think. Great series that all bands should read.
    sol_afro_within
    On 24: 300$+ isn't exactly expensive, more like the minimum price you'll pay for a decent instrument.
    balta
    Well I guess that's the point: $300 is more expensive than say a Squier Bullet, and $300 can get you a gigable guitar.
    aries0490
    In South Africa, that's a Squier Affinity starter pack price.. If you're serious, you're going to buy Fender/Gibson/Martin/Taylor. Can't afford it, save up.
    wuzzo
    Some really good tips there, thank you. Using an attenuator and an acrylic screen will prove invaluable, I'm sure. Any recommendations on the attenuator ? They range from very cheap to very silly, I see.