How To Improve Your Guitar Technique. Part 1

Do you want to improve your guitar technique, play guitar cleaner, eliminate sloppy playing and unwanted string noise? Sloppy guitar technique is a very common problem.

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Do you want to improve your guitar technique, play guitar cleaner, eliminate sloppy playing and unwanted string noise? Sloppy guitar technique is a very common problem. Many guitarists have been asking for solutions. This article will help you to improve your guitar technique. There are 5 main challenges that electric guitar players must overcome in order to learn and master guitar technique. These 5 guitar technique challenges are divided into 3 groups: 1. Awareness 2. Sounds you 'want' to hear (the notes you are attempting to play cleanly) 3. Sounds you do not' want to hear (the sloppy sounds you sometimes hear such as unwanted string noise) Today we will take a look at the first two groups. In Part 2 of this article series we'll focus on the last group of guitar technique challenges. Focused Awareness - Many guitar players are not fully aware of every imperfection in their guitar technique. Some of these players do sense that 'something' may be wrong, but are not sure about exactly what their specific guitar technique problems are. Obviously, you cannot effectively correct a technical problem until and unless you know exactly what it is. There are 2 main ways you can approach this: 1. Record yourself playing a something you want to improve on. Listen back (carefully) at 25%-33% speed so that you more easily identify any unclear notes, excess string noise, scratchy noises between the notes, inconsistency in your pick attack, etc.). You may or may not be able to hear everything on your own (many people simply can't yet) and you may or may not be able to correctly' identify the cause of each imperfection present in your guitar playing. If you can that's great, but if you're not sure then 2. Work with a guitar teacher to evaluate your playing and use that feedback to begin the process of making any necessary changes to your technique. Not only will a good teacher help you to play clean by telling you 'what to do', but also because he will hear problems that you may not really be hearing. IF you have an excellent ear, you should be able to identify the fine details of your problem, if not, work with your guitar teacher. Articulation - The First Half of Two Hand Synchronization The second step is to focus on your articulation. Articulation is the first half of two hand synchronization. To play cleaner you need your hands to fret and pick each note at precisely the same time (simultaneously). There are 3 critical things you need to do to improve your articulation: 1. Use a clean guitar tone when practicing (no distortion and NO effects!). Distortion and effects will mask any imperfections in your articulation, so do not practice with them when focusing on "Articulation" (the rules will change when we talk about "The Release" in the next section). 2. Play loud enough so that you can truly hear what is happening as you are playing. 3. When you are practicing something slowly MAKE SURE that you do NOT change ANYTHING about how you approach and articulate each note. Fact is, most guitar players actually play very differently when playing slow compared to when playing fast. If you change anything in the way you are articulating the notes (such as playing with a lighter touch, using a weaker or stronger pick attack, changing your hand position, pick angle etc.) you will NOT fully improve your technique because the sound you make when playing will be different and therefore harder to detect and identify any problems with your articulation. The Release - The Second Half of Two Hand Synchronization The third step toward cleaner playing is the release'. For most guitar players 'the release' is the hardest problem to detect and correct. That's generally because once players articulate a note cleanly, they ignore what immediately comes after (small sloppy noise in between the notes or 2 notes slightly bleeding' together. And practicing your guitar with a clean' tone (no distortion) - as described above when focusing on articulation almost always masks problems in the release phase of playing a note. This is why many people think their guitar playing sounds pretty clean when practicing without distortion but sense something is wrong when later playing with distortion but they are not sure what the problem is or worse, they actually do not hear the problem at all (but other people do). This is why focused awareness is so critical. I use multiple steps to help my guitar students fully solve this problem (not all of which can be fully demonstrated or expressed in an article), but here are the absolutely necessary steps toward correcting problems with the release'. 1. Practice your guitar WITH distortion (but NO EFFECTS!) now. (Notice, this is the exact opposite advice I gave you to identify and correct articulation' problems above). 2. Again you need to play your guitar loud enough to hear precisely what is coming out of your amplifier (other noises in the room can mask the subtle things you need to be listening for). 3. Practice slow (but as stated above, do NOT change ANYTHING in the way you articulate OR RELEASE a note compared to when you are playing fast!). 4. Listen for any subtle noise in between notes (you will probably notice a scratchy sound' just before you play the next note). If you have a hard time hearing anything then record yourself and listen back to the recording at 1/4 or 1/3 speed (I guarantee you will hear this short scratchy sound now!) 5. Now that you know what to listen for, you will probably notice it all the time whenever you listen very carefully and THEN you are ready to being to correct the problem Fact is there can be several reasons why your guitar playing may not be clean during the release of a note, but the most common cause is this: When you release a note your brain is probably telling your finger to lift off' (make an upward motion away from the string you just played). This can cause all sorts of nasty technique problems (fatigue, slower guitar playing speeds, and sloppy guitar playing among other things). The solution is to stop your brain from sending your fingers instructions to lift off; of each note and instead to simply relax'. When your finger relaxes it will naturally, immediately and effortlessly release' the note you just played. There are 2 main benefits to this: 1. Because the motion is effortless, you can play faster and for a much longer time (and most importantly) with greater ease. 2. Because your brain does not give the finger the instruction to make a lift off' motion this actually prevents your finger from moving (or preparing to move) prematurely (which is a major cause of the sloppy scratchy sound' that may be present in your guitar playing. It is now very important to realize two things. First you CAN solve these problems and improve your guitar technique. Second, it won't happen over night, this will take time and some consistent practice (possibly over several weeks or longer). But the benefits of being able to play guitar clean are well worth the patience required. To get more help with your guitar playing check out my 15 Free Guitar Tips. In Part 2 of this article series we'll focus on the last group of guitar technique challenges. About the author: Tom Hess is a professional guitarist and teaches electric guitar lessons online. 2009 Tom Hess Music Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

38 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    guitr4God
    This is a great atricle, REALLY helpfull! Especially the tip about relaxing your fingers.
    Tyler Durden
    for the first time, tom actually posts something i can use and not have to listen to his sales pitch - maybe he's learning the UGers didnt take to well to that
    Paul Tauterouff
    Freohr7 wrote: The part about relaxing your finger i know from experience really works. Great article, I'll definantly read the next part.
    This is something I had to work at a bit to get it to become natural. I don't have a lot of time to practice, so I try to focus as much as possible while practicing to get maximum benefits with minimum time.
    ChadCrawford
    Interesting observation - relax instead of pull-off. I'll have to check my technique next time I practice and see how I am doing with this.
    gizmodious
    No one is Hess bashing? Did hell freeze over?! I always enjoy his articles, good stuff.
    2mins2midnite
    i just evaluated my technique, it seems that i relax my finger when i play slow, it is quite clean, but when i speed up, the high strings are clean but the lower strings are quite sloppy and scratchy
    ChrisN
    All the points made are good. That being said, this article has told me nothing I didn't already know from The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar by Jamie Andreas.
    sbinlb
    thank you tom hess for just repeating what probably many articles on UG have already said. why not try to teach something new.
    yngwie.jnr
    i respect your obsession with CAPITAL LETTERS but keep them to yourself, but good lesson thanks a bundle man helped alot!
    vIsIbleNoIsE
    gizmodious wrote: No one is Hess bashing? Did hell freeze over?! I always enjoy his articles, good stuff.
    somehow i'm getting a different vibe after reading this article, i felt like i've become more aware to something real to focus on.
    ReynboLightning
    i'm having trouble with the relax part. my fingers just instinctively go up after i change notes. Is there a particular technique you use for this tom?Like a visualization technique or something?
    Peter Reardon
    Hey, thanks for clearing some things up, but I still have a nasty habit of pulling off strings when I move down to a lower string when I'm playing fast solos (instead of simply releasing the note). This creates some unwanted string vibration that my pickups detect easily and it sounds horrible - an open string during a solo? You've got to be kidding me. I'm trying my best to slow things down and get my head around what I'm actually playing and this article is helping me do that, so thanks. Much appreciated.
    LordPino
    First Tom Hess article without 1000 links to his own website!:O I actually like this one. I'd like some more of these articles mr Hess, you're a good teacher but a bit too capitalistic for me.
    tom1thomas1
    The bit about 'relax' instead of 'lift-off' is some of the best advice I've heard. Makes so much sense.
    _RoMa_
    like i always say: "you can always get better". Nice column. USEFUL!
    Lydian_Mode
    markisouvlaki wrote: Say what you will about Tom Hess, I found this pretty useful...for a change.
    Agreed. Doesn't sound too much like a sales pitch
    Freohr7
    The part about relaxing your finger i know from experience really works. Great article, I'll definantly read the next part.
    wesselbindt
    Usually I'm like; "shut up tom, you suck". But this artice actually made sense. Yay!
    yenners
    Good article. Tidbits like this inspire me to keep at it so thanks Tom.
    Rock Pig
    God I don't see why people are so up in arms about Hess. He's obviously a competent guitar player and, more importantly, a competent teacher.
    limescout
    Great! I'm going to get working on this now. The bit about 'relaxing your fingers' to release sounds useful. Well written, can't wait for pt. 2!
    WOODY_B
    The 'relaxing you finger' method or whatever you want to call it is also how you should do it when your doing vibrato, bend up the note then release it, not pull it back down
    CloakedDagger
    asdfgh2004 wrote: Hmm... just a thought but wouldn't it be better to play with tons of distortion. I mean... if you go from clean to distorted then you wouldn't have worked on problems you get from playing with distortion like slight finger brushing that you don't get on clean. But if you play distorted then you work on all the problems of clean but with distortion as long as you play slowly and listen closely right? Just a thought.
    Re read the article dude he mentions that you practice clean to tidy up your picking hand technique and distorted to tidy up your fretting technique
    AA00P
    Based purely on the title I guessed this was by Tom Hess. And I was right!
    asdfgh2004
    Hmm... just a thought but wouldn't it be better to play with tons of distortion. I mean... if you go from clean to distorted then you wouldn't have worked on problems you get from playing with distortion like slight finger brushing that you don't get on clean. But if you play distorted then you work on all the problems of clean but with distortion as long as you play slowly and listen closely right? Just a thought.
    genolk
    Well what do you know? A positive result from UG readers, that's probably why we've not heard anything from the "Full Name" users yet. @.@ Still links to an offsite webpage which eventually leads to paying for something. Still has advertising. that aside although this article is "somewhat" useful, he has still found a way to write a few pages of dialect without actually saying anything. He should give up guita teaching and become a politian. This isn't a flame it's just an observation. I guess if you read an article and only find one thing that is useful then the article is a success. so in that regard this article even though it's still advertising and linking, it seems to have been a success for most of the people that have commented here so far. Well done!
    panterafever
    This is a really good article but hey tom if you read this... write something... that doesnt try to suggest what to do but actually imrprov. But again kudos great artice.