Why Aren't You A Better Guitarist? Part 1

The first ten concepts (of twenty in total) you need to become a better guitarist!

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If you are like most players, you are desiring to become a better guitar player. Through my own learning experience and through teaching well over 1,000 students, I have learned a lot on this subject. Students often ask why they are not at the level that they desire to be and what can be done about it. I have asked myself this same question many times in the past. A long time passed before I began to understand the answers. Like you probably have done, I have read a ton of interviews with great players and articles written by many of these same players. I often found it frustrating whenever the subject of learning to play guitar came up or when advice was offered on improving one's playing. With a small number of exceptions, very little time and space was offered on this. Its not uncommon to see the player's advice be summed up in a grand total of three words: Practice! Practice!! Practice!!! Well of course we all know that practicing is the main ingredient. But rarely are we told much more than that. In my long quest to become an excellent player and to help my students do the same, I carefully took note of what worked and what didn't. What parts of conventional wisdom is accurate and what parts are not (at least in my opinion). I believe the twenty concepts that have proven to bring great results to those who use them are: 01. Educate yourself! No matter what level you are at today, you can be (and should be) learning more. If you are currently studying with a teacher or enrolled in a music program at a high school, college or university, you are on the right track. If you aren't doing this (or if you feel that your current teacher is not helping you enough in reaching your goals) I strongly recommend looking for a new teacher. (I have written an article on this exact topic titled: Choosing a Teacher). I can't stress enough how important it is to find the teacher that is right for you! Your teacher (or music program) should always be Goal Orientated. If its not, look for another teacher or school to study with! You don't need a teacher to simply give you information or things to practice - you can get those things anywhere, what you need is a teacher who: A. Knows what your goals are. B. Cares about helping you reach your goals. C. Knows how to help you reach your goals. 02. Listen to more music. Find more of the same music you already like. There is a lot of music out there that you haven't heard. I am sure you can find something you really like and that would inspire you. Look on the internet if you can't find it on the conventional radio. Check out internet radio, you can customize what you hear based on your preferences, its a great tool! Check out web sites that you know feature a lot of the music in the style you like. 03. Turn your musical frustrations into an asset in the form of a motivating force. I wrote a whole article called Musical Frustration. I don't want to repeat here everything that I wrote in that article, so read it if you haven't already. If you have read it, it may be worth your time to read it again now. 04. Believe in yourself. You have probably heard that phrase many times before. Its unfortunate how many people still refuse to invest their own beliefs into themselves. I wrote an article on Perseverance which deals indirectly with believing in yourself. Please read it if you have a problem believing that you can reach your goals. 05. Understand that becoming a better guitarist means becoming a better musician as well. When developing your musical skills, make sure to think beyond skills that are specific to guitar. Of course you will be working on many guitar skills: various guitar techniques, chords, scales, soloing, etc., but don't neglect other skills that are not guitar specific like, ear training (also called aural skills), songwriting, improvising, creativity, reading music, music theory, etc. 06. Surround yourself with better players (or at least with those on your same level.) When you started out playing guitar, everyone was better than you, but now you have grown and there are less people better than you than before. The better you get, the harder it will be to find others who are superior to you to hang around or jam with. But no matter how good you get, there will always be something you can learn from someone else. Seek out those people, get to know them, jam with them, discuss music and guitar with them. Be willing to give as much (or more) as you want to take. If you are fortunate enough to be above the level of other guitarists in your area, seek out great bassists, pianists, violinists, drummers, etc. You can learn from them as well. (Even if you are not better than your guitar player friends, seek out musicians that play other instruments as well anyway). 07. Find out what inspires you and soak yourself in that. For me, going to concerts to see great players or bands inspires me to practice more. Listening to great singers inspired me to refine my vibrato and phrasing. Listening and studying the music of great classical composers inspired me to study music composition. I wanted to write great music. Watching the movie Star Wars when I was a kid, reading Lord Of The Rings, etc. inspired me as well. There are lots of non musical things that have been inspiring to me. The greatest source of inspiration has been my own personal experiences in life and within myself. The desire to express that was (and still is) a constant burning desire and powerful force that thrusts my desire to improve and propel me forward. Know what truly inspires you, seek it out, surround yourself with it and soak there. 08. Define your purpose. What is your definite purpose? Do you really know what it is? If I were standing in front of you right now and asked you this question, could you give me specific answers and explanations? Can you write it on paper in specific terms? This is critical to setting goals, planning strategy and monitoring the results, etc. When all the enemies of progress start to creep into your mind, you will need to bring your definite purpose to the forefront of your thinking. I have seen procrastination, fear of failure, self doubt, lack of motivation, temporary setbacks, and other negative things bring people with great potential to a halt. Knowing your definite purpose and reminding yourself of it when a negative thought comes into your mind will help you overcome it. 09. Define exactly why your purpose exists in your mind. I specifically choose to list this separately from defining your purpose because I did not want you to let the why get lost in the act of defining. Trust me, this is important. 10. Create a strategy! You need a strategy that will layout exactly how you are going to reach your goals. Dreaming alone won't take you anywhere. Telling yourself that you are going to play your guitar everyday isn't enough. There is a lot more that goes into being an excellent player than simply playing your guitar. Ultimately you should work backwards. State your ultimate goals (on paper) then make a bunch of short and medium range goals. Think of reaching your goals as a relay race, NOT as a marathon. Each short term and medium term goal is the end of one segment of your plan and the beginning of the next segment (just like a relay race.) There are many benefits of looking at things this way as you will discover for yourself in your own way. If you clearly know what your ultimate goals are, you can do this yourself. But if you need help in planning out the short and mid term goals to plan your strategy. Consult a teacher whom you trust and believe can help you with this - its worth it believe me. If you can't find a teacher who can do this for you, pay someone (yes I said pay) to help you develop a specific plan to do this. The best person to approach for this is someone who is already doing whatever it is that you want to be doing. Remember that its ok to daydream and fantasize about where you are planning to go, but it can't stop there. Don't wish without planning! Don't dream without doing! And always, always, have a strategy. You may need to revise certain aspects of your strategy as time goes on and that's ok, but don't try to go forward without one if you want the maximum results in the shortest amount of time. In my early days learning to play guitar, I wasted a lot of time aimlessly desiring to get better without having a clue as to how to plan for it. Sure I practiced a lot, but without direction and without an efficient path to follow. Most of my substantial progress as a musician came only after I developed a strategy and worked with it. If you are wondering why I haven't given you a detailed explanation of the strategies I used in the past, it would be pointless for me to tell you what my strategy was, because it was specific only to my goals. Chances are, your goals may differ greatly from mine in many different ways. That is why you need your own strategy for your own personal goals. One last piece of advice before we move on, write everything on paper and read it everyday! It will keep you focused and on target. Tom Hess is a professional virtuoso guitarist and teacher. He has toured in many countries through out the world. To find out more check out the official Tom Hess web site. See Tom Hess on the HolyHell world tour in 2006. Tour dates posted here. Copyright 2005 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

108 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Emil_Gorecki
    i totally 100% agree with 'tunskies', this article is so shit, and so is this tom hess dude, all he ever does in about 95% of his articles is advertise him self as a teacher, saying stuff like you will get no where with miss leading info off the net, and that the ONLY way you will get better as a guitarist is if you get a teacher
    Kaela Koala
    Great article, written by a man who knows what he's talking about it provides inspiration for those who need a push in the right direction we could all learn from this article well done Tom!
    Smokey Amp
    I'm going through a sucky stage at the moment, I could really do with some self-belief. =\
    Emil_Gorecki
    ^ ok, tell me what you have truley learnt from this article, because all of this is just common sense.
    PunkMetalFreak
    Emil_Gorecki wrote: i totally 100% agree with 'tunskies', this article is so shit, and so is this tom hess dude, all he ever does in about 95% of his articles is advertise him self as a teacher, saying stuff like you will get no where with miss leading info off the net, and that the ONLY way you will get better as a guitarist is if you get a teacher
    you and "tunskies" are both *****s, this guy is trying to help fellow guitar players and all you do is flame him??? pathetic
    guitaron
    to those all so advanced dudes that don't seem to find any useful information here; maybe this ain't the article for you. It was obviously written for a general audience, the average player. and don't slam the guy, cuz no matter what someone learned something here, and this guy took his time to help some ppl improve their skills. i say thanks for the FREE advice man.
    G_Dub777
    wow dont listen to this guy^. hes full of it. setting goals makes you good thats why hes mad. because he cant set goals and thats why he has a bad attitude. articles like these boost peoples confidence in learning to play better. thnx much!!
    tunskies
    unhelpful, setting goals? wtf is that. dunno y u all crapped ur pants ova this article p.s dont bother replying and saying im dumb or sumthin, i dont give a shit and i wont be back to read em
    Nirvana_rocks73
    Yes Tom Hess...again....'I wrote an article on...' Hahaha. last time I spazzed at this guy.... Stop praising yourself so much haha. Nice Article though.
    RustyGold
    Thanks mate. But at times, the article seems almost too academic. Some of us play just for fun, not a profession. Great article, your main point is that you need a "strategy" if you want to get somewhere, or develop a certain style.
    guitar7masta
    I believe the twenty concepts that have proven to bring great results to those who use them are: ha ha, there's only 10 concepts i liked it though
    AthenasGhost
    YOUR NOT A BETTER GUITARIST BECAUSE YOU DONT PRACTISE ENOUGH, OR YOU DONT CARE ENOUGH. THERES FOOD FOR THOUGH :d lol
    tomhess
    Hello to everyone. Thanks to all of you that posted replies. I am happy to read that so many of you really got something positive and useful from my article here. There will always be some people that "choose" to learn nothing or want to throw mud around. And that is fine, let them be. I don't writie articles for them, I write them for those of you that are open minded enough to learn and benefit in any way you can. In general this is a really good forum and many of yuo had many good constructive points of your own, I thank you for sharing them with everyone. I am sorry I have not been more active on this thread. It was not my intent to post once and then leave (hit and run). It would be easier for me to stay in touch if this forum had an email notification for every time someone posted on this thread. I've been busy in the studio lately, but will make a better attempt to stick around here a bit more at least from now until December 18th (I'll be traveling to Europe then). Someone had asked about the musicial frustration article that I refered to in the article above. You can read that here http://tomhess.net/articles.php?article=... , (at some point I'll probably post that here as well) Thanks again to all of you!
    mattack
    i thought this was pritty good, bout a 8/10. I dont however think u need a teacher to get good, just lock urself in a room, with the internet and a guitar and amp, and have fun
    gc_punk27
    really good article! i'm totally gonna look back at this when i feel discouraged or uninspired, or whatever. great job, i'm looking forward to more great articles to read!
    ibanezza
    I liked this article but would have liked some examples of the "goals" you suggest I set myself. Like.. learn a new chord ever day or what??...
    lordoftheflies
    believe in myself? screw that... learn scales, and chords... then practice them in songs... thats it. getting a teacher to teach you stuff like the minor penetonic or whatever is alright, but unneeded. go to school to learn theory...
    showbiz-legend
    i understand people may be taking the long way round to learn, but explain that to them rather than ignore their comments, regardless of how strange their ideas might be
    showbiz-legend
    if people have a different idea to you tom, its a bit unfair to label them as those who " choose not to learn", and things like "let them be.." you sound like the chosen one. people have opinions, and the joy of an opinion is that it cant be wrong.
    toddbob
    awesome article man: 5/5 Listening to other music is really beneficial. My first solos were Metallica's and i had trouble getting the speed for them. I started listening to stuff like Killswitch Engage and Trivium whereas in their stuff, you have to use tremelo picking and pick a little faster than Metallica's rythum stuff. I turned around and played the Metallica solo's much easier. Also, hone your skills in playing by ear. I've perfected several solo's this way, mainly Metallica (for example). Tabs are tabbed according to what the person hears (or they're supposed to be. anyways) and that person may hear something completely different than what you hear. So if you're learning a song, i reccomend downloading the song off of the internet or getting the song on cd so you can interpret what you hear compared to what the tabs say. Just something to ponder on. Again, this is an awesome article, rock on all.
    the_jammer
    Very nice. It gave me the inspiration to play better guitar. Thanks for the advice
    fox69
    hmmm al rite article... however its stating the obviuos a lot. I almost feltm as tho i was i therapy the way he speaks in it tho. e.g. "What do u think is ur purpose?", "Believe in yourself", "why is that your purpose". but anyways, alrite
    Guitar_picker_1
    You know what they say, nothing is free. ... Nice lesson, but I think if you truly want to play the guitar you shoud already know everything said. 3/5
    LordoftheDorks
    awwman i totally went to the guys site and tried to get lessons but you have to pay, totally wishful thinking for me to want free lessons ...