If you are here reading this, you’re probably serious about becoming an awesome guitar player. But no matter how hard you practice or intend to practice, you need certain tools if you want the best possible chance of getting your playing up to the level that you want to reach.
Maybe you want to go for making it big as a professional guitarist, and you want to be competitive to get the gigs and the recording deal. Or, it may be that you just love to play. Whichever it is, you know that you want to be the best you can be.
There are seven must-have modern tools for becoming the guitarist of your dreams.
1. Video Guitar Lessons
Guitar instruction videos allow you to have a virtual teacher in your house at any time of day or night. Seeing the way that someone makes the guitar sound is invaluable to your learning and advancing, and with guitar videos you can pause, rewind, and replay, and often slow down the playback, whenever you need to, so that you’re able to see exactly how someone plays something that you want to know.
Another tip is to find videos of your favorite guitarists or people who’ve made videos showing how to play some things their way, so that the styles that are most inspirational to you can be incorporated into your own playing. Learning other players’ songs, pieces, and solos is one of the fastest methods for developing on the guitar. Invest in video guitar lessons.
2. Guitar Chord Charts
Knowing great chord voicings, as well as all of the basic and most-often used chords, is paramount for great guitar playing. Just as with watching videos, seeing the way chords and their different possible voicings on the guitar neck are formed is invaluable to memorizing them and being able to master their use in songs and pieces, be they original compositions or other musicians’ (including those that you may be playing with in a band one day).
By correctly visualizing how your fingers fret a chord, you also develop your ear over time to able to accurately recognize chords and notes by sound, and minimize ingrained mistakes that could prove quite hard to cleanse your playing of later on (especially when it comes to those augmented and diminished chords!). Chords are the basis of rhythm playing, composing melodies, playing arpeggios, and even the scales played in lead breaks.
3. Ear Training
David Lucas Burge’s Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch ear-training course recordings have gained worldwide renown, despite coming up against mountains of skepticism. His courses are the exemplars of awesome ear-training. Burge, a piano player, wasn’t born with perfect pitch and so was told that he just didn’t have it and never could. According to formal research as well as musician experiences, he proved all of the skeptical ones wrong.
Burge calls having perfect pitch having “color hearing”, meaning that to someone who has it each note in the musical scale has its own “color” which can always be instantly recognized, no matter the octave in which it’s played. The value of that doesn’t need any explanation! Burge also teaches about “relative pitch”, which is the ability to keenly discern special relationships between notes, intervals, and chords. Advanced relative pitch makes for great compositions. Even if you don’t buy Burge’s courses, invest in ear training, because what’s important is that it’s possible for you to hear music in a far more profound way — including in your mind just before you improvise a solo or begin composing.
There’s no music without time. You want to keep time as precisely as possible. To make your sense of time, or “keeping the beat”, as sharp as you can, invest in a metronome. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one, just a reliable one. As you most likely already know, this little device just clicks out a steady pulse according to whatever tempo at which you set it. By demanding of yourself as a guitarist that you keep the beat precisely in time with a metronome as you play, you make your playing that much more forceful while also enhancing your skill at jamming with other musicians.
Rhythmically precise playing isn’t stilted. Quite the opposite! Having a keen sense of timing gives you more room to play around creatively with notes, feeling the spaces in between them, using rhythm fluidly and as another power of expression. These days, you can find metronome apps on the App Store, Google Play, and elsewhere.
5. Egg Timer
Alright… why should a guitarist need an egg timer, except for preparing eggs? It’s because the guitarist uses the egg timer as a guide to practice sessions. In order to let your conscious brain recharge its batteries, and to help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s helpful to practice the guitar in bursts.
For example, practice intensely for 10 minutes, then rest for five minutes, then do that again until, say, two hours in total have passed. The last thing you want is to be distracted by a clock or your watch while you’re practicing a chord progression or the scales and nuances of a solo. And the second-to-last thing is burnout, be it physical or mental.
6. Learn to Read Music
There’s a music joke which goes something like this: “Q: How do you stop a pianist from playing? A: Take away his sheet music. Q: How do you stop a guitarist from playing? A: Put sheet music in front of him.”
It’s shocking how many guitar players don’t know how to read music. A culture that grew around learning everything by ear through recordings, improvising, the blues (and rock ‘n’ roll), and the guitar’s long being shunned by serious classical composers (now in the past, thanks mostly to microphones and amps) led to a tradition of guitarists not caring about sight-reading. (It doesn’t help matters that guitar music is written one octave higher than is actually sounded.)
But this proud inability is disadvantageous. If you want to be a pro, it makes you seem less professional. If you want to learn more music faster and be introduced to or communicate about music that you’ve never heard before, sight-reading is essential. It gives you a better feel for the subtle nuances of what the composer intended, too.
Many modern guitarists read guitar tablature. However, the leading guitar magazines and publications such as, for instance, Riff Journal, always have the actual sheet music published alongside the tab for guitar lessons. A great way of learning to read for the guitarist is to go back and forth between reading the tab and reading the score until reading actual music sinks in. Of course, there are music reading apps available these days, too. Consider them.
7. Learn Basic Classical Guitar Techniques
So… some of you read that and mentally respond, “I’ve got no interest in playing classical music. Why learn this stuff?” Maybe you’re a “blues man”, or you love getting down with funky rhythms, or you just want to rock. However, even if you’ve got no interest whatsoever in playing classical guitar, there’s a tremendous advantage to you in knowing something about it.
Practicing some classical guitar will help you with the aforementioned sight-reading. But more important than that, it will open a doorway to new chord voicings and arpeggiation (because you can pluck and pick with your fingers, not being limited to picking or strumming with a guitar pick).
You’ll also be able to increase your expressiveness with your fretting hand. How so? You’ll strengthen and be able to make dextrous use of your pinky finger, for one thing. For another, you’ll learn to think in conceptually different ways about soloing, moving far outside the “blues box” or any other box of limitations.
Now go ye forth and master guitar.
By Brant David