If you want to improve your guitar playing you’ll need to consistently do certain things.
If you follow the 8 tips below and stick with them over a period of time your guitar playing will become much better, smoother and more second nature.
It’s a combination of the effort you put in and the way you practice.
Tip #1: Always Practice with a goal in mind
Always have a goal in mind for every practice session. Don’t worry if you don’t quite hit what you are trying to achieve just try to make progress towards that goal and you can pick up on it in your next practice session if needs be.
Then as soon as your goal is achieved create a new goal.
Your playing will improve in leaps and bounds if you do this for every single session. It’ll probably sneak up on you – and one day you’ll catch yourself in the mirror, or someone will make a comment or you’ll record something, and you’ll be like “holy crap – I’m pretty good now!”
You might like to “just play” but there’s plenty of time for that. Do something towards a goal at the start of every practice session. If you still feel like just mucking around then go for it – but work towards something specific first.
Tip #2: Learn Chords in Different Positions up the Neck
And I’m not just talking about barre chords.
If you write music, your compositions will improve out of site if you can use chord patterns in other positions on the fingerboard rather than your standard old open chords.
If you like to improvise then this is going to make you a lot less one dimensional in your chord playing.
If you’re simply jamming with others and you want to spice a song up and add some richness you can play some less than standard chords in different positions to keep things more interesting.
Not only will your writing, improvisation and sound in general improve, but it also looks far more impressive. If I’m watching a guitarist play a bunch of barre chords and open chords in the first position it’s way less interesting than a guitarist who is playing interesting chords up the fingerboard.
Yes most guitarists know how to play barre chords all along the fingerboard – but these become stale and boring very quickly – and everyone is playing them. Experiment with different shapes for chords and you’ll be amazed at how much richer your playing can sound.
Tip #3: Practice Slowly and Properly Before Playing at Full Speed
If you are learning anything, it is far better to learn it slowly but correctly. Once you have something down at a slow pace, then slowly increase the pace. This is far better than trying to play something at full pace and making a load of errors in the process.
Of course you’ll make errors to start with, even playing slowly – but you’ll be able to play what your learning without errors sooner than if you played at full speed.
Why is this important? Because if you always play something fast but with errors and you do this for long enough, your muscles memory will remember the errors and that will become ingrained – making it more difficult to learn properly.
So be patient and play things slowly but correctly at first. Then gradually increase the speed. If you find after increasing the speed you are starting to make errors again, then go back play it slowly again a couple of times before trying to increase the speed again.
Tip #4: Practice with a Metronome
Practicing with a metronome has a couple of great benefits.
Firstly, your timing will be drastically improved. Even if you never play in a band or a group situation – even if you never record or never play live (all things that improved timing will make you a much better guitarist for), you’ll still sound much better.
Even if you only ever play around friends or family they will appreciate you playing in time (and you will too because you’ll notice the difference).
The other thing is that using a metronome will make tip #3 above easier to implement. i.e. it helps you to learn things at a slower pace.
If you set the metronome so that it forces you to learn something at a slow pace then you won’t be tempted to, or inadvertently, play at a faster speed. It also means that you can gradually increase your pace using the metronome.
Tip #5: Get your Guitar Set Up
If your guitar is set up wrong (and I’m basically referring to your guitar’s action – i.e. how high the strings are sitting above the fingerboard) then you’ll be making your playing unnecessarily difficult.
I demo and review a lot of guitars, so I’m well versed in the difference it can make going between one guitar with a poorly set action (poorly for my tastes) and one that is set up well. I feel like a difference guitarist instantly.
On a well set up guitar I am more confident to try things, I play more smoothly, make less errors and just in general find it far more enjoyable.
I’d say around 4 out of 5 guitars (to pull a rough figure out of my head) that I play when I visit someone with a guitar aren’t set up well. So many guitarists could instantly improve with a setup.
Pay the little bit extra and pay a luthier (guitar maker) or guitar tech or whoever in your area does set ups, to set your guitar up for you – it’ll be well worth the cost. Or if you want to learn to do it yourself you can too.
A set up usually involves a combination of a truss rod adjustment and/or a nut adjustment and/or a saddle adjustment.
Tip #6: Assess whether or not you have the right pick
If you only ever play finger style this won’t apply to you, but otherwise you should learn to play with a pick, even if you don’t use it for everything you play. It can make your playing richer and more dynamic for certain styles and techniques.
Whether you already play with a pick or are going to learn to use one – make sure to think about the pick you are using. They can make a big difference – often guitarists aren’t using the appropriate pick for their style or their taste.
Finding the most appropriate pick can make it easier to play your style, and can make you play better and more accurately.
Experiment and find the pick that’s right for you.
Tip #7: Take Lessons and Get Your Technique Right
I never used to take lessons for anything. I preferred to teach myself everything – and thought that I did a pretty good job and thought that was the way that I learned best.
But since taking lessons in a bunch of differnt things I’ve realized that you just can’t replace tuition from someone who can already do what you are aiming to do. It’s priceless and can make you improve a lot.
Now I take lessons for everything I want to improve at – and it always makes a huge difference.
Playing guitar is no exception.
Even if you don’t want to commit to taking lessons for years and years – take lessons at least to make sure you are playing with good technique. Whether those lessons are online (from a structured, organized lesson provider – not just randomly scrawling you tube) or in-person it doesn’t matter too much (though if you think your technique needs looking at for faults then in-person can sometimes be better at least for a couple of lessons – or some online providers will assess your technique if you send them a video of you playing).
This tip is so important so don’t skip this one.
Tip #8: Record Yourself Playing
Record yourself playing and listen back. Often when we are playing we don’t hear exactly how we are sounding because we are also concentrating on playing.
This can point out any errors you are making – or point out if you’re playing sounds dull or not as crisp or as smooth as you would like.
Regularly record yourself and go back and compare. Doing so not only points out areas for improvement but can serve as a great motivator for improvement as you are actually hearing your progress.
Even better – film yourself playing.
Thanks for Reading
Follow all of the tips in this post and I am confident that you’ll become a much improved guitarists in a relatively short amount of time.
The longer you keep doing these things the better you’ll get.