As a songwriter, playing an instrument isn´t mandatory, considering that you could just sing melodies or program instrumentation on a computer.
I do think that playing an actual instrument is still beneficial though! Once you learn to comprehend an instrument and grasp how chords and scales make up a composition, while at the same time developing a feel in your fingers can help you come up with new ideas easily. You can just goof around and discover new concepts basically.
And yet, playing an instrument requires patience and hard work. Today I want to share my tips on how to become better at playing the guitar. This is set out for guitar beginners, that might already know certain strumming patterns, open chords and some basic picking patterns as well.
If you want to move from beginner to intermediate, the following rules might be helpful:
1) Surround yourself with talented people
This is a mental thing. Once you start surrounding yourself with savy guitar players, that show off their talent, you may feel inspired and encouraged to follow into their footsteps. Once you realize how little you know still, and how much more there is to learn, you want to lose no more time and get right at it! It always works for me at least! Be careful though, not to set unrealistic expectations…be patient and make sure to ask for tips from your peers.
2) Set goals…..
I would have to say: Set REALISTIC goals. Becoming good at guitar requires countless hours of practice. There is no shortcut really. You just need to give your fingers and muscle memory time. Set some goals that you can track. Such goals could be:
- Learn all notes on the fretboard
- Learn to understand blues progressions
- Learn to apply barre chords
- Learn to play and sing at the same time etc.
- There are countless steppin stones. So write them on a list, start working and cross them off one by one! Way to go!!!
3) Know your pentatonics and dig into music theory
While I encourage you to just start playing the guitar without giving it to much thought at first, I definitely recommend you study some basic music theory once you are firm in all the basic major and minor chord shapes and some cool strumming patterns.
Understanding how scales work and which harmonies they require, will be an eye-opener. By understanding the logic behind the music, you are given the tools to build hooks methodically. Make sure to get an understanding of pentatonic scales, as they are the building blocks for licks and soloing!
4) Check your finger positions (sound quality)
This might sound obvious, but I´ve discovered some slouchiness in my own picking after years of playing….Too gain a nice sound and beautiful round notes, make sure to hit the strings really close to the fret on the left hand and to pick the strings with a certain amount of flesh on your fingers at the right hand. This keeps your notes from sounding flat or “thin”.
5) Practise on a metronome for speed and accuracy
In order to build speed and the ability to play to a click in the studio, it is vital to play to a metronome. Work on hitting the 8th and 16th notes evenly and practice starting at 80 bpm, then slowly advancing in paces of 3 till you reach 120 or more.
As with most things in life: Timing is everything 😉
6) Play live in order to test how your fingers work when you are nervous
One tip that I recommend before doing an open mic. Play to friends and family live and see if your fingers get shaky when performing in front of others. Try it in front of a group of people you love and trust and that won´t mind if you fail. It can be rather unsettling to stand on a stage for the first time and screw up your playing because of shaky hands.
7) Work with chord embellishments to add characteristic styles
In order to make your basic strumming patterns a bit more outstanding and interesting, you can start incorporating easy embellishments. In country hitting an extra bass note, between chord transitions is very common, in blues you may hit some blues notes on the blues scale! Also, changing the groove may to the trick! Go slow and experiment till you find your style!
8) Understand that guitar is also a rhythm instrument!
Get some basic knowledge on the most common grooves and adapt those into your patterns. Just by changing strumming patterns a song can go from blah to yay!
I recommend watching some drum lessons on youtube, in order to understand how rock, country, hip hop, rnb and the likes work.
Grooves are sometimes underestimated by songwriters that build their songs on lyrics or melodies first. Make sure to dive into the topic!