11. Learn some new guitar chords.
Let’s face it. In most popular songs, 80% of the guitar parts involve playing chords. This means that the vast majority of your playing, especially if you are in a band, is related to chords.
So spend some time working on new guitar chords.
Get a good guitar chord book if you don’t already have one, and decide that you are going to learn 3 new chords every week. That means that you will learn 12 new guitar chords every month. As you can guess, this will add up fast. In a year you have added 144 new guitar chords to your vocabulary.
The key when you learn these new guitar chords is that you MUST find a way to use them.
If you learn a new chord and have absolutely no way of using it, it’s like learning a new word and never being able to use it in conversation. In a short period of time you will have forgotten the word. The same is true with chords, if you don’t use them you will forget how to play them.
So use it or lose it.
12. Learn more about rhythm and time signatures and compose something in 3/4, 5/4, 7/8, etc.
This is also a big one.
Let’s be honest. As a guitarist it is very easy to get lost in the technical nature of the instrument.
You practice your guitar chords and guitar scales diligently.
You spend lots of time working on creating cool chord progressions and nailing that killer guitar solo note-for-note, but the million-dollar question is: “how much time (pun intended) do you spend working on your rhythm guitar playing?”
If you are like most guitarists, it’s probably a very small amount of your practice time.
There are lots of great ways to improve your rhythm playing. And by this I don’t just mean rhythm guitar parts. As you improve your sense of rhythm you’ll also improve your lead guitar playing.
If you are only comfortable playing 8ths and 16ths, then this is all you are going to do in your rhythm and lead guitar playing. If you have a wider rhythmic pallet to use, you will be able to create more interesting rhythm guitar and lead guitar parts.
So how do you improve your rhythm?
First you should learn the basics of rhythm and time signatures. Grab a best acoustic guitar theory book for this.
You may want to work your way through a drum book.
Yes, I’m not kidding.
I work all of my serious guitar students through a drum book called Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer by Ted Reed.
All you do is set up your metronome and clap the rhythms.
Work on a few pages a week and you will notice huge improvements in your rhythm.
The other thing you can do after clapping the rhythms, is apply them to chord progressions. Either compose your own or find one you can use with the rhythm. Also create a guitar solo that uses the new rhythmic figures you have just mastered.
The other great thing you can do for your rhythmic skills is listen to a wide variety of musical styles. Listen to everything you can get your hands on—including music from different cultures—this will expose you to some really cool rhythms.
Once you have started to experiment with different time signatures, you should spend some time composing pieces in these meters. Write something in 3/4, 5/4, 7/8, etc.
13. Dust off the metronome.
This one of course is related to number 12.
Another great rut-buster is to practice everything with a metronome.
If you already practice with a metronome then turn it off for a week and practice everything without it.
Another option is to use your metronome as a measuring stick.
Let’s say you are working on a new scale. Set up your metronome and practice the guitar scale with the metronome. Note the tempo that you are able to accurately play the scale. Make it your goal to increase the speed by one, two, or three beats per minute (bpm). Do this every practice session, or once a week, etc.
Just make sure it’s a realistic goal and be sure to remember that SPEED IS A BY-PRODUCT OF ACCURACY. If you play a scale or pattern faster than you can accurately play it, you are actually practicing your mistakes.
14. Get a DVD of your favourite guitar player.
There is probably nothing more inspiring than watching your favourite guitarist performing. Now it’s easier than ever to do this. A quick search online and you should be able to find a concert DVD you will like. If you can’t find your favourite guitar player, at least find a close runner up.
15. If you play mostly with a pick, focus on finger-picking.
If you are mostly a finger-style player, spend some time learning some flat-picking songs.
16. Play some slide guitar.
17. Retrace your roots.
Remember back to what got you started on guitar. What guitar songs did you want to play? Relearn these songs.
18. Get a new guitar instructional DVD.
There are lots of great instructional guitar DVDs to choose from. Grab one that focuses on an area of your playing you want to improve.
19. Get a new guitar instruction book.
There are tons of great guitar lesson books. Grab one or two now.
20. Grab a guitar magazine.
Go to your local newsstand and pick up one or two new guitar magazines. You’ll find some new songs to learn, and great articles and tips.
You might want to take this a step further.
In tip 2, I mentioned that you should learn some music from a different style of music.
Guitar magazines give you another way to do this. Why not pick up a guitar magazine that specializes in a style of music you’ve never played before?
21. Crank it up!
Need I say more?
Well there you go. You’ve now got 21 great ways to improve your guitar playing.
I would highly recommend that you print off this article now.
Print it off and put it in your guitar practice binder. This way you’ll always know where to find the article.
Pick one or two ideas that you like and put them to use today.
Every month or so, come back to this article and apply a new technique. Using these tips on a consistent basis will practically ensure that your playing will advance quickly. Also, you’ll blast through any plateaus you may encounter along the way.
Don J. MacLean is one of North America’s leading authorities on accelerated learning methods for guitar. Don is the author of over 30 books including
- How I Got Killer Guitar Chops While I Was Still in High School: Confessions of a High School Shredder,
- 21 Secrets to Learn any Guitar Song Super-Fast, 7 Secrets to Learn any Guitar Chord Super-Fast,
- Guitar Essentials: Chord Master Expanded Edition,
- The World of Scales,
- and the Absolute Essentials of Music Theory for Guitar.