Mastering techniques

Lesson info:

This lesson will explain a method you can work through to learn and master any technique. This will be great for anybody learning on their own. The lesson won’t explain the actual techniques but more on how to learn them.

The Method

The idea of this method is to start off learning the mechanics of the technique then slowly work towards developing and using the creative side of the technique. We start off with exercises, then move on to listening to other players use the technique. After that we move on to improvising where we can comfortably use the technique however we like. As you can see, the method starts off very mechanical then moves towards creative uses. Many players have trouble practicing both the mechanical and the creative side of a technique. So have a read through this method so next time you want to learn a new technique or improve a technique you already know, you will have a better idea on important points to consider.

1. Exercises

It’s pretty obvious that exercises play a massive part in developing your skill with a technique. For any technique you can come up with countless exercises. When making up your own exercises, focus on specific movements you need to make. Break the technique up into parts and come up with exercises for each part.

For example: When playing sweep picking, the pick needs to move smoothly across the strings in one motion as opposed to separate picks in the same direction. Coming up with an exercise that focuses on this aspect is easy – without using the left hand focus on raking the pick across the strings down then up. After you feel comfortable with that exercise you can come up with other exercises that sync up the left hand to the same pick movement.

2. Using a metronome

When possible, practice the technique along with a metronome or rhythm track. This will force you to play in time and will let you know how well you actually know the technique. When starting out don’t try to speed up the metronome, just get used to playing the technique in time. Later on when you feel comfortable playing with the metronome you can slowly increase the tempo.

This is really important to remember. Make sure you play the technique perfectly at a slow pace before increasing the tempo. Many players who want to be able to play super fast get carried away and forget this. They try to speed up as soon as possible and end up playing really fast and really sloppy. If you want to be able to play a technique such as alternate picking really fast then work at it as slow as possible. To play fast (and accurate) you must start off slow.

3. Other people’s songs

When you want to learn a specific technique (let’s say tapping for this example), find out as many different songs as you can that use tapping. Listen to the parts and if you can watch videos of the guitarist tapping. Everybody will play techniques in different ways so seeing how other players use the technique will give you ideas on how you could do it. Many players assume that there is one correct way to play a technique but in reality there are so many different things you can do. Just listen to how Eddie Van Halen uses tapping and how differently Joe Satriani uses tapping in ‘Midnight’. Listen to any player use tapping and you will notice slight differences in how they execute the technique and also how they use it musically. Listening and trying to play these parts will give you a range of options on how you can use the technique.

4. Improvising

After you complete the above steps it’s time to really have fun with the technique. When you feel comfortable playing the technique its time to start improvising. Most guitarists learn guitar to play and create music so it’s crazy to learn a technique and not learn to use it freely. Improvising will help you really feel comfortable with the technique. Think of improvising as a ‘musical exercise’ instead of normal ‘technical exercises’. Find a simple backing track with no (or very few) chord changes and try using the technique in as many different ways as you can think of. Play over and over until it feels natural then try a different backing track. The idea is to get used to applying the technique in different ways along with different styles.

Method Example

It’s quite a lot of work to get through all the steps but that’s why the title is ‘Mastering techniques’ and not merely ‘learning techniques’. If you truly want to become a great player, these four steps are crucial to your development. Missing out on one step will limit your ability so try to work through all four thoroughly.

Here’s an example on how somebody could work through mastering a new technique and incorporate it into their playing.

John has been playing guitar for 5 years and decided he wants to learn tapping. His idol – Eddie Van Halen uses tapping a lot and John loves the sound and wants to use it in his playing.

After reading up on the technique, John starts off by coming up with a few simple exercises to help him learn the specific movements his right hand will use. John’s first exercise involves positioning his right hand over the fretboard and slowing moving his second finger on and off the 12th fret on the third string. He uses his left hand to mute the strings below the 12th fret so he can really focus on whether his right hand is tapping the note properly. After a while he practices the exact same exercise except this time uses his third finger to find out which he prefers. After John feels comfortable with the motion his right hand uses he comes up with another simple exercise to incorporate his left hand. He frets a note with his left hand and slowly taps on and off a higher fret with his right hand. John plays extremely slow to make sure that all the notes sound perfect.

After using a few more exercises John feels it’s time to practice them again along with a metronome. He sets the tempo extremely slow and plays the first exercise in time with the click of the metronome. John repeats all the exercises along with the slow tempo until it feels easy. After a few days worth of practice John slowly increases the tempo and practices the exercises again. Over the next couple of weeks John slowly increases the tempo until he is happy with the speed and accuracy he can comfortably play.

John now feels pretty confident in his technical ability to use tapping but now needs to learn how to use it in a musical way. John starts off by listening to how his idol – Eddie Van Halen – uses tapping on his CDs. John does a few searches on YouTube and watches some DVDs of Van Halen to see up close how he holds his hand while tapping. John looks up the tab for the tapping parts and tries to copy the hand position and technique Van Halen uses. John doesn’t want to be a copy-cat, instead he simply wants to gain insight on how another player plays and uses tapping.

After studying how Eddie Van Halen uses tapping, John looks up other guitarists that use the technique and watches plenty of videos to see how others do it. John had never heard other guitarists use tapping so this really opens his eyes on the different ways he can use it. John makes sure he looks at all type of players – Jazz, Blues, Country, Metal etc. to really find the different ways the technique can be played. Thanks to his searching John finds out that tapping isn’t just for super fast lead breaks – he can use it to tap out wide chords or even play simple melodies. Even know John doesn’t like those other styles, he has learned something from them he can take back to his preferred style, Rock.

Now that John has studied plenty of other guitarists and their use of tapping, John feels it’s time to apply this knowledge and play around with the technique. John picks a slow backing track in a key he feels comfortable with and starts improvising and tapping out different ideas. At first he struggles to come up with ideas so he plays licks other guitarists use. After a while he starts to come up with his own ideas and uses the technique in a way that he likes the sound of. Over time John plays along with backing tracks in different keys and different styles and he really starts to develop his ability to use the technique in a musical way.


For people who want to grasp the basics of a technique, this will be excessive. For others who want to become a fully formed player with total control of the techniques they play, this will be essential. Some players will even feel this isn’t enough and will come up with their own detailed plan on how to master a technique. Whatever your goals are, the ideas in this lesson will help you develop your skill in any technique. It’s really up to you how much you want to develop your skills and how much effort you want to spend developing them. Keep these tips in mind next time you learn a new skill and you should find the whole process a lot easier.

Click here for more articles