7 Things You Can Do Today to Change Your Guitar Playing Forever

Most of the things you do when practicing or learning guitar will give your playing skills and knowledge a slight boost. Over time these slight boosts help you develop as a player. On the other hand there are things you can do that will dramatically change the way you play guitar forever. That’s a pretty bold statement but once you give these 7 actions a go you’ll see the big improvement in your playing.


Action 1: Play something you have never played before

I don’t mean a new song or learn a new solo, but to play something completely new. This is actually a lot harder then you may think. Just pick up your guitar now and spend twenty seconds improvising. Now think about what you just played. What position did you play in? Did you straight away play in a familiar position on the neck? Did you play licks that you normally play when you improvise? How much of what you just played was completely different to what you normally do?


The revealing truth is that when most of us improvise, what we normally do is recycle ideas we have heard from other players or ideas we have used ourselves over and over. This happens subconsciously so although we may think that we’re creating something completely fresh – we’re not. If you don’t believe that, try playing something again then analyze what you just played. If you’re honest with yourself you will realize that we do in fact play in a ‘safe zone’ where we reuse the same ideas and principles over and over. When you first pick up your guitar and play something, it’s a pretty good bet that you automatically follow a certain routine and loosely play the same thing every time. This action will help you break that automatic process that doesn’t help you improve.


So the challenge in our first action: really try to play something completely different. Throw everything you know about scales, rhythm, melody, phrasing, etc. out the window and try to create something completely different. This is an extremely tough job and it will take a few attempts before you start to break free of your own comfort zones. But once you create something that you truly know is something you have never done before, the ‘aha’ moment you have will open a new door to your playing.


What will this do for your playing?

It will help you learn to be truly creative. As crazy as that sounds it’s true.


Action 2: Use your guitar to mimic a singer

Choose a song where you love the vocals. Choose a song where you know the vocal parts so well you can hear them in your head without needing to listen to the song. Now take your guitar and try to replicate the vocal parts.


To do this you first need to find the right notes. Start off by focusing on a single line. Work out the notes you need to play and play along with the song. Then spend some time thinking about how you need to play each note to get as close to the vocal quality as you can. This is tough so take your time. Listen to the line in the song over and over and really focus on each nuance. Try to copy each nuance using your guitar and really push yourself to open up your playing and match the singer as close as possible.


What will this do for your playing?

It’s one thing to play the right notes. To make your guitar sing changes the game completely. When you learn to make your guitar sing as if it were alive, you will never look back. A guitarist like Santana (and countless others) can create a whole song around four notes if he can make those notes sing.


Action 3: Give somebody a guitar lesson

You may feel like you fully understand a certain concept or principle until you try to explain it to a beginner. Trying to explain proper vibrato technique to a beginner is quite a challenge and forces you to really think about your own technique habits. Teaching guitar forces you to really make sure you demonstrate everything perfect because you don’t want your student to pick up on any bad habits you may have formed. In other words it’s a great way to put the microscope on your own technique and habits and really make sure you do everything perfect.

It will also test how well you really know concepts such as music theory. How would you explain what C7 means to a beginner? Or how would you explain the Dorian mode? You may think you can explain it properly but what happens if you student doesn’t understand and you need to think up a different way to explain it?


To complete this task all you need to do is give anybody a lesson. For sure one of your friends would have mentioned in the past that they would love to play guitar. Well give them a free lesson on the basics. You might be surprised how challenging it can be to properly explain the techniques you do automatically.


What will this do for your playing?

Learning to explain tricky techniques and theory to somebody else reinforces your own skills and understanding. Teaching other people to use proper technique will ensure that you follow it too!


Action 4: Write an article or lesson and submit it as a guest post on a guitar blog

This may seem like a strange task at first. But writing about a certain aspect of guitar playing opens your mind to think about how you play guitar in new ways. Imagine for a moment you had to write an article about your practice habits, what would you write? Do you practice in an effective way or can you think of better ways to practice? As soon as you put down the guitar and ponder over a topic like this, you start to see outside the box.


Here’s a few topics you could write about to get you thinking about your playing in new ways:

  • How to start improvising
  • Learning to transcribe music by ear
  • How to discipline yourself to perfect your techniques
  • Being creative
  • Writing melodies on guitar
There are so many different things you could write about and each time you do so, your level of understanding increases. Pick a topic you feel confident in to start with then after you write up a lesson, try another one on something you’re lesson confident with.
Submit it to any guitar site offering it as a guest post. Ask for feedback on it and for them to let you know if they don’t want to use it. That way if they don’t want to use it (don’t take it personally) you can send it to a different site. Do this to hopefully get some constructive feedback from experienced guitar writers. They may find out that your understanding of the topic isn’t quite right. This challenge is a great way to learn something about your level of knowledge and try to find ways to improve it. If you send your article to a blogger and they like it, you may even decide to write regularly on guitar topics.


What will this do for your playing?

This challenge will help you get a clear view of your current level of knowledge. You may feel like you understand a certain aspect of theory properly (eg: modes) but until you write about them, you won’t know for sure. Once you start writing on a topic you will find out how well you truly know the subject. This will all help you improve as a guitarist as it will help you refine your understanding of guitar and the theory involved.


Action 5: Spend 30 minutes playing only two notes

When you jam with somebody or just improvise on your own, you probably play all over the neck or at least a fairly large section of the neck. Because you are so used to playing a wide range of choices, a challenge like this will feel incredibly difficult. The aim of this challenge is to get you used to making the most out of a very limited number of notes. By doing this task you can work your creativity and make the most of what you have.


To accomplish this challenge, simply play the two notes below in as many different ways you can for 30 minutes.


Set a stopwatch or countdown timer for 30 minutes and only play those two notes. You can only play the two notes shown, you can’t play D or E anywhere else on the neck. The two notes you play have to be on the seventh and ninth frets on the G string (as shown). The reason for this is to limit your choices down to actually using the notes rather than thinking about where else you could play.

When you start this challenge, depending on your current skill level you will start to run out of ideas after the two minute mark. If you give up at this point you will completely miss the point. By continuing past this two minute mark you will force yourself to come up with fresh new ways to play these two notes that you haven’t tried before.

The longer you can last without repeating your ideas the more your creativity will grow. The reason this challenge is so difficult is because we are all used to having a wide range of choices and the ability to freely play in different positions and choose different notes. When you are forced to actually think about how you will use the notes instead of thinking about what the next note will be, you start to learn to really play. You probably won’t last 30 minutes but the longer you do last the more you will learn and improve.

What will this do for your playing?

If you can successfully play these two notes for 30 minutes without getting stuck for new ideas, imagine what you can do with three notes. Imagine what you can do with a whole fretboard! After the grueling 30 minutes of struggling to come up with fresh ideas, you will really start to think about making each note count. This effect is obvious when you compare the jamming of an intermediate player versus an expert player. The intermediate play will shred like crazy, filling their playing with lightning fast scale runs. The expert play may play some shred and include scale runs, but they will do so only when it’s suitable, and they will choose very selectively which notes they play. They make each note count.

This challenge will change your playing forever because it will get you stuck out of the rut you didn’t even know you were in. It will teach you to make each note count.


Action 6: Transcribe a lick or riff by ear

In the past when a guitarist wanted to learn how to play a song they would either buy a sheet music book, or if they were unavailable as they often were they would learn by ear. This is a skill which is quickly dying off as countless TABs are available in an instant online. It’s a bit of a learning curve to figure something out by ear and when it’s so easy to download a TAB instead, well it’s no wonder people prefer the instant option. This challenge is to get you used to using your ears and learning to hear the music rather than read it.


Choose a song where you haven’t seen the TAB before and choose an interesting lick or riff you would like to learn. It’s best to do this at a computer so you can easily playback the lick or riff over and over without having to fiddle around with rewind on a CD player or iPod. Listen to the lick a few times in a row then try to play it on your guitar. Just give it a go and fish for the notes that sound about right. Listen to the lick again a few times and make adjustments to what you played. Continue the pattern of finding the right notes, listening to the lick, then making adjustments. Keep on making adjustments until you’re certain that the notes you are playing are exactly the same as what you’re hearing.

Once you complete this challenge and manage to figure out an entire lick or riff by ear, you can choose to keep going and learn an entire solo, or an entire song. But even if you just learn a single lick or riff by ear, it puts you miles ahead of so many other guitarists.


What will this do for your playing?

Very few guitarists starting to learn today will learn this skill. Not because they are lazy, but because TABs are so accessible it never occurs to them that this skill is important. Learning to develop your listening skills is paramount to becoming a great musician. You may already be a great guitarist but with this skill you can become a great musician as well.


Action 7: Jam with other musicians

This will have a huge impact on your abilities especially if you have never done it before. If you do regularly jam with other musicians, we can change this action to jam with other musicians playing an instrument you have never jammed with before. So if you have never jammed with somebody playing a Trumpet, try to find somebody who plays it then jam with them.

The reason jamming with other musicians is so powerful is because it helps you gain a new perspective on music. Seeing how another musician improvises and uses your ideas to come up with new variations is a great way to improve your creativity. You will be able to bounce ideas back and forth and try things new you haven’t done before (see action 1).

The more different the musician you jam with is to you the better. If you’re a metal player and jam with another metal player, you may learn a bit but it won’t be anything compared to what you would learn if you jammed with a jazz player or a player who plays something else completely different to metal. The idea here is to break out of your comfort zone and try something new.


What will this do for your playing?

Every single musician you jam with will teach you something regardless of their level of expertise. Even a beginner will teach you something (often what not to do). Whenever you have the opportunity to jam with another musician, make sure you take full advantage and go for it. Even if the musician plays a style you don’t like, just keep an open mind and you may still learn something. One of the easiest ways to kill any progress you make as a musician is to have a closed mind. Jamming with other musicians with an open mind could possibly have the biggest effect on your playing out of these seven actions.


What next?

You may notice that some of these actions you have done before and some you haven’t. The whole point is to try something completely new to you to grow your comfort zone and learn new skills. So after you try these seven actions, you can keep going by finding new ways to challenge yourself. Whenever you come across a guitar lesson or anything else that you haven’t done before, give it a go. It’s the only way to make real progress as a guitarist. If we keep doing the same things over and over, we might gradually increase our skills and abilities but they won’t dramatically change in new ways. These seven actions will each give your development a massive boost in very different ways.


These seven actions were chosen because you can do them again and again and still learn from them. Make it a personal goal to try to play something completely different (action 1) every time you practice. Next time you hear a nice lick or riff that you want to learn, don’t just go find the TAB, try to work it out on your own (action 6). Whenever you meet a musician ask them if you can jam with them some time (action 7). Every time you repeat these actions you will learn new things and become a better guitarist and a better musician.

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