10 Ways to Maximize Your Guitar Playing

Many times it is necessary to acquire an over-all knowledge and understanding of how to go about practicing guitar, as opposed to just learning techniques, riffs, scales and modes. All of these things are highly important of course but when applied correctly, can make the ultimate difference in progress. Progress is the ticket for many guitarists because everyone, no matter what their passion is, strives for personal growth.

Even if a guitarist starts out sloppy and looks at their own playing half-hearted, eventually they will start taking it more seriously, because they tend to get a taste of what’s possible in their own playing. Eventually a guitarist will become somewhat of a perfectionist, and for many the word perfection is sublime, but once you attach that “ist” to it, it some how taints the beautiful word perfection, by suggesting that there is a lot of work involved.

Well, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t any work involved, but feel comfortable in saying that, because if you do play guitar, then you already know that there is no really easy method to establishing an exclusive prestigiousness in your playing.

However, there are two ways of looking at this. I don’t believe in right and wrong, I only believe in good and better. In my opinion there is no wrong way to do anything, only a better way and I strongly believe that those who have chosen to remove words such as “can’t” and “wrong” from their vocabulary, travel further. Also, a hard lesson for most of us, and I certainly am no different, is this false form of competition. The competition that I am speaking of, comes in the form of competing with time itself. Usually this is cleverly masked as competing with someone who is better than yourself. This is an unhealthy form of competition. You shouldn’t compete with those who are more advanced than yourself in anything that you do in life. Instead, you should correct your thinking and use them as a milestone to reach. This is a mandatory outlook, and I am sorry if you do not agree, but after studying many things in my life, it still stands tried and true.

There is one person that you should compete with, and only that person. That person is you. By doing this, you inspire and push yourself to accomplish what you know that you are capable of doing. Yes, this is a pep talk, but I often remind myself in my life of these very same things, though over time it gets easier and easier to the point where you almost don’t have to remind yourself of these desirable attributes in thinking.

I’ll leave you with this very true thought. Success in anything is 90% proclaimed by the correct and positive mindset. Re-read that and eliminate the word “correct”.

1. Practice everyday for an hour.
For many of you, finding the time to tackle personal interests is daunting, considering that many of you work very hard in the job world, and many of you have a family to attend to, not to mention the things that would seem necessary to conquer in order to exist. Its all about being able to manage your time. An hour isn’t much and can be fulfilled effectively. The best time that I have found to practice is with the TV on and the sound on mute. If you have a favorite program that you cannot get away from, keep your guitar handy and practice during the commercials. That is not the most effective way to practice but it still does the trick. Practicing throughout the day or evening is the best way. Practice for 20 minutes, take care of something that requires your attention, go back and practice for 10 minutes, take care of something else, then practice for 25 minutes.

That is not a formula. Don’t take me literally when I say practice for 20, then 10 and then 25. The key is to break it up and you really shouldn’t keep track, unless you are having trouble disciplining yourself.

2. If possible work with a metronome.
You can buy one for peanuts, but there are a lot of free ones out there. My personal favorite is a program called Guitar Speed Trainer. I like it the best because its an actual training method that doesn’t require a lot of time, and you can program your own passages into it. The best part about it is that it has the typical tick-tock sound of a metronome, but it is one step better for the simple reason that you can match up the notes you play with the notes that are being played in the program.

The key to using a metronome is to find your limit and then set the metronome to an extremely conservative number. If you can play something very easily at 80bpm (beats per minute) then set it to 60bpm, no matter how incredibly boring it is. Practice a riff at this speed, several times over, until it is flawless, then set the metronome for anywhere between 61 and 65bpm. Take breaks in between, repeating this process until you have reached a speed where your hands lose control, then stop. Call it a day. The next time you go to practice, practice starting at 60, and then practice starting at a slightly higher setting like 65bpm. Use that formula for taking breaks and slowly building your speed. It will take a little bit of time to reach your goal, but being consistent is what will get you there, a lot quicker than you might think. You’ll be glad you did it.

3. Don’t always practice the same thing.
Make the attempt to step back and look at the exercises that you are playing, and make the effort to figure out how you can make them a little more difficult, interesting and melodic in order to challenge yourself. Then practice them with the metronome using that same principle. Figure out different timings and look at ways to make your picking hand pick out 2 notes on this string, 3 notes on that string and 4 notes on another string, within the same pattern or exercise.

4. Practice with one chord.
Pick any chord and see how you can condition yourself to come up with different strumming approaches and rhythms. Really think about it. “I’ll try playing this chord with 3 strums in even timing. Now I’m going to take that chord, play 2 strums and hesitate before the 3rd and final strum”, or “I’ll play this chord five times, with 4 down strokes, but the 5th one will be an upstroke”.

5. Practice with multiple chords.
Go out there on the world wide web and find a chord chart. Pick five randomly and play each one over and over again, repeating its name as you are playing it. Then, ignoring chord progression formulas, rearrange the order of those 5 chords. This will help you memorize and will train your ear for ultimate modulation. After you have mastered those 5 chords, add another 5 chords. Now you have 10 guitar chords to work with when you experiment with chord progression. Continue this process.

6. Get a simple tape deck for recording purposes.
I would say use some recording software that you might have, but a tape is a little bit faster, for when you want to record quickly and have immediate playback. Record yourself playing a chord that interests you. Record yourself strumming it over and over again, with any rhythm that you like, but make sure to record it for a good length. Play it back and then solo over it, which brings us to….

7. Soloing.
People think to hard about guitar and they think way to hard about soloing on the guitar. They have no idea because they choose to be stubborn and not correct their thinking. It is not hard. Forget scales – forget modes. Do you honestly think that when I am improvising, I am thinking about what mode I am playing out of? If someone asks me later what mode I was playing out of, I can most certainly backtrack and define, but let’s look at the word theory. Theory, as in theoretical, as in theoretically this is a way to explain something so that two people can be on the same page, but it is a tool like the guitar itself, and it is far from being set in stone. Unfortunately, people base their musical lives around this. The world of musical theory is beautiful and fascinating, but until a guitarist is willing to experiment, it will not make a lot of sense, no matter how knowledgeable that guitarist may be. Which brings us to….

8. Improvising.
Yngwie Malmsteen declared that “The genesis of all musical creation comes from improvisational playing”. I know that I have quoted him before, but I can’t even put it as well as he did. Don’t be afraid of it. Too many people ask about how you get started improvising and then developing your own solos. The answer? develop your own style. Listen to a lot of different types of music and not just guitar related music, and yes, Malmsteen even said the same thing. Build a massive collection of varying musical genres and then jam with those Cd’s or mp3s as often as possible. You may not be very good at first, but that’s a part of any challenge. Start with a note and if it matches what you are listening to, then find another note that matches to go along with that note. Try to keep in rhythm with the music that you are listening to while you are playing those 2 notes, and then take a chance and grab another note. That 3rd note may not work so well, but you always have options like bending or sliding that note up to one that does work. In doing this, you are training your reflexes. I still hit a lot of funky notes when I improvise, but have taught myself to correct them, almost before its noticed. You can do this too. Some people don’t even know when I’ve made a mistake and some people do. I don’t care because I’m having fun. That’s the whole point of music and people are quick to forget this. Which brings us to the fact that the best musicians, artists, scientists, human beings…

9. Do not judge.
I have learned so much from musicians who were not nearly at my level of skill, just as much as I have learned from those who were way beyond it. The thing to ask yourself, is whether or not you are doing this for yourself or for other people. If your answer is that you are playing what you want to play, the way that you want to play it for yourself, then you have already won. The reason is because even those who have massive dreams to become musical icons, start with what they want to hear in music. One of my other great passions is film-making and the greatest filmmakers; Fellini, Scorsese and Kubrick were highly self indulgent. Most people are too afraid to be this way. They feel that it is selfish and they are sadly mistaken. When you have an idea or a style in anything that you do, you will attract to you, those who appreciate it, and considering that the world currently suffices some 6 billion people, I think that if you desire to, you can certainly find those like-minded individuals.

My point for saying all of that was because it is important to realize that the most unlikely sources can be great teachers. Mankind desires recognition. Give your fellow man recognition. This is key and the reason is, because those who cannot recognize others around them are not capable of recognizing their own self worth, and therefor, their own potential. You could say that this is really heavy stuff, and you are right in saying so, but the truth of the matter is that everyone has at least a personal dream of what they want to see come out of themselves, and even the everyday Joe, who just wants to learn a few chords, has a secret longing to see where they can take an instrument such as the guitar. It does not matter how far you want to take it, but everyone presents themselves with a challenge that is worthy of their own capabilities. Sadly, few go through with this, when it is just around the corner. This now brings us to the conclusion, which is…

10. Limit yourself.
This is a trick that Steve Vai uses that I read about when I was a kid, and it almost works too well. What you do is pick two notes, generally next to each other but they can really be anything. Take those two notes and play only those notes for as long as you can. You can do absolutely anything that you want with them. Bends, sliding up, sliding down, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tremolo picking, etc. Make a good attempt every now and then to play those 2 notes for at least a half hour. I’m not going to paint a pretty picture. At first it is interesting and you come up with lots of ideas for those 2 notes, but after about 5 minutes, you start to lose your mind. However, if you stick with it, you will very soon realize that there is a whole plethora of concepts and ideas out there.

The important thing about this exercise is that when you finally give yourself a break, your hands go crazy. Its like they’ve been cooped up in a prison cell for 6 years and are now being set free. The ideas will flow to you so quickly that your mind can barely keep up. I will also say, that this method of training works best if you are pretty relaxed when it comes to improvising on the guitar.

Final thoughts. You will notice a common factor that seems to act as an under-layer throughout these 10 methods of guitar training. That layer is the metaphysical, aka mental power. This was cold turkey, I admit that as well, but I did not write in such a heavy manner to scare you, I wrote this the way that I did, not even to inspire you. You can only inspire yourself. I wrote this to hopefully settle that negative thought process and attitude that most guitarists have. Why are guitar players so arrogant? well, you don’t have to be. No matter how good you become, there will always be someone better and that’s a very good thing. It will push you to get better, at the same time keeping you humble.

The over-all message is to just have fun with it. This is not work, this is play. Those 10 approaches to playing really do work, but if you apply them, you have to think of it as fun and get excited about the progress that you are making. With that, I will simply say, here’s to you and the wonderful journey ahead.

Post by: Tennyson Williams
Tennyson Williams has been studying guitar for eight years, sixteen hours a day, and has studied every style of music imaginable. He has played in bands, that encompassed a wide range of music. It wasn’t until after eight years of piano lessons, that he made the decision to become a self-taught musician, but the journey has been well worth it for the guitarist. His sole passion is to share with others, his endless knowledge of music, in order to make their musical dreams a reality. He currently maintains a site called GuitArticles, where a wide variety of lessons and articles on the intellectual properties of music can be found.