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5 Practice Techniques to Make You a Better Guitarist

Published: Fri August 29, 2008  News Feed

Want to be a better player? Of course you do. But sometimes it can feel like you have reached a plateau in your skill level that you just can’t rise above. Here's some tips to make sure this doesn't happen...and none of them involves Guitar Hero!

1. Play across the genres
Or, call this one “cross-training”: Just like athletes who improve their football by doing a little ballet, or sharpen up their hoops game by playing some volleyball, guitarists can improve their playing in their main genre by copping some of the techniques of another, and the process of learning them can be fun and refreshing, too.

If you’re a metal head, learn some hard-core Chicago blues; if you’re a country player, study some jazz; if you’re a jazzer, cop some contemporary rock for a while (these are just examples—mix and match any of the above). Scour back issues of magazines or online guitar boards for lessons in other genres, or pick up a good book/CD or DVD package.

2. Play along to records
Most of us started this way when we first picked up the guitar, but it’s easy to forget how quickly you can learn a handful of new licks just by playing along to some records from your collection (and by “records” I mean CDs, MP3s, old vinyl if you have it … anything that contains professionally recorded music).

The key here is to not limit yourself to your current favorite tunes or albums, or to songs that you’ve already learned — pull some forgotten gems out of your collection, let ’em roll, and play along as best you can, as if you got the last-minute call to step in on a major tour and you’re covering your butt on stage as best you can.

3. Play to a rhythm
If you are in the habit of playing all on your lonesome, bringing a little rhythm into the game will help to tighten up your chops muy pronto. Set a rhythm for yourself on any device you have handy: a beat box, the sample program on your computer recording package, even a good old-fashioned metronome. The key is to get a steady tempo and play with it, not against it, ahead of it or behind it.

4. Play the sax part
Or the fiddle part, or the mandolin part, or the keyboard part … Return to some recorded songs that you’re familiar with, or try some new ones, but this time, don’t play along with the guitarist: instead, cop the part of a different instrument.

This can be an extremely cool way to bring some new melodic lines into your playing and to broaden your soloing repertoire in a totally fresh way. Violinists, horn players, banjo players, keyboardists and guitarists all tend to approach the familiar scales of their relevant genres very differently from each other

5. Play with others
However shiny and sleek your chops seem to be in the comfort of your own basement, sitting down for a good, solid rehearsal with a band can often bring out the chinks in the armor. This is the one that opens your eyes to the beauty of really making music: playing a simple I-IV-V blues or rock and roll progression along with a drummer, a bassist and another guitarist or keyboardist, with a tight groove and even just a few basic improvised lead breaks, can often prove to be more challenging — and more rewarding — than nailing “Eruption” in the privacy of your bedroom.

Playing with others will almost always improve your game, and often pretty darn quickly, especially if you have the good fortune to play with musicians who are at least on a par with you or, ideally, are superior in their skills.

[original article by Dave Hunter can be found here]

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