Updated: Jun 29, 2019
Learning guitar can be one of the most rewarding ways to spend your personal or professional life. It can open you up to a whole world of amazing music and people, provide you with a means to communicate and engage with other players from across the globe, give you a variety of different skills and a lifetime of entertainment. However, it can also be one of the most frustrating things you’ll ever choose to do.
Hitting a plateau with your guitar practice can be discouraging, demoralizing, depressing and downright painful at times. It can make you feel like you’re never going to improve again and like you might as well just give up. Every guitarist worth their salt knows this feeling. As a man much cleverer than I once said “to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result is the very definition of insanity”. The more common recent incarnation of this quote among avid gym-goers would be “train the same, stay the same” both of these quotes hit on an important point that if we don’t make a conscious effort to change up our practice routine, study new styles and other players we simply won’t see improvements. Here are my 5 top tips to breaking through those frustrating times.
1. Switch up your style
We all have a style we prefer playing and listening to for me it’s the blues, for you it may be rock and roll, heavy metal, classical or jazz. This is the style we spend most of our time focusing on either playing or listening to, you may (like me) feel you have an eclectic taste in music, but do you have an eclectic taste in playing? In the days seemingly long gone of studios employing full time session musicians, studio players were some of the best in the world and many of them are still revered worldwide today. One of the reasons they became so good was that they had to be able to fluently and convincingly play a wide range of styles, sometimes from classical to jazz and soundscape to musak. This eclectic demand of their playing meant they had to not only have a deep understanding of music but also the ability to play a range of guitar styles at the drop of a hat. My advice is to have a go at the style you feel is farthest away from what you usually play, try learning a classical piece, jazz standard, gypsy swing tune or some heavy metal riffs.
2. Rework a song
As anyone who studies jazz will already know, to rework a piece of music is to truly know that piece of music. This piece can be in any style, try working out the main melody (often the vocal/brass melody) and see if you can write your own version of that song. Maybe try and acoustic version of your favourite metal song, a solo performance of a jazz standard, a hard rocking rework of a classical masterpiece or a funk version of a famous folk song.
3. Jam with others
Playing with others is key. This is probably the most important and most fun way to give you inspiration, re-ignite your love for playing, force you to play different styles and improvise. Heading to a jam session environment can be stressful and intimidating for novice players so if that isn’t your bag then just find someone to play with, they don’t need to be a guitarist or even all that musical, sometimes playing with someone who isn’t particularly musical can make you really think outside the box about your playing.
4. Learn some new theory
As soon as music theory is mentioned around 70% of people reading this may well switch off, but even if music theory is literally rocket science to you learning something new can still make a huge difference. Learning a new scale is easy, it takes minutes and a couple of run throughs to get the scale in your head. Learning a new scale can be hugely beneficial to your practice, you can force yourself to improvise a solo just using the new scale and you will find it opens you up to licks you had never thought of or even deepen your understanding of the ones you already frequent. As they say knowledge is power.
5. Study another instrument
One of the most valuable things you can do for your playing is to spend some time studying another instrument, this can be drums, bass, piano or basically anything. Learning how other instruments work in terms of harmony, rhythm and timbre will open you up to new approaches when playing in an ensemble or band. Learning rhythmic patterns for drums can inspire you to approach your rhythm playing in a different way, learning some piano solos ca n massively improve your phrasing when soloing as well as your understanding of a songs structure.
Following these five steps will unlock your potential, help through those frustrating times and keep you progressing and loving playing and studying guitar. Number six in this list would be ‘find a good guitar teacher’ but I decided not to include it as it seemed oddly self-serving and after all this is not a sales pitch.