In some ways, getting started is the hardest part about playing the guitar.
Once you’ve built some finger strength, things get a lot easier. But until then, everything you try will feel awkward, because you’ve literally never had to use your fingers in this way before.
Your goal should be to get passed that awkward phase sooner rather than later, and the following habits will help you get there.
Here are 10 ways to improve your guitar playing reasonably quickly, whether you’re a complete beginner, or you’ve been at it for a while.
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1. Practice Guitar Playing Regularly To Improve
No one improves quickly without regular practice. If possible, make your practice sessions longer rather than shorter. But if you’re strapped for time, just practice for 15 to 30 minutes every single day without any breaks.
Set some goals, and organize your practice material beforehand. This will help you eliminate wasted time. Work on things you haven’t tried before, because you’re not going to get much out of practicing the same things you already know well.
2. Jam With A Friend
Once you’re a part of the musician and guitarist community, it’s not hard to find other players to jam with. And there’s a good chance they’ve worked on things you haven’t, and have musical interests that you don’t. So, when you get together, you can trade licks and musical ideas, which should inspire you to try new and different things. It will also build your comfort and confidence level when it comes to playing with other musicians.
3. Take Guitar Lessons
If you want to get better, you'll need to take guitar lessons, whether they're online or offline. You don’t necessarily need to book an entire year’s worth of lessons with the same teacher (although this might be helpful if you’re a complete beginner). Just schedule a lesson here and there with different teachers, and not only will you save on lessons, you’ll get a varied perspective on what you should work on. And you never know – you might find a mentor or some long-term jam partners along the way.
4. Perform Live
It’s true what they say – there’s no practice like live performance. If you don’t have much of a repertoire, then start going out to open mic and jam events, at least once or twice per week.
If you have a 45-minute set of music, then book yourself into a café and offer to play for free. Get a friend to open (or close) for you if the shop needs you to fill more time (although you shouldn’t let them push you around when you aren’t getting paid to play).
5. Get Your Guitar Set Up
If you’re a beginner guitarist, you don’t yet know the difference between a nice guitar and a not-so-nice guitar. But trust me when I say that getting your instrument set up by a proper guitar tech will make it much easier to play. Go to a guitar store, ask them to lower the action and put new strings on, and you’ll be amazed at the difference. Even a cheap guitar can feel decent when it’s been set up properly.
6. Work On Your Tone
If you’re playing a good acoustic guitar, then there’s not much for you to do here besides trying out different picks and strings (although you could buy a new guitar).
Meanwhile, if you’re playing an electric, bad tone can discourage you from playing more often. Practice amps are built to sound clear and brash, which means they aren’t set up to bring out the best tone possible. Invest in something like a Zoom G3X multi effects pedal and it will inspire you to play more. When you sound good, you feel good. It may not be the cheapest pedal you can buy, but it sure is good!
7. Join A Band
Nothing will get you up and running faster than playing in a band. If you’ve been putting it off, then stop procrastinating, and find a band. I had barely started playing guitar when I was invited to be a part of my first band, and that made a tremendous difference in terms of the progress I made. Being in a band forces you to set goals and practice the music as efficiently as possible. When there are shows to play, you have no choice but to prepare.
8. Listen To A Lot Of Music
We all have our favorite genres. I’m not going to discourage you from listening to metal, punk, jazz, or whatever it is you like best. But do effort to branch out a little. You’ll begin to discover new ways of playing, different ways of approaching a chord progression, or unique soloing ideas.
After all, music is all about listening, and if you “lose your ear”, you’ll never be that great of a guitarist. Get in the habit of listening and listening well!
9. Watch Other Players
Set your guitar down every once and a while and just observe other players – especially pros. Watch how they play. They make a lot of hard things seem effortless. But if they can do it, so can you.
Watching other players can offer a lot of clues into how to simplify your playing, how to approach difficult chord progressions, how to put together an effective solo, and so on.
10. Seal The Deal
Seal the deal to make it real. What? Here’s what I mean:
A lot of people don’t invest in themselves. They’ll pay their bills, they’ll take care of their basic needs, they’ll pick up their daily coffee, but when it comes to putting money into their own growth, they hesitate.
So even though it might be a bit of a stretch (don’t break your budget), you should commit to your progress by buying a guitar magazine subscription, or by joining an online community (preferably one that has lessons). When you’re paying to learn, you’ll take your progress more seriously, which will propel you forward as a player.
Avoid overwhelm. Don’t try to implement every single item on this list immediately. Focus on just one thing for a while, and then start adding more habits to your routine. This will help you make steady, incremental progress. Just like with working out, you may not see immediate improvement, but if you stay with it, you will see a difference in just two or three months.