If you’re reading this, it means you’re interested in becoming a better guitarist.
To get there, we must get back to the basics. Much of what follows will be review for you if you’ve been playing guitar for any length of time. But that’s not a bad thing, because we all need some reinforcement from time to time.
Stay with me to the end for some advanced tips. Here are six practice habits every guitarist should master.
1. Practice For Guitarists: Using A Metronome
I’m not going to harp on this point, but the number one thing guitarists fail to do when they’re looking to develop speed and picking technique is practicing with a metronome.
You don’t have to practice everything you do with a metronome, but if it’s a riff, lick or a song you’d like to be able to play at any speed, it would be a good idea to use one.
Additionally, you will waste a lot of time trying to record an in-time guitar track in the studio if you don’t have a good sense of rhythm and the ability to lock in with a click track. If you want to become a recording artist in any capacity, practicing with a metronome is essential.
Also, when you’re practicing, make sure you’re practicing good technique. Otherwise, you may end up having to correct bad technique later.
2. Guitar Players Should Be Practicing At A Consistent Time Every Day
Consistency is the key to steady progress. You’ve heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Contrary to popular belief, the moral of the story is not “slow and steady wins the race”, it’s actually just “steady wins the race.”
If you practice six hours today, and fail to practice for the rest of the week, you won’t benefit as much from that time investment than if you spread those six hours out across the entire week.
I know that this is somewhat idealistic. Pretty much everyone has interruptions in their lives that prevent them from staying steady with a practice routine. Sometimes, you’ll just need to do the best you can and not worry too much about trying to be perfect. But you’ll also want to become an expert logistician, because if you don’t, you’ll instead become an expert at excuses.
You need to take a long, hard look at your schedule and determine when you can practice for 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, or however much time daily to get to the next level as a player. A little bit every day is better than a lot some days.
3. Listening To Other Players
When you first started playing guitar, it was fascinating. But jadedness can set in over time. You feel like you’ve heard everything, or, you keep listening to your masters wondering when you’ll be just as good as them.
But active listening is what truly makes a great player. Those who “lose their ears” tend to overplay and step on everyone else’s toes in a band situation.
So, if you’ve become jaded, try to find your childlike enthusiasm for the guitar once again, and start listening to different styles of music and players. And don’t just listen passively. Dedicate a little bit of time to active study.
This is also a good reminder to stay with your ear training. Put some extra time into figuring out your favorite songs by ear.
4. Watching & Observing Other Guitar Players
This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Just listening to other guitarists has its benefits. But watching players can bring new insights you would never have otherwise.
We live in amazing times, and we constantly take it for granted. You can find just about any guitarist you can think of on YouTube playing their own songs.
So instead of just acknowledging this technology, or even rolling your eyes at what I just said, why not take advantage of these tools? Take some time to watch other players, and study what they’re doing, even if you think you know it all.
5. Identifying Your Weaknesses & Challenging Yourself
Becoming good at guitar requires high levels of self-awareness. If you’ve ever come away from a practice session feeling drained, this is why. You had to concentrate on what you were doing.
Many people are not self-aware, and will never progress beyond a certain point in their playing. You must use your critical capacities if you’re looking for constant improvement (beware of directing that criticism outwards, however).
We also have to be able to acknowledge our weaknesses. This is sometimes a matter of pride, and can be hard to do. But when you find that an interval, a string skip, or a stretch lick is challenging you, it’s showing you that this is a weakness you can overcome. You can even build out your own exercises to tackle this issue.
The point is that you have to keep challenging yourself. Players stagnate all the time. And while you will inevitably hit some plateaus, it’s up to you how long you stay there. It takes energy to deliberately go looking for things you’ve never tried before. So if you want to improve, don’t be lazy.
6. Identifying The Different Components Of Your Practice Routine
This is something Steve Vai was known to do. I don’t know if there’s ever any need to practice 12 hours per day (also see an earlier point about consistency, and in my humble opinion, Vai is an exceptional player, but not the best that’s ever existed.
Anyway, here’s what I mean by identifying the different components of your practice routine. When you take a strictly mechanical approach (and less of a creative approach) to improvement, it becomes clear that you’re going to be using the same tools and techniques in all of the playing you will ever do. For example:
- Soloing techniques (hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, etc.)
This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but I think you can see where I’m going with this. By dedicating some time to each of these components in your daily practice routine, you can become more familiar with the building blocks you need to know to create or play any kind of song.
To be fair, you can also include a bit of “creative” time in your routine, and that way you can close open loops in songwriting or come up with new ideas to explore with your band or in the studio.
We all tend to become lazy at times. So, have a look at your practice habits and determine where you’re getting sloppy. By tightening those loose screws, you can elevate your skill and professionalism as a guitarist.