It’s really easy to get into a fixed mindset when learning the guitar, and if you’re teaching yourself it can be hard to know to break through that barrier and improve. It’s absolutely crucial that we see ourselves make progress, or it can really kill our motivation.
On this page I’ve looked at 45 points which have personally helped me both improve my technical skills and ability to write songs. Some tips are obvious and some aren’t. But if you’re a newish guitarist with just a few years experience, hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two. So let’s get started!
1. Play Some Different Styles of Music.
You can learn an incredible amount by learning songs from other genres. It really stops you from getting too “set in your ways” with your guitar playing.
New chords, new scales, new timings new techniques – you will learn them all. These then can be applied to your playing within your favourite genres, so you can start to play some really creative stuff.
2. Experiment with an Effects Pedal.
Not only can pedals add a little something extra to your sound, but sometimes they can make you fall in love with playing the guitar all over again. As we know, part of improving on the guitar is always staying motivated.
Also, when you're able to make some really unique sounds come out of your guitar it opens up a ton of new playing options for you. We sell plenty of low cost effects pedals so be sure to browse our store for ideas!
3. Learn the Basics of Guitar Theory.
Theory isn’t essential, but it can make certain things easier. Firstly it allows you to talk in the language of music. If you have literally zero knowledge of theory it can be hard to play with others. Something as simple as telling you which chord a riff is based around will be much harder if you don’t know any chord names.
Knowing theory will also eliminate some guesswork with your playing - you’ll know what sort of chord / note should come next in your song. You only have so many hours in the day so improved efficiency with your playing is always welcome.
4. Watch Others Play.
Watching others play guitar is incredibly useful. They don't even need to be better than you. Once I was watching one of my friends play who technically wasn't that good. But even though he was strumming some pretty basic chords, he was playing them in a way I'd never thought about.
It made me realise that the way I was playing these chords was too sloppy. Consequently I knew where I needed to improve.
When you're playing guitar, you're not always listening. You're thinking about which notes you're playing, which bit is coming up next, where to move your fingers, and a whole host of other things. Only part of your brain power is dedicated to listening.
So that's why it's a good idea to record; you'll hear and notice things about your playing that you never knew existed.
You'll also learn the basics of recording which is a useful skill in itself.
6.Get a Professional Lesson
Guitar teachers can really help you break through barriers and reach the next level. You don't need to make lessons a permanent thing, but a handful of 1 hour lessons can be more beneficial than practicing scales for 24hours.
Remember; it's their job to make you better on the guitar. They can see things which you may not have even noticed.
7.Always Have Self Improvement in the Front of your Mind.
I think it was Einstein who said this was the definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This can apply to guitar playing too. If what you're currently doing for your practice sessions isn't making you improve, then you need to change. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.
Try learning something your wouldn't normally, or focus on a different aspect of your play. Putting in lots of time and effort without seeing results will kill your motivation.
8. Take a Break From Guitar.
This ties into number 7 above, especially reading back that Einstein quote again. Sometimes you can practice too much. Taking a break and coming back with a fresh perspective has really helped me in the past when I've hit a rut. A “fresh” start can help you approach things from a different angle.
Use the time to pursue one of your other hobbies, or just listen to a ton of new music.
9. Learn More Scales.
This may sound incredibly boring to some players, but scales really are a cheat sheet to sounding awesome. It can make writing your own solos and riffs much easier and certainly make your improvisation better.
Quite simply, the more scales you learn the more options open to you when song writing.
10. Learn Some Unusual Chords.
Yeah power chords sound pretty cool, but the truth is that most bands use them heavily. They're nothing to write home about. Why not look at some chords which are a little bit more unusual to add some uniqueness to your songs?
They'll also get your fingers used to going in more unusual positions so can improve your playing technically.
11. Try Some Finger Exercises.
Finger independence and strength is essential for certain genres of music. Especially for technical stuff. Doing some finger exercises can really help with this. The great thing is you don't need to be anywhere near a guitar to do them.
You can do them at work, school, on public transport; wherever. Although you may look like you've had one too many coffees.
12. Try a Different Sized Pick.
When you first start playing you usually use a standard size pick. This is fine at first because it gets the best all round performance. However thinner picks can allows you strum faster while thicker ones allow you to play single notes faster.
A different pick thickness could allow you to master a particularly tricky song with more ease.
13. Know the Basics of Drumming.
Knowing some basic drum beats can help immensely with guitar playing. It will certainly help with your timings, riff writing, and ability to work well as part of a band. Personally, as soon as I could hold a simple beat, my guitar playing developed more of a flow. You don't need to be amazing - even playing on RockBand a little will teach you what you need.
14. Go for Quality not Quantity When Learning New Songs.
It can be easy to rush through a song sloppily learning a few of the main riffs and chorus. You can play it back pretty well, but certainly not perfectly. Take the time to learn every single bit of the song so you can play it exactly as it was written. This will ensure you fine tune your technique and playing to a near professional level.
15. Learn a Song Which May be Too Hard For You.
If you don't push yourself you're not going to improve. So have a go at learning a really technically demanding song, or a song with very unusual timings. Unlike above, it doesn't need to be perfect. The main point is that you're out of your comfort zone and learning.
16. Pick up a New Technique.
It's easy to stick to to what you know. Why not learn some new techniques which perhaps aren't associated with the bands you like. If you like heavier genres why not learn how to properly fingerpick.
If you're used to playing softer genres learn how to sweep pick. It will open up loads of new possibilities for your song writing.
17. Get Others to Critique Your Playing.
Yeah we all hate criticism, but it CAN help us improve. Remember that when we play we're thinking about one thing – playing the right notes. Not analysing our own playing technique. So ask for some honest feedback from your friends. Even non guitarists can provide some valuable insight.
18. Experiment With Different Tunings.
There are lots of tunings out there and experimenting with a few different ones may help you refine your sound. Especially if you play heavier genres you can try drop D or drop C tunings.
Try using a capo to try different tunings out if you play more acoustic / folk songs.
19. Play a Gig.
It’s a totally different experience playing in front of others compared to playing alone. There is that added element of pressure. Not only will this make you up your own game before the gig, it should also help your composure and concentration.
If you can play a few songs live with few mistakes, playing alone in your bedroom should then seem relatively easy.
20. Honestly Look at Your Playing.
As with everything in life it’s hard to honestly look at your faults. However this is something which is crucial when it comes to guitar. You need to be brutally honest about where your weaknesses are.
Don’t just think “yeah that kind of sounds like it does on the CD; now let’s play something else”. Find what’s not good and make it better. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself.
21. Get into a routine of playing every single day.
It's true what they say - practice makes perfect. So get into a solid routine of playing every single day. Even if it's only for a minimum of 10 minutes.
The thing I find about routines and guitar playing is this – it's easy to stay in them once you have one, but hard to start one in the first place. But after a week of playing every day you should be well on your way to getting into a solid routine.
Comfort is important while you're practicing, so invest in a good strap!
22. Have Goals.
You must have goals in relation to your playing. Otherwise you're not accomplishing anything. Putting hours and hours into playing the guitar and not improving can kill your motivation. But asking yourself what you want to achieve in the first place can help structure your practice sessions and help you get the results you want.
23. Don't Rush.
When we're learning a new song we naturally want to do it as soon as possible. However rushing through a song can be damaging. Yes you can play the song through so it kind of sounds like the song its meant to, but it doesn't sound great.
Taking your time to learn the song can save you time in the long run – you don't need to go back and learn everything again. If you feel like you're needing to rush a certain part of the song, chances are you're not able to play it fast enough. Try playing at 70% speed and building up from there.
24. Cut Back on Your Effects & Distortion.
Excessive effects and distortion can sometimes hide imperfections and mistakes in your playing. Cutting back can help you better hear the problems with your playing.
While effects are useful, and can make you sound better, don't use them for making up for sloppy play or other problems with your playing. Use them to find tune, refine and perfect your sound.
I find that trying too hard, or trying to overplay the guitar can negatively impact your sound. Having a relaxed & calm frame of mind can make your playing efficient, smooth and effortlessly flowing.
26. Think About Timing.
It's easy to get into bad habits with your song writing, you can get stuck in a very rigid mindset. So when you're trying to write a cool sounding riff, you think of more and more complex scales. Sometimes a riff can sound better if more thought is put into the actual timing rather than the notes.
Guitarists like John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are great at doing this – sometimes his solos just consist of a handful of notes but a ton of thought and feeling has gone into them.
27. Train Your Ear.
Training your ear is a crucial step for guitarists – there are way too many benefits to mention. However the most important could be song writing - many guitarists have a song or riff in their head and then attempt to translate it onto the guitar.
Having a good ear can make this much easier and remove that element of trial and error when attempting to improve a guitar part.
28. Try out Different Strings.
Did you know strings come in different gauges? For the beginners out there a gauge is essentially a thickness. Heavier / thicker strings are harder to fret but they produce a louder sound when plucked and the sound from them lasts (or sustains) for longer. They contain much more energy than a lighter string. However it's harder to do things like pick really fast with them simply because you pick has more string to move over. The fact that they're harder to fret doesn't help either when playing faster styles of music.
So changing your string gauge to one more genre appropriate can really make you sound better or make it easier to play in the style you want.
29. Make Your Own Rules.
Don't ever get into a mindset of “the guitar must be played this way”. Experimentation and mixing up different styles is a great way to always be pushing the boundaries. We talk about this in our article on pedal chains & setup. There are loads of valid ways to set up your pedal board. It's all about what sounds good to you.
30. Learn How to Improv.
Improvisation can help lots of different aspects of your guitar playing. So while working on improv, you’ll actually be improving in lots of other areas too.
You’ll improve your ability to come up with cool riffs, ability to work as part of a band, soloing, theory, technical skill and maybe even your overall creativity.
31. Build Up.
You need to walk before you can run. So when learning a challenging song start slow and slowly build up. Trying to cut corners to quickly learn a technical riff will be very obvious when you come to play it. You'll sound amateurish and sloppy.
32. Warm Up.
If your hands go from doing nothing to attempting a complex solo, not only do you risk straining yourself, they just won’t be able to do what you’re asking of them.
You should keep it simple & slow for at least 5 minutes. Play a few casual scales or a few easy songs, then you should be good to go.
33. Play With a Metronome.
Playing guitar with a metronome has helped me in several areas of my guitar playing - my timing, my song “flow”, my ability to work as part of a band, and it even helped improve my speed.
As a guitarist I always just assumed my playing was in time, but using the metronome helped me see I wasn’t - I was way off. It puts timing in the forefront of your mind which is something incredibly useful for new players, when you’re a beginner you mostly think about notes, not the rhythm.
34. Keep Your Guitar Well Maintained.
Give your guitar some love. Keep the strings relatively new, the body dust free and the fretboard clean. You can also set the guitar up (either do it yourself or professionally) which can improve playability and intonation problems.
35. Watch Live Bands.
As we mentioned above, you can learn a lot from watching others play. That goes double for professionals. What you hear on a CD will be much different when played live.
Furthermore seeing the live energy of your favourite bands can inspire you to practice even more.
36. Enjoy Yourself.
Isn't it easier to do something that you love? When you're practicing you should always make sure you're having fun. Yeah learn scales and chords, but don't JUST do that, or you'll soon start to lose your motivation.
So make sure you play some songs you enjoy, even if you're not massively benefiting from them or learning anything new.
37. Listen to Some Non Guitar Music.
It’s not just guitar music which can give you cool ideas and inspiration. Listening to other genres can help too; practically anything should be able to be translated onto the guitar. It’s also a good idea to listen to other guitar based genres which you wouldn’t usually listen to.
They can provide you with lots of ideas.
38. Get Serious.
It’s easy to strum a few chords out once in a while, or just noodle around for 20 minutes, but you’re not going to improve doing that.
Yes playing the guitar is really fun, but if you get in a serious mindset you’ll be able to achieve so much more. If you put in the work, and really think about what you’re doing, results will come.
39. Teach Others.
There's a saying I've heard a few times - “to truly understand something is to be able to simply teach it to others.” Teaching others the guitar can show you where your knowledge is lacking, it also helps to refresh yourself on the basics.
40. Join a Guitar Community.
We’ve got some cool links to some of the top guitar sites out there here. There are some great guitar communities out there, mostly revolving around a “forum” structure.
These communities are excellent ways to get advice and form friendships as players of all skill levels usually participate in the community. Especially useful if none of your friends are guitarists.
41. Play in Silence and Undistracted.
This links into the “get serious” tip above. Just like when you’re reading or working, playing the guitar while undistracted is the best way to go. If you’re watching the TV while playing your full attention isn’t going into either activity. If you actually want to accomplish something work undistracted.
42. Know When you Need a Better Amp.
An amp is not just an amp. If you have a great quality guitar, pedals, and overall skill, yet a poor amp, you're not going to sound great. Remember that it's not just about volume, but overall tone and richness of sound.
You're never going to sound professional with a second hand piece of junk.
43. Embrace Technology.
In the world of the guitar, much of the time, older is better. But we shouldn’t ignore some of the new technology. You’ve got programs like Power Tab helping you learn songs, virtual pedal board software and wireless guitar systems. Then you’ve got a whole host of apps which makes learning the guitar easier.
44. Sort out Sloppyness.
It's not just about being able to technically play a note, but being able to play it consistently and make it actually sound good. So it's much better to be able to play one song perfectly, rather than 10 songs to a sub par level. Realising this simple fact can help you improve tenfold.
You'll never be a great guitarist if your playing is riddled with mistakes and poor technique.
45. Research Your Influencers Influences.
I think this is very important, it’s the purest way to understand your favourite bands. In music, unlike many other aspects of life, we know that older doesn’t mean worse - older bands are still awesome. Understanding their musical styles and in turn being influenced by them can make you “sound” quite unique in your songwriting.
If everyone is influenced by bands from 10 years ago, and you’re influenced by bands from 25 years ago, it could make you stand out that little bit more.