There are a few things you should know if want to master the guitar... it may not be as easy as you think.
So you want become a master of guitar, eh?
Wanna be a guitar god?
Have everyone hanging on every note you play?
Well listen up, my little guitar-crazed fiend... I'm gonna drop a few bombs on you in the next few paragraphs... so pay attention.
Do you wanna know why 99% of guitar players don't make it to "mastery"? I know you're looking for some sort of forehead-slapping revelation here, but get ready to be disappointed with the obvious...
99% of guitarists don't make it for one reason...
I know... shocker... right? But what did you expect me to say? If it were easy, everyone would master the guitar and then no one would give a crap how great you are.
Just like everything else worth pursuing, you have to put hours, weeks and years of painstaking, agony-filled practice into your guitar playing to get even close to mastery.
So how do you become one of the ones that do make it to this level of awesomeness and master the guitar?
I'm glad you asked... there may be hope for you after all.
There are really only 3 steps on the road to mastery:
3. More Practice
This is pretty straight forward, right? Nope, not even close. Practice is one of the most misleading little devils you can come across on your path to the guitar hall-of-fame.
It can take you years just to learn how to practice. Yes, you read that right... years... just to begin to understand how to practice the guitar, let alone master the guitar.
And try as they might, no one really ever figures this out on their own... so get a teacher, a mentor, someone who understands the ins and outs of a good practice routine and soak up their every word like a sponge.
In other words... learn to set goals. What do you want to do with your skills? What type of guitarist do you want to be? Figure out if you like being behind the scenes (a studio musician), or in the spotlight (full-fledge rockstar).
This is where you begin to explore your musical passions and develop a borderline psychotic attention to detail. You have to know what to practice and how to practice it in order to live out your dreams of guitar glory.
Once you understand how to practice and develop a vision for yourself, you have to do whatever it takes to get there. This is where you spend time experimenting with what to practice to reach your vision.
You've got to weed out the things that are a waste of time for your particular goals and interests. And in order to know what truly matters, it takes an endless tweaking of your strategies... along with... you guessed it... more practice.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.
But be smart about it. You have to know your limits and avoid burnout. Daily, consistent practice is a must, but even more important... YOU MUST BE PATIENT.
It's not the 10 hour practice sessions that'll lead you to master the guitar... it's the accumulation of these practice sessions (no matter how long or short) from day to day, week to week... over many... many years.
Most of all... (and I'm sure you've heard this before, but it's worth repeating) YOU HAVE TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE PROCESS OF BECOMING GREAT.
Without the process, there is no end result. No payoff for all of your hard work and dedication.
And that, my fellow guitar slacker, is why most of us don't make it to the hallowed halls of guitar legends, and probably never will... including yours truly.
But I've made my peace with that fact. I'm happy just to be a wondering nomad on the path of greatness...
...and to know enough to know what I don't know (please excuse my weak attempt to be philosophical)
Everyone's path and ambition are different... not everyone is meant to go down in history... but don't let that stop you from enjoying what you do and sharing your music with whomever you wish.
One Final Word of Advice
Oh yeah... there is one more small, but essential detail that will be invaluable to you on the path of excellence... Be likable.
That doesn't mean be a spineless goober who just agrees with everyone and has no principles to stand by.
But just respect other guitarists (and people in general for that matter)... respect that they are also putting themselves out there and have many of the same fears and ambitions as you do.
You can be the greatest guitar player that ever lived, but if no one wants to work with you... you're screwed.
Learning to read music for the guitar is usually the last thing any guitarist wants to do.
And I get it... most guitar players take one look at a piece of sheet music and that little voice in their head chimes in and says "yikes! we don't need this... let's just go back to our good ol' reliable guitar tabs."
I used to have many arguments with that little voice... especially when it came to learning to read music.
At one point in time I was convinced that I could attend a college-level music program without learning to read music (just reading tabs). I know... don't ask me what in the world I was thinking.
The truth is...
You don't have to read music to be a great guitarist, but it sure doesn't hurt either.
In fact, it's one of the best ways to get familiar with your fretboard.
Whenever a guitarist asks me if they should learn to read music, my answer is always, without hesitation... YES. You absolutely should learn to read music.
But before you get all whiny on me and start hurling your excuses at me...
"It's too hard."
"It's just soooo boring."
"My mom said I didn't have to."
...you need to realize one key fact.
As guitarists, we have the luxury of multiple options when it comes to reading music.
When you mention reading music to most people, the first thing that comes to mind is standard musical notation. You know... the little black dots with all the fancy stems and beams and whatnot. And this is the most universal (and arguably the most efficient) form of notation for most musicians.
But as guitarists, we have the option of lead sheets, chord charts and tablature.
I know what you're thinking...
"But, Adam... I thought you were just saying that tablature isn't a worthy form of reading music." Wrong, I merely implied it and in most cases, yes... tablature is inferior (especially most of what you find on the internet).
Now for all of you out there, looking up tabs to your favorite songs, you won't have as many issues. Tabs work just fine (assuming they are correct) when you already know what the song is suppose to sound like.
But even then, you can run into certain spots where all the numbers seem to be jumbled up... and just make no sense at all.
The problem with tablature is that a lot of it (mainly of the homemade variety) doesn't account for rhythm. And when there's no rhythm to bring order to the endless stream of numbers, things can get a bit frustrating.
But when you can find accurate, high quality tablature (like the kind you usually have to pay for), it includes the standard notation written above the tablature, which provides a nice rhythmic structure to follow.
So... now... for the point I've been slowly getting to this entire time...
Guitarists do not need to learn to read standard sheet music.
(although you should... even if your mom says you don't have to)
But it's in your best interest to at least learn to read rhythms.
You'll be amazed at how much it helps you learn, write and perform music better and with greater ease.
Which is the name of the game, my friends.
Until next time...
The core fundamentals of guitar playing can be many things. Specific topics like alternate picking and slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs) come to mind. But, then we can also think of broader topics such as fretboard navigation and phrasing. It is all a matter of perspective. What it comes down to is this simple question: What is important to my current goals?
A simple question, yes; a simple answer, not so much. Fundamentals and a solid technical background are truly a major part of playing the guitar. But how do you decide where to start? Let me break it down for you the way I wish someone had for me long ago when I first started asking questions like this.
It really depends on what your current level of playing is; you have to learn to walk before you can run, right? If you are a complete beginner you very likely have a hard time playing a couple of notes or even holding your pick, and you probably have no clue what a hammer-on is or what you would even use it for. In this case, would it even make sense to start learning hammer-ons…?
Absolutely not. It would make no sense at all to learn hammer-ons when you can barely hold your pick, but I’ve seen it time and time again. Not necessarily this particular example, just the fact that beginner guitarists are too focused on the next thing to learn and, without any guidance, begin to learn things out of order.
I’m not lecturing or ridiculing those who have made — or are about to make — this mistake. We’ve all been there at some point, and honestly we just don’t know any better until we reach a certain level of guitar maturity.
The problem is that those who are constantly jumping around and searching for a shortcut are more likely to give up all together before they reach any level of guitar maturity. The reason is that if you are continuously bouncing from topic to topic and always on the lookout for the next thing, you probably aren’t giving yourself enough time on the current topic or technique.
This means that you will drift around for a while, trying all sorts of things, but not actually learning them. And this will lead to frustration and disappointment when it comes time to measure your progress against the amount of time and effort that you’ve put into learning the guitar.
So what should you do about this? How do you avoid becoming just another person who gave up after a few months? You need to have a system. A reliable system that you can commit to and apply in your practice.
Systems will ultimately vary from person to person and will evolve and grow with you as you continue down your path of musical discovery. As always, I encourage you to experiment and adapt your routine to your unique goals and abilities, keeping the core concept of my advice in mind.
Ultimately, if you have even the slightest bit of doubt on what to learn and in what order, its time to talk with a teacher. But be prepared and at least have a general idea of the direction of your musical goals. When you can clearly communicate your goals — at the very least your immediate, short-term goals — it makes it easier to find a teacher that is right for you.
What is your most immediate goal, or problem you'd like to fix with your guitar playing?
As you dive deeper into the world of guitar playing you will inevitably encounter the terms "Half Steps" and Whole Steps." These two terms will no doubt seem foreign to you the first time you hear of them, but rest assured, the basic concept of half steps and whole steps if a fairly simple one.
An interval is simply a measurement of the distance between two notes. The overall topic of intervals does not apply to the guitar alone, but is a general concept in the study of music theory. The broad range of intervals and how they function can be somewhat confusing to those unfamiliar with music theory so I will provide limited information to avoid as much confusion as possible. All you need to know at this point is that a half step is the smallest interval, or distance, between two notes. That being said, two halves make a whole, so a whole step is the distance equivalent to two half steps.
Navigating The Fretboard
Now that you have a basic definition of intervals, you undoubtedly want to know how this applies directly to playing the guitar. The concept of half steps and whole steps on the guitar ultimately boils down to a very basic system of navigating the fretboard. The big take away from all this is...
A half step is the distance of 1 fret on the guitar
A whole step is the distance of 2 frets on the guitar
Now let's look at a couple of examples just to be crystal clear...
This example is an ascending half step. The pitch is raised by one fret from the 8th fret to the 9th fret on the 3rd string. If you were to reverse the order, you would now have a descending half step in which the pitch is lowered by one fret from the 9th fret to the 8th fret.
This example is a descending whole step. The pitch is lowered by two frets from the 3rd fret to the 1st fret on the 1st string. If you were to reverse the order, you would now have an ascending whole step in which the pitch is raised by two frets from the 1st fret to the 3rd fret.
At first glance, this question would be surprisingly obvious to most people. Of course you know your alphabet, but in this case we are referring to the musical alphabet. On the surface the musical alphabet seems pretty simple, right? Its just the letters A through G. 7 letters isn't much of a challenge, or is it?
The 7 letters that rule the art of music...
So I know that not everyone is familiar with the musical alphabet, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that if you're reading this article you have somewhat of an idea of what we're talking about here. Just to play it safe, though, let's start with the basic 7 letters of the musical alphabet.
A - B - C - D - E - F - G