Unlock Your Next Level: Three Essential Steps to Becoming an Advanced Guitarist
So, you’ve been learning guitar for a while and you feel pretty comfortable playing your instrument. You learn new songs every now and then and might pick up some tips online occasionally. Here’s the problem though. It doesn’t really feel like you’re improving anymore. Not as much as you used to in any case. This is actually something that many intermediate players run into. They’re ‘good enough’ to play a lot of songs, but they can’t seem to break through to the advanced stage. If that’s you, fear not. In this article, you’ll find out exactly what you need to do to unlock the next level of guitar playing.
1. Embrace hard practice (again)
As a beginner guitarist, every new song you learn requires a lot of practice. But after a while, when you’ve gotten your basic technique down, you can play through many new songs with relative ease. Sure, there are some tricky bits, but you also get better at tweaking songs slightly to make them easier to play for you. As long as you’re having fun, this is all good. But chances are, after a while you start to miss a sense of progress. The problem is that you’re no longer putting in the tough practice that makes you better. There are two things you can do to resolve this.
The first is simply to learn things you can’t play at all. When we get to a certain level, there’s a risk that we avoid things that are challenging. There are so many things we can ‘kinda’ play without too much effort, that whenever we run into something unusually difficult, there’s a little voice that says “guess this isn’t really your thing”. We’re no longer used to the awkwardness of not being able to do something at all. And we might also not be used to the hard practice we used to put in. But that’s what it was like when you first picked up a guitar. To remember what that felt like, try fretting a chord with your picking hand (right hand for most of us). Also try strumming that chord with your other hand. Feels awkward doesn’t it? That’s how awkward playing felt in the beginning… Whenever you feel that discomfort, embrace it. This is an opportunity to make a lot of progress!
The second solution is slightly more subtle. Often when we learn a new song, we tweak the parts to make it more comfortable for us to play. This is often a smart thing to do. It helps us to get ready to play a song and carry our part in the rehearsal room or on stage. But it doesn’t help us improve as much. If we play a song 90% as it is, and tweak the difficult 10%, we’re missing out on an opportunity to improve. This often involves hard practice, but that’s where progress happens!
2. Learn music by ear
The internet is awesome. It has countless videos and lessons to teach you almost any song you want to learn. But while that is enormously convenient in the short term, it does come at a price: it stops you from training your ears. Back in the dark ages before the internet, musicians would work out how to play something by painstakingly listening to a record and recreating that sound on their instrument, note by note.
This is perhaps the very best way to train your ears, because you’re learning to take a sound you hear in your mind and to somehow get that out of your instrument. It’s the key to playing guitar by ear, improvising and soloing. In short, it provides an enormous sense of freedom and helps you any time you pick up your instrument to play. It’s one of the most rewarding things about playing music.
Now, many people assume that figuring out music by ear is too difficult. I remember feeling like that myself! But as I found out, it’s simply a matter of practice, just like learning a new chord or a new song. You just need to put in the time and effort. Start with simple songs that aren’t too fast, and work them out, note by note. It won’t be a quick process at the beginning, but keep up with it and you’ll notice yourself getting faster and faster.
3. Play with other people
There’s a lot you can learn on your own. You can learn theory, improve your technique, learn solos, study intervals on the fretboard, work on your timing, train your ears, write songs… But there are also skills that are very hard to practice on your own. Locking in timing-wise with everyone… Listening and responding to each other… Tweaking your parts to make the song sound better in the group you’re in…
What’s more, when you play with others, you’ll notice things about your playing that you want to improve. In the rehearsal room, you’ll learn if you can really ‘carry’ your part, or if it needs some more practice to truly become steady. Your tone might sound good when playing along to a backing track, but could be a little underwhelming during band practice. There are many things like this you can only learn when you play together with others. But perhaps most importantly: it’s fun! By playing with other people you have the chance to inspire and learn from each other.
It’s your move…
Now you know the steps to take your guitar playing to the next level: tackle challenging songs, learn music by ear, and play with others. But knowing isn’t enough – it’s time to act. Of course, you don’t have to do all of this at once. Start small, whether it’s figuring out a simple guitar riff by ear today or texting a friend to see if they want to jam sometime. Take a small step today and start the next chapter in your guitar playing journey!