The Guitarist’s Essentials

CompassI don’t like rules. These are not rules. These are my top pieces of advice for guitar students of all ages and skill levels. I use these strategies relentlessly in my own playing.

Use a Tuner

Keep your guitar as close to perfect tuning as you can. Practice tuning by ear once you know how, but it’s important to condition your ears to hearing yourself play in tune. Professionals with professional ears use tuners. Buy one and use it every time you play. The easiest way to sound bad is to play out of tune.

Use a Metronome

It keeps you honest. It helps you get faster. It helps you track your progress. It prepares you to play with other musicians. The second easiest way to sound bad is to play with poor timing.

Slow Down, Relax

This will cure all your frustrations. Any trouble mastering anything on this instrument can be overcome by reducing the tempo and releasing your tension.

Listen to Everything

Seek out new music, old music, obscure music, anything with which you are unfamiliar. Listen to a wider variety of music than what you can or aspire to play. Listen to your tone, listen to the sounds around you.

Play Every Day

Try to at least touch your guitar every single day. Set a bare minimum for yourself (2 minutes, 2 hours, anything) and stick to it.

Take Responsibility, Take Credit

Take your progress into your own hands. Most of your learning will be done with no teachers around. And where you take responsibility, you can also take credit, so be proud.

Play with Other Musicians

Musically connecting with other people is among the most satisfying payoffs for your practice efforts. Don’t wait until you think you’re good enough; you already are. Take lessons, join a band, or just find someone with whom you can make some noise, and have fun!

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  • I do all of the things above except for playing with a metronome.
    It just seems annoying too annoying to set everything up, set the BPM and what not if you are like me and like to go to guitar, play for 5 minutes, go away and come back again 5 minutes later, and then you have to increase the BPM.
    So, usually what I do when practice something is that I keep Guitar Pro open and just use the trainer function (my computer is almost always on anyway).
    Do you think that, that is bad in any way?
    I could imagine that you wouldn’t pay so much attention to the beat when doing this.
    Do you have any experience with this?

  • Joe

    I’ve never used Guitar Pro, but I’m guessing the trainer function provides some kind of steady beat? That’s all you need. Metronomes usually sound robotic and annoying, so lots of people use drum machines for playing along to a real drum beat instead. I dig both YMetronome and Weird Metronome, as both run on my computer and can use any MIDI sound. I stick with closed hi-hat.

  • Shane

    The metronome is probably the most neglected tool listed; but it can pay the most dividends if you want to improve technique. Being in my mid 40s, I’m past the desire to play fast. I would like to improve my speed, however I get as much satisfaction being able to hold a bend over four or five bars as I do if I could play 32 notes in one bar. Be fast, but not in a hurry – a metronome can help with that.