How to be a Great Guitarist – A Simple Secret
If all you do is copy other guitarists, you will eventually hit a ceiling and won’t know why. If all you do is study guitar lessons and instructional products, you can become an incredibly proficient player but you’ll never be an innovator and you might never even develop your own style. So, let’s take a look at how to be a great guitarist.
What sets apart the average expert players from the greats really comes down to a simple difference in approach. Everyone has their own tastes and their own reasons for pursuing the things they love, but it’s less often that they take the time to dig deep into what is unique about their own passions and perspectives.
It all comes down to the types of questions you ask yourself and when or how often you ask them.
When listening to music or studying a lesson, did you know that you can get over twice as much out of the same amount of time spent? Do you listen or follow along passively or do you impose your own brand of questions on anything that comes your way?
Let me give you an example from how I approach music and guitar. Whenever I hear a song or guitar part that makes me feel a certain way, I immediately want to know how and why. I’ll usually take a moment to dissect whatever it is, but just paying attention to it with those questions in mind is enough to make all the difference.
It’s a never ending process that happens automatically once you habituate it. Each of these little distinctions builds a vocabulary that will allow you to better express your own unique ideas through music and the guitar.
By the very nature of the fact that you are the one asking the questions based on your own interpretation of things, it will shape your approach to music and guitar in a way that exactly matches your own tastes and personality. Instead of simply following the instructions of someone else, this process will allow you to adapt anything you learn to fit with your own unique vision of things. By doing this, the processes of writing and innovating will become ones of pure enjoyment. When everything is synced up, it feels amazing.
While this may seem convoluted or even esoteric, the truth is that it’s absolutely fundamental. To a certain degree, you’re doing this already. This type of curiosity is hardwired into all of us and, because we each have a unique subjective experience in life, it’s different for every single person. However, it’s only when you become aware of it that you can take full advantage of the benefits it offers.
If you want to be an innovator on the guitar, this is critical. You can definitely try to go at innovation through sheer force but you will regularly find yourself pulling your hair out in frustration. Sitting there with the guitar in your hands, thinking to yourself “okay, do something nobody has ever done before” will nearly drive you insane. Most results you get from a session like that will feel trite or contrived.
If you really want to innovate and end up with the types of results that your favorite guitarists do, innovate by way of answering questions you ask or solving problems you pose. If a technique is created arbitrarily, it will usually seem pointless and frivolous. Anything you create on the guitar should have a purpose that means something to you.
Whatever your goals are, the next time you hear something that you love in a song, guitar solo, or even a guitar lesson, don’t just try to learn it. Ask yourself why it sounds the way it does. What about it do you specifically like? What is the simplest version of it that would create the same effect? Take the time to figure it out. It isn’t an accident that it has the effect it has on you. There is a recipe hidden in there that causes it to give you the feeling it does. You can learn those recipes and build up a massive vocabulary of expression for the guitar – and it will eventually become unique to you.
Ask the question, get an answer, and move on.
You don’t need to necessarily apply it to anything right away or spend a great deal of extra time on it. It’s enough to build the habit of asking and answering the questions. After awhile, you will see a whole other dimension to the guitar that wasn’t apparent to you before. Once you get there, innovation will happen on its own.
Dan Mumm is a Metal Method instructor and shred master. Check out Dan’s lessons here.