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How to Improve Your Guitar Playing Skills

John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.

Get even better by following these 8 tips!

Get even better by following these 8 tips!

How to Get Better at Guitar

Any guitarist who takes their craft seriously—whether they are a complete beginner, master of their craft, or anything in between—wants to be better. Ultimately, you will never be a better guitar player without the desire and drive to become one. There are no quick fixes here.

What you can do is make efficient use of your practice time. You’re going to be working hard to become a technically proficient guitarist, regardless of your methods. But with clever use of your time, you can see more improvement by dedicating 15 minutes a day to carefully thought out practice.

8 Ways to Improve Your Guitar Playing

  1. Dedicated Practice Time
  2. Perfect Something
  3. Learn Something New
  4. Practice Scales
  5. Practice Chord Changes
  6. Use a Metronome
  7. Try Different Guitars
  8. Play Guitar Every Day

1. Dedicate Your Time

Don't just practice; practice hard!

When trying to improve your guitar playing, it is essential that you dedicate some time to practising; truly. It's not enough to simply pick up a guitar and pluck away—perhaps playing along with a song or idly strumming out random tunes while you watch television. You need to focus on your playing.

The key here is that if you can play a particular song or scale with such ease that you can do it casually and without really thinking about it, that's great. But once you've reached that point, you're no longer getting anything out of doing it. It's like exercising—if you're not struggling, there's no benefit.

Try to set aside time to just focus on your guitar playing, even if it's only ten minutes every other day. If you can comfortably play a particular scale, focus on playing it faster, or more accurately, or try a different scale. Just make sure the guitar has 100% of your attention for the duration of your practice session.

There's always a reason to practice...

There's always a reason to practice...

2. Master Something

Don't just learn it, perfect it.

Though you shouldn't spend all of your practice time trying to do one particular thing at the expense of all other areas, it's good to get laser-focused and really nail something.

It could be a tricky solo, a new scale, a difficult chord progression, a style of picking, or anything that you're not already able to do with ease. Really pay attention to your technique and accuracy when trying to master something on your guitar. And don't feel like you have to nail the thing you're trying to master before you can do anything else. It's fine to take a break from time to time to practice other things and come back to it later. In fact, having a little variety may help you come back to the task refreshed and more focused.

3. Keep It Fresh

Stuck in a rut? Get a new rut!

While attempting to master something on your guitar can be a great exercise in focus and accuracy, you should always be open to trying something different. If you're playing the same few songs over and over, add something new to your list. If you know a lot of songs, but they're all from the same genre, try something from a different genre.

As with the previous point, you should be looking for something that is a little outside of your comfort zone. There's no point taking a break from playing complicated arpeggio folk songs to try a few power chord-driven punk numbers that will take you all of two minutes to master.

Don't be afraid to do the bare minimum when learning something new. If you find something you like, then, by all means, focus on it. Master it if you wish. But generally speaking, the important thing is to try new things, get competent at them, and move on. There's no sense in slaving away, trying to perfect a song you're never going to play again once you've nailed it.

Practising scales like C Major (pictured) can improve finger dexterity and accuracy.

Practising scales like C Major (pictured) can improve finger dexterity and accuracy.

4. Scale It Up

Scales might not be your thing, but do them anyway.

It's easy for some musicians—especially rhythm guitarists—to dismiss scales as something that is only really necessary for lead guitar players who will spend half their time "shredding" in the middle of the stage. The truth is, for those kinds of guitarists, scales are essential. But they still carry huge benefits for everyone else,

For one thing, practising scales will improve the dexterity of your fretting hand, allowing for a greater range of chords. It also can't be underestimated just how much more enjoyable playing guitar is when you're so technically proficient that you feel like you can't miss a note, and having an agile, strong fretting hand will give you the confidence to feel that way.

If it helps, don't think of it as practising scales. Think of it as taking your fingers to the gym.

There's more to playing chords than getting your fingers in the right place.

There's more to playing chords than getting your fingers in the right place.

5. Practice Your Chord Changes

Because nobody likes an errant A in their Em.

Specifically while strumming, that is. Obviously, being able to comfortably change chords is a must for any competent guitar player. But the timing aspect of chord changes is often misunderstood. More often than not, when a guitarist struggles to make a smooth chord change, they assume their fretting hand is the problem when it's actually the strumming hand's doing. Learning to coordinate your strumming hand with your chord changes is one of the single hardest things to master if it doesn't come naturally. But once you get it down, it can make a huge difference in your playing.

Of course, this is assuming the chord change itself is technically sound. No amount of perfect timing on the strumming side will cover a chord change that takes a full bar to complete and hits three wrong notes on the way. Be sure to try many chord combinations, and don't pay any attention to how melodic your playing sounds during this exercise; it's not about ear-pleasing chord progressions at this point.

And if you get to a point where you can smoothly move between all the chords you know without issue, add some more chords to your arsenal. There are always more chords.

6. Keep Time

Train your body to be an atomic clock of guitar playing godliness.

This can’t be stated enough, but always use a metronome, click track, drum beat, or backing track when you’re practising. Whether you’re doing scales, playing a song, or just jamming away, have a beat to keep time to. The more you practice to a timed beat, the more accurate your internal rhythm will be. With enough practice, you may find that you can keep an accurate tempo without a beat at all. But at the very least, you need to be able to consistently keep in time if you ever hope to record music or play with other musicians.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go out and buy a metronome to keep yourself in check. If you’re playing along with a song, you already have your beat. Otherwise, you can easily find click tracks on places like YouTube and in most audio programs. A good number of practice amps also have built-in metronomes, not to mention countless free apps that can be downloaded to your phone.

7. Switch It Up

Don't get too used to your trusty old axe; you may have to play somebody else's.

Obviously, not everybody has the option to play a multitude of different guitars at any given time. But if you're lucky enough to have access to more than one, be sure to alternate when you practice so that you don't develop playing habits specific to one unique instrument's quirks. It's worth having a particularly cheap guitar for this purpose. When you practice obsessively on the same instrument, you may find that you reach God-like levels of ability with your instrument but struggle somewhat when you pick up somebody else's.

We're getting into true guitar mastery here. As a general rule, if you can play one guitar you can play them all. But if you aim to be a total master of your craft, you may find yourself reaching the stage where the margin for error is so fine that switching from a guitar with low action to one with high action is just enough to throw you off. The same can be said for picking up a budget guitar after practising for six hours a day on an exquisitely made 1950s instrument of wonder.

This goes for the circumstances in which you practice, too. If you only ever practice holding your guitar in the classical position, don't expect to just step on stage with your axe hanging down by your waist and be able to play with the same level of awesome you did at home!

8. Play Every Day

EVERY day. No excuses.

Even if you only get five minutes, pick up your guitar every day and keep those fingers nimble. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing guitar, shooting a round of golf, or single-handedly taking down a squadron of internet n00bs in your favourite multiplayer shooter—it’s all about muscle memory.

Our brains are remarkable organs that can handle a lot of information, but they don’t work like computers. Professional tennis players don’t calculate angles and velocities consciously when they hit a ball; they just know from years and years of hitting tennis balls how it will react if they hit in a particular way. Guitar is the same. If you’re having to consciously think about your playing, there’s room for improvement.

Playing regularly will not only develop “muscle memory” as it pertains to chord shapes and hand placement, but it will also keep that memory honed. Once you can shape a chord without consciously thinking about where to put your fingers, you’re well on your way to becoming a technically sound guitarist.

But above all, enjoy yourself.

Know your guitars? Why not take our short quiz.

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Standard tuning Is...?
    • D-A-D-G-B-E
    • E-A-D-G-B-E
    • E-B-E-G#-B-E
  2. The part of guitar strings are...?
    • Between the nut and the saddle(s).
    • Between the tuning pegs and the bridge.
    • All of it.
  3. Fretting the E string at the 12th fret will produce...?
    • A "B" note.
    • An "A" note.
    • An "E" note.
  4. Playing a string without fretting it is called...?
    • Playing it open.
    • Playing it fretless

Answer Key

  1. E-A-D-G-B-E
  2. Between the nut and the saddle(s).
  3. An "E" note.
  4. Playing it open.

Interpreting Your Score

If you got between 0 and 1 correct answer: Go get your guitar, you need to practice.

If you got 2 correct answers: Not bad. Not GOOD, but not bad.

If you got 3 correct answers: You know your stuff. Mostly.

If you got 4 correct answers: I bow to your guitar mastery.

© 2016 John Bullock


Partha Siddharth on April 25, 2020:

Hi John,

Thanks for sharing.

A request - can i use the starting image of your blog for a hand sketch using pencil. I am an amateur artist, would be glad if you can permit.


Muhammad Umair Ghufran from Sargodha,Pakistan on October 14, 2016:

Hi Mate , that's guide interesting and sound Goods let me do it

thanks for sharing with us