With so many things to learn, it can immediately become overwhelming for guitar players to know what to practice and why. You would’ve heard of many guitar players tell you that you need to for example learn the ‘caged system’ or learn ‘every shape of the minor pentatonic scale’, but this simply isn’t true.
The simple truth is that you only need to learn what is required to reach your goals, the rest is just noise. With the vast wealth of knowledge that is available on the internet, it is easy to fall into the trap of learning all the wrong things.
In this article, you will find out about the best exercises that you can apply today to become an amazing guitar player, no matter what your goals are. You will also learn about the best ideas that all of your favourite guitar gods learned to become successful.
Daily Ear Training
One important aspect of guitar playing is ear training. Too many guitarists skip this part and rely on tablature because it’s easier and faster to learn. While this may be true, in the long run, you would have missed out on the time that you could have used to build an amazing ear.
Have an amazing ear is the foundation to doing the things that you aspire to do on the guitar. From creating cool licks to being able to improvise, to even being able to play your favourite songs.
While you don’t have to ditch tabs completely, it’s a good idea if you use your ear at least 90% of the time. The problem with tablature lies with the fact that you are taking someone’s interpretation of the song (which is usually wrong) and this results in playing the wrong notes.
As a beginner, you are guaranteed to hit the wrong notes but as weeks go by your ear will constantly improve. If you were to learn a song by ear today and then learn it again in 3 weeks, there is a strong chance you will hear notes that you didn’t hear the first time around.
There are a few ways that you can approach ear training and they are all equally important. These include:
• Learning songs by ear – This is the most enjoyable way to do it, you can start by learning your favourite songs. By doing this not only are you building a great ear but you are also adding more songs to your arsenal.
There is no use in learning songs that you won’t play again because you will just forget them; it makes more sense to learn something that will stick with you.
Start with something simple and learn purely by trial and error. Hit a bunch of notes until you find the right one and repeat the process. You will eventually figure out where those notes are by just hearing them.
• Singing over a backing track – Don’t be alarmed when you hear the word ‘sing’ because you don’t have to be a great singer, in fact, all you need to do is make a humming sound.
Have you ever desired the ability to play what comes to your mind without thinking about it? Then this is the holy grail of all ear training exercises. Turn on a backing track and start making the sounds that you would want to play on your guitar.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; you just need to make a cool sound that you like and then record it as well. The reason you want to record your singing with a backing track on is so you have some context, thus making it easier to come up with ideas.
After recording yourself, pick up your guitar and play the recording and try to learn what you have just sung. Keep repeating this process and over time you will develop the ability to play what comes to your mind.
• Interval training – If you really want to learn songs accurately and reduce the trial and error that you have to go through, then this is really where you should spend your time.
With interval training you will be able to compare notes to each other, and when you are able to confidently recognize the difference you can locate notes instantly.
There are many apps that you can download in order to learn each interval and test yourself.
Learning Some Basic Theory
Before you think to yourself, ‘hell no!’ learning theory isn’t all that bad and it doesn’t have to be boring. The best way to approach learning theory is to pick one concept that you need or want to learn and stay with it until you are confident with it.
You would have heard about the countless topics that you need to learn about, but you don’t need to learn everything and if you find that you are getting overwhelmed then focus on one topic at a time.
By learning theory, you will gain many great benefits such as:
• Have the ability to know what you’re playing – It’s all too common to play something but have no idea what you’re playing. This is very common in learning improvisation. When learning to improvise, you should know what key you are in, what chords are being played and so on.
By not having any knowledge of music theory you know what is going on and why; this can really impact your playing.
• Learn to play confidently with a band – If your band member says to you ‘let’s do a simple progression in the key of ‘C minor’ and you have no idea what that means, then you might be taken so seriously.
If your goal is to play in a serious band then you should have some knowledge of theory as it will be expected from you.
Find All The Notes On The Fretboard
Hitting the wrong notes during improvisation can really make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Even though the right notes are only a semi-tone above, it helps tremendously if you are able to locate those notes instantly.
Using the key of ‘A minor’ as an example, ones of the notes in the scale is ‘E’; if you knew where that note is you could create chords out of it or even create some licks.
Not knowing where the notes are will leave you hanging when it comes to the next chord in the progression. There are many ways to go about learning the notes on the fretboard but the easiest way to start is to just drill up and down the fretboard until you get it down.
The best piece of advice that you can be given is to focus on each of these topics in isolation until you are comfortable with them and then slowly start combining them.
For example, if you’re trying to learn improvisation then don’t try to hit the right notes, create cool phrases and keep up with chord changes all at the same time. Just focus on one idea and then move onto the next.
Above everything, make sure to stay consistent with your practice, as consistency is what will get you results over the long term.
George A. Smith received a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Berkeley. George has been teaching music professionally for the past 8 years. George regularly contributes content to several music websites including LoadRecords.com.