Improve Your Guitar Playing by Doing ‘1’ Simple Thing…

I can’t count the times I say this to my students but there is one simple thing you can do to improve your guitar playing. It’s so simple but most won’t do it and the sad thing is it can have an almost immediate effect.

The idea of music being a language seems to be all the rage in guitar education lately. Technically I’m not sure I call it a language, but I think it does share a lot of similarities in the way it should/could be taught. The mechanism of thinking, making a sound and receiving a sound are similar.

To learn a language you need to immerse yourself in it. It’s not enough to read a text book or learn the theoretical aspects of grammar. No, to really learn it you have to listen, imitate and speak. You learned your native language by listening to your parents, imitating words they would say and eventually expressing your own thoughts.

When learning a second language it’s so much easier if you can repeat the process and immerse yourself in it. I’ve heard of people who needed a 2nd language for work purposes but really struggled to get it. It’s a bit extreme but one government employee was sent to live in with a family for 6 months where they would only speak their native tongue, the language the employee was struggling with. He came out after the 6 months speaking fluently.

So, how does this improve your guitar playing? what’s it got to do with guitar playing anyway?

Improve Your Guitar PlayingWhen working on a particular song I always ask the student to listen to the song and if possible play along with it. This is immersing yourself in it. You can start to hear the nuance, the phrasing, the arrangement…you can feel the rhythm. One of the first hurdles students have, and this often follows them through a big part of their leaning is rhythm. For a beginner it’s a great way to learn and understand strum patterns.

If the music is too fast to play with you can slow it down by using software such as Transcribe. It’s a great package and highly recommended, I use it all the time when I need to learn songs or solos for students and for performance. It not only allows me to slow a song down but also to loop a section and change key if necessary.

YouTube also has a control in the settings (cog on the bottom right hand side) that allows you too slow down a video, it doesn’t have the functionality of Transcribe but it is simple and of course free, plus you have access to all the material that is up there on the platform.

You will really improve your guitar playing no matter what your level, beginner, intermediate or advanced if you just spend time listening.  Like learning to speak, listen, imitate, immerse yourself in it then you can make it your own.

Do you listen to the songs you are learning? Do you play along with the songs?  If you are trying to learn a new style do you immerse yourself in it? Has it helped you to improve your guitar playing? Let me know in the comments section if you have any thoughts.

8 replies
  1. David Alexander
    David Alexander says:

    Hi Ross

    Haven’t spoken with you in a long while and hope this message finds you and the family well.

    I’m still playing my guitar for my own enjoyment (well out of the band for a while now), and I can attest to your wisdom in suggesting that people play along to songs. If you do this you pick up SO much more than just learning from tab or watching someone and trying to copy them

    Have a great day and maybe we’ll catch up sometime

    Cheers

    David Alexander

    Reply
    • Ross Helmot
      Ross Helmot says:

      Hi David

      Good to hear from you and good to hear you’re still playing.

      Look forward to catching up down the track.

      Cheers, Ross

      Reply
  2. Bo
    Bo says:

    That was good read Ross.
    Cheers,
    Bo

    Reply
    • Ross Helmot
      Ross Helmot says:

      Happy you got something out of it Bo.

      Cheers, Ross

      Reply
  3. Simon
    Simon says:

    Hey Ross
    Yes I’ve gained a lot from doing just that- so important to learn the rhythm and tempo of a song, as well as the subtle nuances (a sus here and there) that often won’t be found on a chord chart) that give the song an extra something.
    My band did a virtual gig recently after a few months during which we obviously couldn’t rehearse together, and we played OK ‘cos we played along to recordings.
    Always enjoy your messages of encouragement!
    See u soon

    Reply
    • Ross Helmot
      Ross Helmot says:

      It really is amazing how something so simple can make such a big difference Simon.

      I keep banging on about it, but it is important.

      Cheers, Ross

      Reply
  4. Peter Moore
    Peter Moore says:

    Hey Rosco,
    As a drummer I think the same way. How I practice is 1/3 rudiments 1/3 reading and 1/3 playing along and listening to your favourites.

    Reply
    • Ross Helmot
      Ross Helmot says:

      Hey Peter

      Great to hear from you mate…I hope you are keeping well.

      That’s a really good practice plan you’ve got there.
      Nice and simple but very effective, the best kind.

      Playing along and immersing yourself in quality music by quality players is definitely the way to go.

      Reply

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