Don’t grip the guitar neck too hard
Obviously you need to hold the guitar neck. If you don’t, then the guitar will fall to its own demise and that is never ‘cool’. We’re aiming to hold the guitar neck tight enough so it doesn’t move but loose enough so you can glide and slide your thumb up and down the back of the neck easily. Remember, the fingers will be doing all the talking and playing, but your thumb is the hidden key to moving that hand quickly. Experimentation is key here so you’ll need to find that ‘sweet spot’. Once you’ve locked it in, you’ll be good to fly across the guitar like never before. Take your time to adjust to the feel of your guitar though, as different brand have different neck thicknesses.
Slow and steady. Technique over speed always
We’ve all heard the tale of the hare and the tortoise? Maybe, well this can be applied to guitar folks! Technique is how you play something or the application you use to do so, it could be a song, it could be a finger exercise or some fancy ‘flash’ guitar solo but it all boils down to technique. With good technique, comes great speed. It’s important to work on your speed too, as some songs are quick, especially those famous guitar solos. Take the time now to work on your technique slowly until its consistent. Speed is your worst enemy if you don’t, as it will show all those pretty little flaws in your technique when you TRY and play faster.
Say and play it
Talking to yourself is a good first step to your insanity but it’s also an amazing trick to help the memory. If you say and play whatever it is that you’re practising, you will improve faster. It’s a simple mind trick as you’re concentrating purely on what you’re playing and not overthinking. A lot of playing is in the mind. It will also stop you from thinking about what you might want for dinner, which is a very important question right? Training or improving your memory is a big game changer when it comes to learning and playing an instrument. Go further and talk to yourself (maybe just quietly to start with, if you’re shy or nervous.
Find a consistent way to play everything, then repeat. Repetition is key
We should all know that playing or doing something once is not enough to fully understand the task or song. Repetition is the ultimate tool to improving everything when it comes to playing guitar. If you want to reach that ‘Rock Star’, or ‘God like’ status, in your playing, you clearly need to play ‘Happy Birthday’ or that sweet ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ solo more than once. Aim for repeating things at least 10 to 20 times as this will improve your consistency. You may need to repeat a single bar 10000000 times but trust me it’s worth it in the end when you nail that song, technique or playing behind your head.
Play everything with the same fingering once you’ve found a sensible and meaningful way to play it
There’s a secret password called ‘muscle memory’ when we’re learning to play guitar. It takes a while to crack but the secret ingredient is finding a finger pattern that works for you and then making sure you repeat and use the same fingering every time you practice. Imagine playing seven nation army, but constantly changing which finger or fingers you use for the frets. News flash! You won’t be learning muscle memory. You need to play it using that comfortable pattern such as index, ring, index, index, index for example. Like your favourite slippers (that you always wear right?), you need to get comfy and then repeat.
Scales are your friend. Play them to warm those fingers up
Scales are those exercises that every guitarist hears about and then tries to avoid for as long as possible. Don’t be that guy or girl. Scales are your best friend. Even if you learn one in a lifetime, it is great to warm those fingers up before jumping into that ‘red hot’ practice session, where you learn to play your favourite style of music!
Play without looking whether its eyes closed or looking straight ahead
I call this one the ‘blindfold’ test. Trust me, it’s not as difficult as it sounds but it’s a great test of your ability. You need to be able to play a song, scale or solo (literally anything) super duper well before you try the blindfold test. All you have to do is play whatever it is without looking. You can have a head start by making sure both hands are in the right place before you start, but once you start playing, you can’t look until it’s over. At first you might find it impossible to finish but patience, Padawan, you will get better.
Practice Jumping between different parts to reduce hesitation. AKA The ping pong effect
As musicians and guitar players, we have to break things into small chunks or pieces of information to make it easier to learn. This is great as it helps muscle memory, internal memory and accuracy. The only problem is we have to connect all those chunks together when it is time to play the entire song. DING DING DING, that’s when we bring in our good friend, ‘The Ping Pong Effect’. We practice jumping back and forth between each chunk of information. Imagine playing the end of a verse into the start of a chorus, this is what we mean by jumping between different chunks of information. It could be bars of music or it could be entire sections or pages of music. If you’re struggling with those chord changes or getting your fingers to move correct just jump back and forth between them until that motion is smooth. Be careful not to copy anyone else though, as this can be different for each musician. No one likes a copy cat and it’s a personal thing!
Improve your alternative picking so rhythms come naturally
You have my permission to binge watch Netflix or YouTube on this one. Take your guitars, put your favourite film or TV series on the box, and just play with your right hand on the guitar. We want to make sure your alternative picking (down and up motion) is smooth. Practice going down and up with a plectrum on all 6 strings then 5, 4, 3, 2 and finally 1. Just make sure you are constantly alternating that movement UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN or DOWN, UP, DOWN, UP. Take your time with it, you could play down and up on 6 strings for the entire film or break it up into episodes such as 1st episode is 6 strings, 2nd episode is 5 string and so forth. It will naturally improve your technique without paying any attention to it. I knew Netflix was good for something.
Get comfy with your instrument whether it’s sitting down or standing up
When you’ve played guitar for a long time (how long is long? Answers on a postcard), the guitar becomes part of you. The instrument becomes so comfortable, it’s just an extension of yourself. The best way to acquire this is to get comfy when you’re sitting down and standing up. Having the guitar down by your knees is epic if you’re in a metal band but say hello to back and shoulder pain, particularly as you get older! That isn’t so cool right? We want the instrument to feel comfortable, but still look cool. Experiment by adjusting the guitar strap when you’re standing up until it fits just right and then tighten or loosen for that ‘Rock Star’ look you’ve always wanted. Once again it’s a personal thing so take the time to get it right for you.