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Number One Thing to Improve Guitar Skills

Everyone has their own reasons for playing guitar. Try as you might, it would be nigh on impossible to list every possible reason for playing the coolest instrument on the planet (I’m not biased, I promise!). You have the happy person, playing the same four chords for their whole lives and that’s fantastic - in fact it makes me a little jealous at times! Then you have the elite session musicians, and the A-list rockstars - a completely different set of requirements, and that means that what you need to do to improve is going to be different also. 

I don’t wish to sound prophetic in the most cliché of ways, but the number one thing to improve your guitar skills is going to be the desire to actually want to improve. It’s as simple as that! If you are determined enough, you will find a way. This blog post is aimed towards the more intermediate players amongst whomever may be reading this, but if any of these points work for you, take it and run with it.

I have mentioned the following point in videos and blog posts before, but I was self-taught for a few years before getting my first formal guitar lesson and I learned to adapt independently as a result. When I wanted to work on something, and given the limited online resources at the time, I had to persevere and figure it out for myself - this is something I managed to do because I genuinely wanted to, though my reason at the time has been forgotten over the years. If you want to improve your sweep picking skills, you could learn the technique from a teacher or elsewhere, but the onus is on you to want to practice and improve it, properly and consistently (check out this blog, or this one for some tips on how to practice effectively). 

An important point to consider would be whether or not a skill actually needs to be improved (bearing in mind we never stop improving or learning). Whilst there is likely a specific reason for working on something intently with a feverish passion for perfection, perhaps it would be beneficial to focus your energy elsewhere. Try to view your guitar playing with a holistic mindset, why do you work towards a specific goal in this way? What are your reasons for improving any number of skills and can you visualize the end result, rather than the current struggles you face trying to get there? 

“Don’t worry, don’t compare, don’t expect too fast and be kind to yourself” 

- Tomo Fujita

Every guitarist is, at least at one point during their journey, guilty of comparing themselves to another.  It’s a toxic mindset and immensely difficult to come to terms with, so it would be in the best interests of every guitarist to avoid this if possible.

It is highly recommended by myself, and countless other educators, that you should set goals for yourself of various lengths and degrees. Being realistic, moving on from learning ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes to ‘Dance of Eternity’ by Dream Theater within a couple of weeks is impossible. Equally, aiming to learn three chords in your first year of playing is drastically underselling your capabilities. However, there is a huge caveat here in that you should not be disheartened if your goals over run, or become egotistical if you pull off the imaginable. 

Referring back to my previous point, the desire to want to improve is the number one thing you need to actually get there. To develop that desire, and after you have figured out what facet of guitar playing you are going to work towards improving, work with a trusted friend or teacher to refine the point. “I want to play better solos” is too ambiguous a goal to work on effectively, it may be a case of phrasing, or the use of articulation that you need to push the envelope. 

In order to truly understand your own journey, try the following:

Revisit Some Old Tunes

Play some songs that inspired you in the first place, or even just listen to them. Disregard how simple they might be, or how cringey the experience might be - the idea is to recapture the feeling that started it all!

Listen to Old Recordings of Your Playing

I am a huge advocate for audio and video recordings of your own playing. Even if the result never sees the light of day, it can boost your confidence looking back at old examples of what you were able to do before, and how far you have come since. As a teacher, I see students weekly and improvements are often quite obvious to me, but not the student. This is because they are present 100% of the time when they are playing guitar, and so become desensitized to their own playing; the little improvements that add together resulting in something great are, as result, ignored.

Personally, I make an effort to do this regularly, even if for a specific technique or passage in a song. 

Go Back to Basics

This goes hand in hand with my first point, but everyone knows some basic chord forms. Be it power chords, open chords, triads/inversions etc. How well can you remember all of this? It is an all too common occurrence for an intermediate or advanced guitarist to over-complicate, thus forgetting the little things.

Everything but the Playing

Some musicians, guitarists and creatives of all types focus too much on the physical aspect of their craft. A guitarist may wish to play faster, just like a painter wishes to paint an increasingly realistic picture. 

Sometimes, you may find that what you’ll benefit from the most would be encouraging your curiosity. That could be trying to achieve a certain sound, without feeling that you have to understand every little detail.  You might also like to consider engaging your creative side by bringing an idea to fruition using the skills you possess.


There is a famous saying, those that can’t do, teach. This could not be further from the truth! Myself and many peers have a passion for teaching and passing on knowledge that nearly matches that of simply playing the guitar for fun. Teaching requires patience, and patience coupled with the pride one gets from helping others achieve their goals helps to appreciate where you came from, where you are now and where you could be in the future. 

In Case of Emergency

Let us agree that sometimes, you are at a loss for what to do and how to improve. On occasion, you need a push in the right direction and I would like to take the opportunity to give you some ideas. Take the three main building blocks of music, and pick one thing to work on from each area. Here are some examples:


Just uttering the word ‘polyrhythm’ to a guitarist is enough to send shivers down their spine. Can you play a five over four pattern in a funk style over a metronome? Even if you don’t like funk, it is a fun challenge that you can keep expanding if the desire takes you.


How well do you know your modes? Can you simply remember each of the basic shapes, and that is it? Try and play each mode horizontally on one string at a time - this is very useful for things like crafting melodies and moving around the neck of the guitar.


I love to play rhythm guitar using upper-structures. This is slightly advanced, but the idea is to take the top three notes of a seventh chord, and use that to play your solos and accompaniments. For example, if you play a C Major triad (C E G) whilst another instrument plays a lower A note, you would imply an Am7 (A C E D). This is a fantastic way to expand your harmonic capabilities. 

Whilst looking for that genuine desire to want to improve, have a look at those ideas above, or perhaps find some of your own and then maybe you’ll come across something that you want to pursue, then you start improving organically. 

Final Thoughts

We are our own worst enemy, and you have to work hard at overcoming obstacles thrust upon us by our own minds. There are peaks and troughs in everyone’s journey, and it might just be that, for the time being, you will have to wait it out until you stumble across a breakthrough and then you will shoot ahead. 

Never forget to keep your goals in mind, but don’t be afraid to deviate from the path or change your goals entirely, but only when appropriate. Whilst we mature as people, we also do so as musicians, so make sure to keep that in mind. 



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