1. How to Listen
Unfortunately, being able to listen seems to be a rare skill. If you really want to make it as a guitarist (or any other kind of musician) you are going to have to listen. Don’t just focus on what you are doing. Make sure you pay attention to the rest of the band and to all the other people involved in creating great sounding music. This means taking advise from the sound guy, your producer and your contemporaries.
2. How to create your own unique sound
It’s normal to copy other players when you first start out. In fact, it’s a great way to learn how to play and discover some cool tricks. But don’t fall into the trap of sounding just like your idol. To be a great guitar player you need to develop your own unique sound. This means experimenting and breaking the rules. Hell Hendrix broke the “rules” all the time!
3. Be Punctual!
You might think it’s rock and roll to be two hours late but I promise you, in the music industry this behaviour is not tolerated. Make sure you turn up on time. Whether it’s to a gig or just to band practice. Develop the habit of being punctual. It shows you are serious and will earn you respect. Plus your bandmates wont hate you. As much as this isn’t all of us, we all know a couple of guitarists who are always late for everything, you’ve probably played with one.
4. Play with musicians more experienced than yourself
This is true whether you’re learning music or martial arts; exposing yourself to practitioners more experienced than yourself is going to push you to develop your skills. Don’t be tempted to only play with amateurs; you’ll only ever be a big fish in a little pond. Get out of your comfort zone and you will improve rapidly. And even if you’re more technically proficient that doesn’t mean there isn’t something you can learn from other people. Arrogance helps nobody improve and unfortunately it’s far too common amonst guitarists.
5. Practise makes perfect
Bruce Lee once said, “I don’t fear the man who has practised 1000 kicks once, but the man who has practised one kick 1000 times”. The message being, that you must master each element of the guitar, rather than learning how to do a lot badly. When you learn a new scale or discover a new chord practice it 1000 times. Learn to master it before moving on.
6. Learn lots of songs, from beginning to end
It’s great to have a large repertoire of songs that you can whip out and play at a moments notice. But make sure you learn the whole song. Don’t skip a section simply because it’s a bit tricky to learn or who couldn’t figure out what that one chord is. As stated in the previous point, learn to master the whole song before moving on to learning the next one.
7. Don’t neglect technical aspects (or Theory)
Working on your musical skills should come first and foremost but if you want to create an amazing sound with your guitar you need to learn some technical info. For example, you will definitely want to find out what all the knobs on your amp do. How and why different amps will create different sounds, etc. You’ll want to try out a few pedals and effects to learn how they impact the sound. Technical know-how of this kind will help you to develop your own unique tone that will make you stand out from the rest. But, it’s not just about Music Tech Theory, learning about how music itself works is all beneficial, we’re not saying read enough to pass your grade 8 theory exam (unless you want to), but a basic understanding is often what separates the good guitarist from amateur hour.
8. Image matters
For better or worse, the music industry is image conscious. Make sure your image fits the music you want to play. There is always some wriggle room of course and if you manage to find a distinctive look that still sends the right message you’re onto a winner. However, by and large you don’t want to look like you’re in the wrong place. Don’t look like a boy band singer if you want to play heavy metal.
9. Another Instrument
Seriously. Learning another instrument gives you an entirely different outlook. That’s not to say you need to be as good at it as you are your main instrument. But, having an idea of how things work from another perspective is not only very helpful for theory, but also gives you a better understanding of the music you’re going to try to create in the longer term. Many of the best guitarists I’ve had the pleasure of playing alongside played more than one instrument and you can clearly see the difference it makes in how they approach the writing process.