Oh, the intermediate plateau. We’ve all been there, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Luckily there are plenty of people who have also been there before and have turned the corner as far as regaining their desire to grow as a guitar player – and they have left us wisdom to help overcome this hurdle. So if you are in that position, here’s some essential tips and tricks that have helped me through the years to escape that wretched guitar rut.
Play with better guitar players.
You have to first recognize that you aren’t the best guitarist on the face of the earth. At least not yet! You may not even be the best player in your band. That’s ok, in fact, that’s totally normal (editor’s note: imagine what it’s like for us being surrounded by the likes of Brent Mason, Tom Quayle, Brad Paisley and Andy Wood…) The first course of action is becoming self-aware and understanding that there’s plenty of room to grow. Humility and a willingness to learn will serve you better than bravado and hubris here. The moment you convince yourself that there’s no room for improvement is the very moment you stop growing as a musician. Playing with better guitarists and overall better musicians is key. Befriending them and learning from them and being open to not knowing is incredibly useful and should be encouraged. Every musician is different and every musician has something to offer you on your musical journey.
Join a band.
In conjunction with the first point, if you haven’t joined a band, do that right now! Not only is it a great way to meet better musicians, it gives you an opportunity to discover your ability to write and come up with your own original ideas. Taking into consideration your own musical influences as well as expressing your own personal voice allows you to unlock new scales and sounds that you perhaps haven’t previously heard or added to your repertoire. Plus, the dynamic of playing with other musicians instead of sitting alone in your room will add new excitement to the learning process. Also, it’s fun! Learning guitar is supposed to be fun at its core! It’s easy to get frustrated with yourself, but just remember why you started playing in the first place. There is nothing like the feeling of playing with other musicians and your skills will grow almost exponentially the more you do.
Go back to school…online
You don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia of guitar knowledge, but music theory is an important foundation block for learning your craft. If you’ve plateaued and only really know the pentatonic scale in one shape (we’ve all been there – and some guitarists have become famous by staying there), start considering other scales and practicing different modes. Despite how it may seem at first this is not magic and sorcery. Simple exercises involving major and minor scales and various modes will not only open your eyes to new possibilities with your instrument, but also show you what your guitar heroes used to craft their famous licks and riffs in your favorite songs. The Internet is a treasure trove of information that is accessible with just a few clicks. There’s plenty of YouTube videos, guitar tab books, Songsterr, and guitar super-systems to help you kickstart your new learning curve.
Learn guitar parts from great guitarists.
Your listening habits help shape your own voice on guitar, and also who you are as a person. This is at least the case for me, considering that music is essential to my life. Because of this, when I first picked up the guitar, I tried learning the various Green Day and Metallica songs I’d grown to love, initially to no avail. Music books in local guitar shops and guitar tablature ended up being crucial in my beginning guitar stages. Even though this seems like an amateur hour point to make, you should definitely consider using this tool later in your guitar playing journey. Your tastes in music change with the more guitar knowledge you have under your belt, so instead of learning a Def Leppard song on guitar, you might be listening to musicians like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Start looking into what they did to become the guitar gods you worship now. What are some of their tendencies when constructing a guitar solo? What theory ideas do you incorporate into their riffs and song structure? There’s a rabbit hole to fall through that’s just waiting to be discovered.
Start playing live.
It doesn’t have to be a full-on North American tour, but dipping your toes into the sea of live playing is a great way to pick up some new skill in the guitar game. Whether it’s a local pub with friends or your band or just yourself at an open mic, playing live is a fun and easy way to inspire yourself further. I started my live performing career in musical theater, so I was lucky enough to rip the stagefright bandaid off earlier than my music career started. If you haven’t yet tried performing for people, it exposes some of the weaknesses in your playing when under duress. And that’s a good thing! There’s no point in expecting yourself to get better if you deny the parts of your guitar playing that need work. After this uncomfortable setting and exposure into the live scene, you’ll start to grow in confidence as a player and performer, which in turn allows you to regain the drive to get better.
When it comes down to it, you don’t have to engage in these steps if you don’t want to. If you ARE looking to step up your guitar playing game, then consider some of these options if you haven’t done so already. Remember that all in all, guitar is supposed to be fun, and if you want to get better and reignite the flame you felt when you first started learning the instrument, then this is the way to do it!
If you’re reading this and have any pieces of advice to share for your fellow guitar players on their musical journey, feel free to leave some encouraging comments below. Let’s help each other be the best players we can be!