101 Ways to Improve as a Guitarist

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There is a concept called the aggregation of marginal gains, which is based on the principle that vast improvement can be achieved through continuous small improvements. When thinking of this concept in terms of guitar, we realize that there are nearly limitless opportunities to improve guitar playing, skills, tone…any aspect of guitar. Here’s 101 ways that you can improve as a guitarist over time. Share your own ideas with us in the comments.

1. Give at least twice as much attention to playing as you give to guitar gear.
2. Practice every morning for that amount of time (see #1), when you wake up, before work.
3. Learn the blues scale in all positions, not just the “blues box” with root on the 6th string.
4. Practice the modes of each scale.
5. Learn to play scale patterns backwards.
6. Play each scale on a single string, on all strings.
7. Learn one new song each day for a week.
8. Practice with a metronome.
9. Sing each note that you play and learn to play more lyrically.
10. Learn a song from a genre that you don’t normally play, and interpret it in your own style.
11. Learn a second instrument, like mandolin, and allow it to influence your guitar style.
12. Learn a popular melody from a different instrument.
13. Hold your back up straight and breathe steadily while playing.
14. Sing with your gut, not your chest when playing guitar.
15. Learn how to play a song with a completely different set of chord positions.
16. Transpose your favorite song into a different key.
17. Arrange your favorite song into a different rhythm and/or style.
18. Practice playing without resting your palm on the guitar.
19. Practice playing (chordally) through the cycle of 5ths.
20. When soloing, play behind the beat just as a jazz soloist would.
21. Practice yoga, breath or meditate or find any way to loosen up for 10 minutes before practicing.
22. Practice right hand techniques in addition to left hand fingering techniques.
23. Listen more intently to what the rest of your bandmates are playing.
24. Keep playing when you break a string and force yourself to be creative with limitations.
25. Finish writing every song until it can stand alone as a song, and some perceived bad ones might actually turn out to be good ones.
26. Subscribe to an online guitar education program, which offers more interactive instruction than a book.
27. Learn various inversions of your most used guitar chords.
28. Learn exotic scales from other styles of music and apply them to your style(s).
29. Record your practices, listen back to them and find ways to improve your playing.
30. Learn at least 5 different scales (including modes) that could be played over a single chord to give it a different flavor.
31. Use a looper/phrase sampler to practice creating steady rhythm loops and solo over them.
32. Learn new guitar riffs slowly, without changing anything, and then speed them up.
33. Use a clean guitar tone (no distortion or effects) when practicing.
34. Play at a volume that is loud enough to hear the articulation in your playing.
35. Focus on the tone, or “release” of a note after you play it (as it sustains) without lifting off.
36. Practice playing without vibrato if you normally play with vibrato.
37. Connect each song with an emotion and attempt to convey that emotion through your playing.
38. If you’re sick of practicing, stop playing for an extended period of time, rethink your practice approach and allow the urge to come back.
39. Limit your guitar solos to a set amount of bars (usually 4, 8 or 16 bars) to prevent unnecessary noodling.
40. When soloing, learn from jazz artists and repeat your phrases three times (withs slight differences) before moving onto a new idea.
41. Focus on storytelling when soloing, which means you must introduce yourself, tell something of intrigue and bring it to closure.
42. Learn to pre-bend and “descend to pitch” on the downbeat.
43. Jam with more advanced musicians to challenge your wits and skills, and become inspired for improvement.
44. Practice standing up if that’s how you’ll perform live, because it feels different.
45. Wear your guitar strapped higher on your body to help articulate when soloing.
46. Try practicing for only a half hour at a time, then take a break to prevent burnout.
47. Practice changing dynamics gradually as you practice scales, such as increasing loudness.
48. Experiment with melodies and rhythms in time signatures other than 4/4.
49. Practice soloing around the downbeat (aka “around the 1”) to build tension.
50. Practice playing bad notes purposefully and quickly sliding to correct notes to create more color.
51. Keep a healthy balance between songwriting, song-learning and technical scale/chord practice.
52. Add a quality buffer to a pedalboard full of true bypass pedals.
53. Plug straight into your amp to remind yourself what your clean tone should sound like.
54. Use less gain in your overdrive, fuzz and distortion pedals.
55. Experiment with effects pedal order to discover new sounds.
56. Play in stereo, even though it’s not practical, and be inspired by the wideness of your tone.
57. Try keeping a compression pedal on at all times, with slight compression, placed after dirt pedals.
58. Raise or lower your electric guitar pickups to change the intensity of your guitar signal.
59. Upgrade the stock speaker in your mass-produced amplifier and experiment with alnico or ceramic magnets.
60. Try a hemp cone speaker and get really, really high…on tone.
61. Experiment with a lower gain V1 preamp tube in place of a 12ax7 for more mellow tones.
62. Play with a heavier guitar pick to get a beefier tone.
63. Increase your string height to get more clarity and less string buzz.
64. Clean your strings after playing to increase their lifespan.
65. Replace your strings whenever you can feel a divot under the D string (from fretting).
66. Get a headphone amp and let ‘er rip, even when the wife and kids are awake.
67. When your guitar feeds back, harness that feedback and play it as an instrument.
68. Experiment with different guitar picks (materials and thickness).
69. Loosen or tighten your grip on your pick, or hold it a different way to affect tone differently.
70. Buy quality used gear instead of cheaply made new gear, and buy USA-made.
71. If you haven’t, put your time-based effects after dirt pedals for cleaner delays/reverb.
72. If you haven’t, put your time-based effects before dirt pedals for experimental delays/reverb.
73. Upgrade your guitar cables to regain lost high end (treble) in your tone.
74. Use a high-quality, dedicated and isolated power supply to reduce noise from your pedalboard.
75. When using high gain amps, place time-based effects in the effects loop for more sonic clarity.
76. Plug a humbucker guitar into the low-gain input of a Fender amp to get a cleaner/sweeter tone.
77. Crank your amplifier and control volume (and overdrive level) with your guitar.
78. Typically, use a 6L6, EL34 or KT66 tube-based amp for louder, punchier tones.
79. Typically, use a 6V6 or EL84 tube-based amp for spongier or overdriven tones at lower volume.
80. Tap your preamp tubes gently, when your amp is on, to check for microphonic noise.
81. Get a fret job on an old guitar to improve playability, intonation and tone.
82. Research and explore the sonic difference of various tone woods.
83. Match the input impedance between your acoustic guitar’s pickup and your preamp.
84. Turn the reverb down, and focus on letting notes resonate more cleanly.
85. Use an EQ pedal in front of an amp to drastically change the tone for different songs.
86. Experiment with 2×10, 2×12, 4×10 and 4×12 speaker cabinets to move more air and get a wider sound.
87. Get a high quality amp attenuator and crank up your amp to see what it’s made of.
88. Try both germanium-based and silicon-based fuzz pedals to see which you like better.
89. Experiment with tape delay, bucket brigade analog delay and digital delay sounds to see which you like better.
90. Have a tech upgrade/replace the capacitors and resistors in your vintage amplifier.
91. Tilt your guitar amp back so the sound projects at your ears instead of your knees.
92. Turn your mids up when playing with a band, and cut through the mix better.
93. Turn your mids down when playing with a band, and blend into the rhythm section.
94. For a truly warm clean tone, turn your guitar amp up just loud enough so that when you dig in, it distorts.
95. Check the nut height of your vintage or used guitar and reduce string buzz.
96. Double mic your guitar amplifier at gigs to get a richer tone.
97. Use an eBow, or some other guitar gadget to get unique guitar tones.
98. Try different IC chips in your overdrive pedals to get different tonal flavors.
99. Use a volume pedal instead of your guitar’s volume knob to do swells and mimic a pedal steel.
100. Try both glass and brass slides to determine which you like better.
101. Turn down the intensity of your modulation effects for more natural, subtle tones.