How to take your Guitar Playing to the Next Level

James Elliot By James Elliot, 10th Jan 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Learning An Instrument

Guitar players often reach a plateau where they stop getting better. It's frustrating because it is hard to see how to get over it and take things to the next level. It turns out that if you want to get faster and get better there is an easy solution. A simple change in your approach and the relearning of a couple of things will make all the difference.

How to take your Guitar Playing to the Next Level

There comes a point for most guitarists when they seem to stop improving. In the first couple of years your playing gets better and better almost every day. Your enthusiasm and exposure to new things pushes you to achieve higher and higher levels. However, there comes a point, however talented you are, when it seems that you’ve stopped progressing. You’ve reached the intermediate plateau. So how do you make that leap up to the next level of guitar playing?

The answer is surprisingly simple. So simple that it is easy to discount it and continue looking for a more exciting solution. Stick with it, though, and you’ll see tremendous results very quickly.

We often talk about a guitar player’s ‘touch’. A light touch is what we want but due to the nature of the way we learnt to play the guitar we’re going to have to unlearn a couple of things to get it.

As beginners it was difficult to get the guitar to produce a good, clean note without muting or buzzing. Our fingers were soft and weak and we had to press the string down quite hard to make a decent sound. Now that we’re strong and our finger tips have toughened up we don’t need as much pressure but habits are hard to break. We’re all pressing too hard. That’s wasted effort that is slowing us down and effecting our ability to play fluidly with a nice light touch.

Repetitive exercises

There’s nothing more boring than exercises. We did them as beginners and thought we’d left them behind. Unfortunately, we need simple repetitive movements to retrain our fingers. Only two minutes a day at the start of your practise will transform your playing within two weeks. I promise! The exercise is probably one you’ve done before but it is the way we’re doing it that’s important.

Start with your first finger on the 9th fret of the low E string. Your 2nd finger then plays the 10th fret, your 3rd the 11th and then your 4th plays the 12th fret. Then move down a string and repeat until you run out of strings then play it in reverse.
Our aim is to get a nice even sound with a steady rhythm and with no muted or cut short notes. Use alternate picking throughout.

We want to get faster, that’s why we’re doing this, but if we push ourselves to play faster and faster we just start making mistakes and getting nowhere. Instead, what we have to do is relax. Stick to a slow steady speed that you can do comfortably. Start paying attention to the tension in your fingers, your wrist, your arm and shoulders. Keep playing but try and relax these areas of tension as you go. We’re not getting faster but it should start to feel easier to play at the same speed.

Under pressure

Next we need to get a lighter touch. Hold down any note you like at your normal pressure. If you’re like me you won’t feel like you’re pressing very hard but you are. Now, keep picking the string but gradually ease off your pressure on the string until it starts to buzz or stops producing a note at all. This is too little pressure. Now, put back on just enough pressure, and no more, to produce a clear note. It won’t feel like much but that is all the pressure you ever need. Any more is just slowing you down. Try and play a few notes at this pressure to get used to it.

To get our fingers out of the habit of pressing too hard we’re going to use the same exercise as last time but with one slight difference. This time we are going to try and play as quietly as we can. Someone sat next to you should have to strain to hear you but we must still produce clean notes. This exercise is a bit of a trick. It works because it is very difficult to get our hands to do two totally different things. To play quietly we have to pick very gently. When we pick gently it has the knock on effect of making us fret gently too.

Observation is the key to improvement. As you play quietly be aware of your fretting hand and the amount of pressure you are using. Keep the hand relaxed and light. Try not to move the fingers any more than you need to to play the notes. Now you can start playing tunes and riffs that you know but keep playing quietly and pay attention to your fretting hand. Once you are able to play quietly and lightly try picking harder and louder without increasing the pressure of your fretting hand.

Practised daily for only a couple of minutes you should see results very quickly. It is essential, however, to continue to be aware of how hard you are pressing. We are trying to train our fingers into a new habit. It is no good playing the exercises perfectly with a light touch and then going back to playing everything else the old way. You may have to slow down familiar tunes to get the hang of playing them gently. Remember, the key is relaxation. If you feel tense while playing and you feel any tightness in your muscles then slow down. Once you can play it right at a slow speed then you can try a faster one and not before. If you keep making mistakes you a just practising how to play it badly and this should be your cue to slow down. It may seem like a frustrating way to practise but you will find that you can get up to fast speeds quicker this way.

The best advice I can give to finish off is to listen to yourself. Practise without reverb and really listen to the quality of the sound. Keep asking yourself ‘how can I make it sound better?’ and you will improve. Good luck!


Get Better, Guitar, Improvement, Performance, Practice, Practise

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author avatar James Elliot
James is a Copy Writer and English Correction specialist at

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author avatar CHAOS
11th Jan 2011 (#)


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author avatar TNT_Brian
11th Jan 2011 (#)

great article, well written. thanks for sharing. i don't currently play guitar but have thought about doing so many times. maybe i will now :)

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author avatar angelnjuly
11th Jan 2011 (#)

I love playing guitar. Great tip you have. Thank you~

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author avatar Retired
16th Jan 2011 (#)

Thanks for sharing

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