Welcome to Part 2 of the Becoming a Great All Around Player Series. The previous article began by pointing out the benefits of learning different styles and practicing different genres in order to aid you in becoming a good all around player. I must stress the fact that while the previous point is considerably important the main purpose of this article is to help you develop into a well-rounded guitarist. Practicing different genres is only part of the entire deal. You also need to know what to practice in order to move from level to level and therefore avoid falling into a rut.
A rut is the number one factor that cripples a guitarist’s development. In theory, it’s easier for an intermediate or expert player to fall into this gutter. Having played the instrument for while makes the person feel like they’ve run out of things to learn. Either that, or they have simply fallen into a counter-productive practice routine. For beginners, it’s usually that they simply don’t know what to do next and because of the lack of proper guidance have no idea what they should practice.
I mentioned the points that I consider important as far as balancing yourself as an all-around player and I also talked about the different levels of learning. While a lot of this material is aimed straight at beginners, there is a very big chance that many experienced guitarists can benefit from this. The majority of players have left a gap or two in the basics and going back is the only way to fill those. For a beginner, it’s more or less like trying to build their skills on a strong foundation. This is more or less like building a new house. For the experts, it’s more like trying to lift that house off the ground and sticking some bricks into the foundation; Bricks that were left out in the first place.
The Absolute Beginner. This level may take a while to clear but it’s the beginning of something great.
For this level you should learn:
- Open Position Chords. Learn mostly major and minor open chords
- Basic Rhythm Patterns.
- 5 Scales:
- Natural Minor
- Major Pentatonic
- Minor Pentatonic
You should learn only the first position of each of these scales. Try and learn these in 3 keys, E, G and A. This way you can play some of the scales such as the minor pentatonic, natural minor and blues, in open position (where the first note is at the nut).
You should also incorporate the use of a metronome for your practice right away. The main reason some guitarists can’t keep time is because they never practice with one. To spice things up you can alternate the metronome with a drum machine.
Make sure you can get to the level of playing these scales evenly, clearly and in-time. A good tempo for this would be somewhere between 100 and 120 beats per minute, although you should start slower at first.
For this level you must learn the following:
- Scales in More Keys. By now you should be transposing the scales you learned in level 1 into other keys. A good rule of thumb would be to learn these in other popular keys such as: B, C and D. You can leave the not-so-popular, less-used keys for level 3.
- Basic Improvisation. With the basic scale knowledge you have acquired it’s now time to begin fiddling around with them. Try and play the notes in different order and practice coming up with different melodies out of those scales.
- Better Rhythm. As your skill increases your sense of time should too. Practice different chord progressions in a few of the keys you know already. Now would also be a good time to begin recording these basic rhythm chord progressions even if it’s to a lousy cheap tape recorder. The idea is that you begin practicing the little melodies you’ve been improvising and play them over your own backing tracks.
- Arpeggios. Begin practicing a few arpeggios with the chords you know. Arpeggios are somewhat easy to play with open-position chords, so that would be a good place to start.
- Learn Some Basic Theory. The theory behind the major scale is a good place to start. Check out the lesson list to see my lessons on the major scale.
For this level you must learn:
- Major and Minor Barre Chords. These chords are the most widely used barre chords. By now, your hand-strength should be at a level where you can begin attempting these. Take your time, and practice shifting between open chords and barre chords.
- 5 Scales You Learned in any Key. By now you should know the shapes of the scales well enough that you can visualize more or less how to move them to any key.
- Basic Improvisation and Soloing. At this point your basic improvisation will begin to sound more like soloing. You should continue to practice improvising over your own rhythm patterns or you can buy backing tracks for you to practice over. You can get backing tracks for popular songs from magazines like Total Guitar and Guitarist. Make sure you also continue practicing with a metronome.
Obviously, things do not end here. There are many other levels to overcome. You will be entering the realm of modes, seventh chords, ninth chords, odd-timing, speed, etc. etc. But, the information above should be good to get you started. It should help you get a better picture of what to practice. Plus, hopefully it can help you avoid the fear of being overwhelmed with information now that you know you can take it a step at a time. Remember, a thousand mile journey begins with one step. No matter how long you’ve been playing guitar, you are always learning. And no matter your approach, the bottom line is to have fun. Until next time… -D
* Please remember this article is only a resource and thus not complete. You should continue to seek the information needed based on the points above. And remember, the best and fastest way to learn is with a qualified teacher.