Whether you’ve been playing for 6 months or 10 years, at some point everybody hits a plateau.
If you’re unhappy with your current guitar skills, you’re not alone.
Getting better at guitar isn’t just about how much time you spend playing it. There are specific things you can do to get better.
In this guide, I’ll share some of the best ways you can improve at guitar.
After you read through all of these actions, pick 3-5 to focus on. Choose the ones that you feel are best suited to you and gets you excited.
Then commit yourself to work on those 3-5 actions for at least a month.
After working on those 3-5 actions for a month, come back here and pick another 3-5 if you really want to push yourself forward.
1. Join or Form a Band
Forming a band is one of the most popular recommendations you’ll find shared on sites like Reddit. Guitarists who have joined or formed bands quickly learn how important it is to play with other musicians.
When you play with other musicians, it forces you to listen in a way that doesn’t happen when you play along with backing tracks.
You need to carefully listen to the drummer and adjust your playing to match any small changes in tempo. You need to sync up your playing with any other guitarist and it forces you to improve your timing.
Joining or forming a band can be one of the best things you can do for your rhythm skills, but it also helps you develop a better musical ear.
Even if your band sucks at the beginning (all bands suck in the beginning), the experience will gradually improve your guitar skills.
2. Record (Video) Your Progress
One of the things I quickly learned when I started teaching guitar is that it can be hard for somebody to notice small improvements to their guitar skills.
I would notice gradual improvements in my student’s abilities every week, but they would feel like they weren’t improving.
These small improvements every week continue to build up, but from the student’s point of view, it feels like nothing has changed.
If you’re regularly practicing guitar, then I’m willing to bet you’re gradually improving over time. The problem is, you may not notice the small improvements day-to-day.
Here’s how to see your progress:
- Record a video of yourself playing a song/exercise/technique that you’re currently learning
- A week later, record another video of yourself playing the same song/exercise/technique
- Keep recording weekly videos to keep track of your progress
You can mount your smartphone somewhere or get somebody else to record it for you.
Only give yourself one take for each video. Leave any mistakes in so you can see how quickly those mistakes disappear from the videos.
Watching these videos, you’ll start to notice small improvements to how you play the parts that you didn’t notice while playing.
When I started doing this with my students, they were shocked at what they saw in the earlier videos. The improvements were obvious and they couldn’t believe they didn’t notice the changes in their technique.
Seeing a video of yourself performing something is like listening to a recording of your voice – you notice things you never noticed while you were performing.
Key point: If you feel like you’re not getting better on guitar, I highly recommend you start recording videos of yourself. You’ll be surprised by how much progress you’re actually making.
3. Pick Up a Bass or Ukulele
Sometimes to get better at guitar, we need a fresh perspective.
Learning the basics of playing bass or ukulele can have a surprising impact on your guitar skills.
If you want to improve your rhythm skills on guitar, I highly recommend learning bass or ukulele.
If you play a lot of chord-based music, buy a cheap ukulele (link to Amazon for options), learn some simple chord shapes, and practice some strumming patterns.
Or if you play a lot of riff-based music, I highly recommend buying a bass and learning the same riffs on bass. You can even learn the bass parts for songs you know on the guitar to gain a better understanding of the song.
The benefits of learning another instrument quickly become clear when you jump back and forth between them.
Learning ukulele can give you new strumming patterns and ideas you can use on the guitar.
Learning bass can tighten up your guitar rhythm skills and help you come up with better guitar parts.
Check out this guide on Bass Guitar Exercises to get started with bass.
4. Work on Ear Training
Ear training might sound scary at first, but it can have a massive impact on your guitar skills.
Developing a better ear is a sure way to improve your guitar abilities. The best musicians all have a great ear, so even if you feel like you’re struggling with the basics now, it’s worth spending some time working on ear training.
The basic idea behind ear training is that you work through simple drills to help you learn to identify chords, intervals, and scales by ear.
With enough training, you can learn to play songs completely by ear.
You can get started with ear training right now with one of these ear training apps.
5. Learn a Different Music Genre
The biggest breakthroughs in your guitar skills happen when you push past your comfort zone.
The best way to push past your comfort zone is to try learning songs from a different music genre.
A lot of guitarists avoid other music genres and end up at a plateau. If you strictly stick to one style of music, the chances are your playing will become stale.
Trying to learn music from a different genre forces you to learn different techniques and different approaches to guitar.
A good example is with a classical guitarist learning metal or a metal guitarist learning classical. While those two styles of music may seem worlds apart, there’s a lot you can learn from either one and use in your preferred style of music.
Think about all the styles of music you don’t like and pick one style to learn at least 3 songs.
This is hard for most guitarists to do because your ego will get in the way. But if you open yourself to learning something you’ve always dismissed or avoided, you’ll be surprised by how much it can improve your playing overall.
Even if you still hate the music genre after spending time learning about it, you’ll still be able to take some different ideas or techniques back to your main style of music.
6. List Your Goals
This might sound cliché, but unless you know what direction you want to take your guitar skills, it’s really hard to figure out what you should be working on right now.
Listing your goals and working out exactly what skills and techniques you need to learn to reach those goals is quick to do and can give you a lot of direction.
Let’s say you want to learn a specific song that’s way too hard for you right now.
First, take a look at the Guitar TAB for that song (top Guitar TAB websites listed here). Then, look through the TAB and list all of the techniques you see throughout the song.
This gives you a list of things you can now start working on. Learning each of those techniques will help get you ready to learn the song.
If you feel like you lack direction or don’t know what you should be practicing, listing your goals and figuring out what you need to do to achieve those goals is a good starting point.
7. Jam With Somebody Better Than You
It can be hard to emphasize how important it is to jam with musicians who are better than you.
Whether you jam with an accomplished guitarist, drummer, pianist, or saxophonist, there is so much you can learn from each jam.
Jamming with accomplished musicians is also incredibly helpful if you want to improve your improvisation and creativity skills.
Let’s say you tend to stick strictly to the Pentatonic box shapes when you improvise (find out how to break out of the Pentatonic rut in this guide) and you feel stuck.
Spending a few minutes jamming with an accomplished musician and having a chat with them about how they approach improvising can suddenly give you new ideas to work on.
When you notice that they’re not using typical Pentatonic licks, it can open up your playing to new ideas.
If you ever feel stuck with your playing, find a better musician than you to jam with.
8. Set a Solid Practice Routine
If you feel like your progress is stalling and your skills have plateaued, it’s worth taking a closer look at your practice routine.
What do you do when you sit down to practice?
Do you have a clear plan on what techniques to work on? Or do you randomly jam with different songs and run through a few scales exercises?
It should be no surprise that the guitarists who have a solid practice routine learn and improve their skills faster.
What does a solid practice routine look like?
It depends on your goals, but here is a basic example:
- Warm-up: dexterity finger exercises for 5 minutes
- Chords: learn 4 new chord shapes and practice playing them in different progressions for 5 minutes
- Scales: practice the C Major scale exercises, then practice improvising using it over a backing track for 5 minutes
- Songs: work on improving a specific song for 5 minutes
Your practice routine may look completely different from the above example as every guitarist is at different skill levels and wants to learn different things.
As long as you have a solid plan on what to work on, it will help you make better use of the time you spend practicing.
9. Practice Every Day Without Fail
Following on from the previous point, if you really want to improve as a guitarist, try to practice every day without fail.
There will always be times when things don’t work out and you miss a day or two but aim to practice every day.
Building up a regular practice habit is crucial to your future guitar skills.
There’s no point in having a massive practice session once a week because without regular repetition, the gains you make during practice won’t stick.
If you get to the end of a day and you haven’t practiced, try to pick up the guitar – even squeezing in 5 minutes of finger exercises can make a difference if you do it every day.
10. Switch Focus Between Rhythm/Lead
If you normally play rhythm guitar, try learning some guitar solos and lead parts. If you normally play lead, try to focus on rhythm parts for a week.
Switching your focus can help you reinforce your fundamental guitar skills that can become lobsided when you only focus on rhythm or only focus on lead.
If you know the solo to a song, take the time to learn and practice the rhythm guitar parts under the solo. Not only will the rhythm practice help you play solos better, but learning the rhythm parts will help you develop a stronger understanding of the song.
If you already practice both rhythm and lead – great! You’ll benefit from both styles of playing.
11.Learn Music Theory
Learning music theory gives you a set of tools you can use to better understand music.
If you’ve been avoiding learning music theory, it’s understandable.
Music theory can seem overwhelming at first and some guitarists mistakenly feel that it can limit your creativity.
The truth is music theory gives you a set of guidelines on why things work. They’re not a set of rules you must follow.
Even taking the time to learn what intervals are can open your eyes to music in a completely new way.
While learning music theory won’t have a direct impact on your guitar skills, it can help you become a better musician.
12. Master One Song
A common issue I see with beginners and some intermediate guitarists is that they know a lot of riffs and licks, but can’t play full songs from start to finish.
Mastering a complete song from start to finish is a milestone every guitarist should work on achieving.
When I say mastering a song, I really mean knowing how to play that song so well you could play it while having a conversation with someone.
Being able to limp your way through a song isn’t enough, you need to dig into perfecting each part until you can play the entire song flawlessly.
If you can’t say that you can play at least one song flawlessly from start to finish, get started by picking a song to work on.
Break the song down into parts and start working on each part. Spend more time on the parts you struggle with until each part feels just as easy as the rest of the song.
Bonus tip: if there are multiple guitar parts in the song (eg: two guitarists in the band), learn both guitar parts. If there’s a solo, learn the solo, then also learn the rhythm parts under the solo. You can even learn the bass parts if you really want to master the song.
13. Practice With a Metronome
Practicing with a metronome is one of those things that’s boring to do, but can have a dramatic impact on your guitar skills.
A metronome is a magic weapon that can tighten up your rhythm skills.
When used properly, a metronome can help you:
- Learn scales and chords faster
- Tighten up rhythm riffs and progressions
- Learn complicated solos
- Improve your picking and strumming techniques
If you’ve been avoiding using a metronome because you heard somebody say that it will turn you into a robot, you can relax.
Practicing with a metronome won’t turn you into a cold and lifeless rhythm machine, but it definitely will improve your rhythm skills.
Get started with a metronome: you can start practicing with a metronome right now by downloading one of the many free metronome apps for your smartphone.
If you really want a physical metronome, check out the BOSS Dr Beat DB-90 here. In terms of metronome features, it’s about as advanced as it can get.
14. Learn About Best Practice Habits
Practice is the key to success with guitar, yet how much time have you spent learning about best practice habits?
Learning what separates a good practice session from a mediocre practice session can have a huge impact on how fast you learn and how much you get out of each practice session.
Here are some guides to get you started on learning about best practice habits:
- Set up an Ideal Practice Space: this guide shows you how your practice space can impact the quality of your practice
- 5 Things to do Every Time You Practice: these simple things will help you get more out of each practice session
- How to Practice Guitar Scales: find out the most effective ways to practice scales
- How to Practice Guitar Chords: learn the best ways to practice chords
- How Long to Practice Guitar: the length of your practice session is crucial to get right and as the guide explains, longer isn’t always better
If you want to get the most out of each practice session, read all of the above guides.
15. Learn to Write a Song
There is a big difference between only being able to play other people’s music and also being able to write your own music.
If you’ve never considering writing your own music before, you might be surprised by how much of an impact it can have on your guitar skills.
When I started writing my own songs, I noticed big improvements in my technical skills. There’s something about writing music that seems to unlock a door in your mind and bump up your skill level.
Your first few songs will probably suck, but that’s okay. Just try to write something in the style of music you play.
The more you do this, the easier it gets. Suddenly, you’ll find that you can come up with interesting riffs or chord progressions without much effort. At the same time, you’ll start to notice that learning how to play other people’s songs becomes slightly easier.
You don’t need to write a masterpiece on your first attempt, so if you’ve never tried writing music before, try to slap something together today.
16. Use a Looper Pedal
A sure way to find out if your rhythm skills are solid is to try layering a few riffs or progressions on a looper pedal.
A looper pedal can be a valuable learning tool because it gives you instant feedback on how tight your playing is.
If your timing is slightly off, it will be obvious in the loop.
You can even use a looper pedal to work on scales, chord progressions, riffs, or anything else you want to master.
Simply record the part on the looper and you can practice playing over the top of it. Any time your timing isn’t perfect, it will stand out.
A looper pedal is an incredibly useful practice tool and I highly recommend one for every guitarist.
Check out this Ultimate Guide to Looper Pedals if you don’t have a looper. The guide will cover the features to look for and the best loopers out there.
Once you find a looper pedal right for you, check out this looper pedal lesson to get you started. It covers some simple exercises to help you learn to layer tracks on a looper.
Want more tips and advice on improving your guitar skills? Subscribe to email updates here, where I regularly (every 10 days or so) send out helpful guides and advice.
Getting Better at Guitar FAQ
Here are some common questions you might have about how to get better at guitar.
Will a Better Guitar Improve My Playing?
A better guitar isn’t likely going to improve your playing. A better guitar will sound better, which may motivate you more to play, but it won’t directly improve your guitar skills.
The only time when buying a better guitar will improve your playing is when your current guitar is so bad that it’s causing issues.
A poorly set up guitar (bad action or intonation) can hold you back.
How Do You Know If You’re Good at Guitar?
You know you’re good at guitar when you can learn the songs you want to play with ease. If you really enjoy what you’re playing, then you’re good at guitar.
Too many guitarists get stuck into the trap of thinking “I suck at guitar”. It doesn’t matter how good your skills are if you don’t enjoy playing guitar.
Instead of worrying about whether you’re good or not, think about whether you’re enjoying what you’re playing or not.
If you’re not enjoying what you’re playing, find out what skills you need to learn so you can enjoy playing guitar.
If you do enjoy playing guitar, then don’t worry about whether you’re good or not. Enjoying what you play is all that matters.
How Long Should I Practice Guitar Each Day?
How long you should practice guitar each day depends on your goals. For most guitarists, practicing 10 to 30 minutes per day will be enough to see progress.
If you want to speed up your progress, then aim to have multiple 10-15 minute practice sessions every day.
Find out how long to practice guitar in this thorough guide to get the best results.
The guide explains the science-based practice habits you can use to improve your guitar skills faster.
How Long Does it Take to Get Good at Guitar?
How long it takes to get good at guitar depends on what style of music you’re learning. Some styles of music may only take a few months to learn. Other styles can take years to learn and longer to master.
For example, if you only want to get good at strumming some easy chords, it may only take a couple of months. Learn some basic chord shapes, learn basic strumming patterns, and you’ll be able to play countless songs.
If you want to learn to improvise, rip into some metal songs, or play highly technical classic pieces, it can take years to develop the skills needed.
The important point is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get good at guitar. What matters is that you commit to practicing so you can achieve the goals you set for yourself.
Find out in more detail how long it takes to learn guitar in this guide. The guide includes examples from different students I’ve had.
What Makes a Great Guitar Player?
A great guitar player is able to play the parts they want to play without getting stuck. To become a great guitar player, you want to develop your skills and understanding up to the point where technique doesn’t get in your way.
A great way to understand what makes a great guitar player is to read through my summary and key lessons of the book Zen Guitar.
Zen Guitar explains that being a great guitarist isn’t about reaching a specific skill level. It’s about removing obstacles that get in the way of you and playing what you want to play.
For a more practical look at what you need to learn, check out this guide on 8 steps to learning guitar.
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