3 Skills to Learn Away From Guitar: Bite-Size Guitar Podcast Episode 48

Episode 48 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at some great skills you can learn that will help you become a better musician, but don’t involve practicing guitar.

Skills like these are handy whenever you need to take a break from guitar (as I explain in the podcast) or when you want to mix things up a bit.

Apple Podcasts

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Useful Resources

Here are some helpful resources to help you with the ideas covered in the episode:

Podcast Episode 48 Transcript

Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 48 of the Bite Size Guitar podcast.

In the last episode, I talked about how to get back into guitar whenever you need to take a long break. I mentioned that sometimes you’re not given a choice and something in your life forces you to take a break from guitar.

Ironically, a few days after I published that episode, I was in an accident and badly damaged my ring finger on my left hand. So for the next three months, I can’t play guitar as my finger is stuck in a bulky splint. Great. I knew the episode would be important for a lot of other people, but I didn’t think it’d be so relevant for me so soon.

So while I can’t play guitar right now, I figured it would be a good time to talk about some things you can do that don’t involve picking up a guitar.

Learning new skills and topics outside of actually playing guitar can help you become a more well rounded musician, or it might open up a new area for you to try out.

Learn to Create Backing Tracks for Yourself

The first idea you might want to try is to learn how to create your own backing tracks you can use to play guitar with. This is an incredibly useful skill and doesn’t take long to learn.

Creating backing tracks helps reinforce the importance of other instruments such as drums and bass and it helps you develop a better understanding of those instruments. It’s also a lot of fun to be able to jam along to your own backing tracks.

For a simple example of how backing tracks help you develop as a musician, let’s say you create a drum track with a simple 4/4 rock beat like this.

This simple beat has been used zillions of times and on it’s own, it’s pretty boring.

But have a listen to what happens when we change the hihat pattern from eighth notes to sixteenth notes and keep everything else the same.

It’s the same basic beat at the same tempo, but it definitely feels different. Let’s change the hihat to a ride cymbal.

Again, this is as simple as it gets when it comes to drums, but the feel of each of these three examples is clearly different. If you spend some time playing around with different drum patterns like this, it helps you pay better attention to what drummers do in songs you listen to. Then when you go to jam over the top of drum tracks you create, you’ll be in a better position to come up with guitar parts that compliment the drums instead of ignoring them completely like a lot of guitarists do. Think about when you jam now, how closely do you listen to the drum parts and change what you play based on what you hear? Learning to write drum parts for backing tracks is an easy way to work on this skill.

After you spend some time experimenting with drum parts, you can turn your attention to bass or any other instrument.

Experiment with different parts and try to learn the basic ideas behind the instrument.

For example, compare a bass playing punchy eighth notes along with a drum beat.

and playing the same eighth notes with a different feel.

or playing eighth notes using a walking bass line.

Again, to a bassist this is as simple as it gets, but how often do you spend thinking about other instruments in this way?

Learning to create your own backing tracks gives you a great way to learn and practice writing simple parts for other instruments, then you can learn to come up with guitar parts that make the most of what the other instruments are doing.

Anybody can do this, so even if you’re a beginner just learning the basics with guitar, I still recommend spending some time trying this out. Work on a simple backing track that just uses drums and bass and learn how to come up with different variations for parts you write.

As for how to actually create backing tracks, there are quite a few free and easy to use tools you can use. I’ve included links to some tutorials on the Guitar Gear Finder website that walks you through step-by-step how to create backing tracks using different apps and programs, so check out the page for this episode to try it out. The audio clips I used were created with free virtual drum and bass plugins, so it should give you an idea of the audio quality you can get without spending any money.

Write Songs Without Using a Guitar

If you enjoy coming up with simple backing tracks, you can take it further with my second suggestion which is to try and write a song without starting with a guitar in your hands.

Writing songs without using a guitar gives you a great way to think about music from a different viewpoint. Instead of relying on chord and scale shapes you’ve memorized on guitar, you’re forced to try to write music in a completely different way.

You could start by writing drum parts, then add basslines, then come up with guitar parts. Or you could start with some vocals, then figure out the rest of the instruments with the vocal melodies in mind.

You don’t need to be good at any other instruments or even know how to play other instruments to try this out. If you have access to any other instruments, that’s great. Otherwise, you can load up a virtual instrument as I covered in my tutorials on creating backing tracks and try to come up with parts for a song. Playing random notes on a virtual or real piano can often be enough to kickstart a song.

The idea here is that by putting the guitar to the side, you’re forced to think about rhythm, song structure, melody, and harmony in different ways.

My students who have tried this usually find that it’s hard to start the first time, but after a couple of attempts they come up with a song idea or melody that they never would have come up with on guitar.

Give it a go and see what you come up with. Remember, this is just an exercise, so you don’t need to try and create a masterpiece. Just experiment and see what happens.

Work on Sense of Timing

The next idea gives you a way to work on your sense of rhythm and timing that will directly impact your guitar abilities.

The idea is to learn to play simple rhythm patterns on something like a hand drum. You can either buy an actual hand drum, or you can go the DIY route with a bucket or container. It doesn’t really matter what you use, only that it makes a sound when you hit it with your hands and it doesn’t hurt when you play it.

Jump on YouTube and search for beginner hand drum lessons and follow the exercises and rhythm patterns they teach you. I did this a few years ago when I bought a djembe after a holiday.

I found it easy to learn basic rhythm patterns, but as the patterns became more complex, I found it quite challenging. Thinking about the different sounds you can produce and trying to keep a tight rhythm definitely improved my rhythm skills in ways that I couldn’t have done just by sticking with guitar. I’m definitely not a good drummer in any way, but it was still enough to see a clear benefit to my guitar playing.

After you learn the basics, you can try to play along with songs you listen to. Think about what type of drum patterns may work with each song and jam along with them.

I’ve talked about how useful learning another instrument is for your guitar playing in episode 39. While you can dive into fully learning hand drumming or on a drum kit, you don’t need to go that far. Just learning the basics is a quick and simple way to work on your rhythm skills, so try it out this week. If you like it after a week or two you can go further with more complex rhythm patterns, but even two weeks of practice and basic YouTube lessons is enough to have a positive impact on your sense of timing.


With these ideas, you don’t have to wait until you’re forced to take a break from guitar like I am right now. Give these ideas a try out any time you want to mix things up or practice something different.

At the very least, I suggest trying some basic hand drumming patterns to work on your rhythm skills. But consider working on all three of these ideas.

Try to come up with a simple backing track, try writing a simple song using anything but a guitar to get you started, and try looking at rhythm from a fresh perspective using some type of hand drum. Whenever you try something new like this, you’ll expand your comfort zone and grow as a musician.

Check out relevant tutorials and resources at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-48

If there are any other things you’ve done outside of playing guitar that had an impact on your guitar playing, let me know so I can share it in a future episode.

I’m also looking for ways I can grow this podcast and interact more with listeners with a way to share exercises and resources. If you like this podcast, let me know your thoughts on me setting up something like Patreon, a private Facebook group, or any other ideas. I enjoy talking to listeners who email me, but it might be better ways of doing it where people can share their tips and experiences together.

Try out the ideas from this episode and I’ll talk to you next time.