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10 All-Star Tips For Improving Your Guitar Skills

Daniel Eriksson
|
02.18.2013
Joe Bonamassa

When you've just started out playing guitar, it is always a good idea to draw inspiration from other guitarists around you. There's nothing better than learning from other musicians. An experienced guitarist can certainly steer you in the right direction as you try to strum your first few chords on the six string. But surely, nothing would be better than getting advice from your guitar heroes, right?

Slash spoke to Guitar World about how he's been able to become one of the world's best guitar players with a limited knowledge of scales:

“Although I was never properly schooled in scales, over the years I've learned what a scale is and how to put together a series of notes that sound harmonically correct. […] I do know how to take a basic scale and change the notes around to suit my needs. I also know how to play major, minor and pentatonic scales all the way up the neck, but that's about as complicated as I get.”

Eddie Van Halen on how he achieves such a clear tone (Guitar World):

“I dig in with both hands. That’s why my thumb is like this [holds up right hand to show thumb, which is bent back toward his wrist]. […] It’s from years of digging in with the pick. [laughs] It’s an occupational hazard. My thumb won’t bend the other way.”

Black Label Society main man Zakk Wylde talks about being true to yourself and not choose a particular musical genre simply because it's in style (Guitar Messenger):

“Whatever it is you love, do it… you have to have passion for what you do. If you’re into Sabbath and Zeppelin and that’s all the stuff you love, then your music should be in that vein. If you love Al Di Meola, if you love fusion, that’s the kind of stuff that you should be doing.”

Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen emphasize the need for a lead guitarist to pay attention to what the band is doing (City Pages):

“I always say two things are very important to guitar players - you've got to be listening to the rest of the band, and the song is king. Everything else pales in comparison. You've got to make the singer sound great. And then rhythm and melody follows. Be mindful of the song.”

In an interview with NME, Jack White had some pretty straightforward answers to the three things every new musician need:

“They need to quit playing video games, throw away their Auto-Tune program and cut three strings off their guitar.”

Blues sensation Gary Clark Jr. spoke to Music Radar about daring to experiment with feedback and effects, even though your peers might say you shouldn't:

“For a long time, I heard what everybody in Austin was saying, that you're supposed to play with no effects. I was trying to go along with that. But then one day, I said, 'Why not?' You know, they're just toys, but you might get something out of them. So I stomped on the fuzz and played with the feedback. I enjoy it.”

Kirk Hammett from Metallica spoke to Guitar World about how to achieve a good sound when playing together with another guitarist:

“When you’re first starting out, there’s always the temptation to hide behind distortion because it lets you get away with murder. But, when it comes to rhythm work, you’ve gotta back off that gain control a bit, especially if you’re playing with another guitarist. Actually, over the years, James and I have found that besides giving our tone more definition and cut, backing off the gain makes us play our riffs better because we can’t get away with being sloppy.”

Joe Bonamassa stresses the point that any aspiring guitarist needs to be familiar with many different genres of music (The Aspiring Guitarist):

“Listen to as much music as you can, play as much guitar as you can in every different style. If you think you got the blues down, then try some Chet Atkins stuff, or try some gospel, try some jazz. […] No matter what style of music you like, if you feel it you can sell it.”

During a clinic at the Berklee College of Music in Boston , guitarist John Mayer, who is a former Berklee student himself, shared some important advice on the art of songwriting:

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to write bad songs. There’s a lot of people who don’t want to finish songs because they don’t think they’re any good. Well they’re not good enough. Write it! I want you to write me the worst songs you could possible write me because you won’t write bad songs. You’re thinking they’re bad so you don’t have to finish it. That’s what I really think it is. Well it’s all right. Well, how do you know? It’s not done!”

Just like John Mayer, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora also emphasizes the importance of learning to write songs if you want to find your own style (Vintage Guitar):

“But I think if I can give any advice, it’s to really work hard on the craft of songwriting because it is the foundation of our business. Without a good song, we can all be the best musicians, but if you haven’t got a good song to play, no one is going to come see you play, no one is going to buy your records, and you have no career. It’s a very important part of what builds a person’s style, a band’s voice, and a particular instrumentalist’s voice. That’s the best advice I can give. If you’re not good at songwriting, find a good songwriter to learn from. And even if you are a good songwriter already, write with as many different people as you can because you learn something new every time you sit down with a new guy.”


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