01. Visualize: You don’t just have to practice when there’s a guitar in your hands. There’s plenty of time in the day being wasted that you can use to improve your playing. Whenever you have a spare few seconds to daydream or are zoning out in class or at a meeting or waiting in line at the bank, etc., use the time to go inside your mind’s eye and ears and visualize yourself perfectly executing the lick, riff or song you’ve been working on.
See and hear yourself playing the part with an expert ease, gliding as one with the strings, “virtually” feeling your fingers and your pick in precise synchronization. Repeat this whenever you can and you’ll find you’re better than you were before the last time you picked up the guitar and that the experience of the real guitar in your hands is enriched for the process.
An added bonus of this is that when you get better at connecting the disparate experiences of the imagined and the real, you’ll find that the accuracy of translating what you hear in your head through your fingers to the fretboard will significantly improve, as will your ability to transcribe things you hear while away from your guitar (if nothing else, you’ll be floored at how realistic your air guitar playing will be!).
02. Learn Something New Every Day: This is one of the easiest things you can do to enrich your guitar playing, musicianship and, most importantly, your discipline and motivation. Simply put, find one guitar-related thing a day that you didn’t know already and learn it. And play it. It can be a riff, a lick, a chord, a scale, an exercise, a song, a melody, an altered tuning, a strum pattern, the part of a song you know all of the cool riffs of but never bothered to learn the “boring” connecting transition sections of, whatever.
The discipline of seeking out, playing and internalizing a new piece of guitar knowledge on a daily basis will feed your subconscious musical instincts, add new concepts to your muscle memory and ultimately aid in your ability to express yourself and perform effortlessly on the guitar.
Make this a part of your day and you’ll find that as you continue on your journey, one thing will become two, then three, and on and on until you are devouring as much as you can absorb on the guitar, every day!
03. Jam! While it’s awesome to have perfected that ripping 128th note shredfest in your bedroom or basement, perhaps the most important thing for a guitarist to do is to play along with or to some sort of accompaniment.
Obviously, playing with another live musician or group of musicians in the same room is the perfect situation (And you should put yourself in those situations as often as possible), but there are many alternatives that can be just as beneficial. Today we have innumerable options, such as virtual backing bands and tracks through the Internet, computer programs such as EZ Drummer (highly recommended for its ease of use and versatility) or Garageband loops, plus apps on our phones that can act as stable backdrops against which we can hone our performance skills.
Playing with accompaniment such as this will greatly improve your consistency, your endurance, your improvisational ability and your feel for locking into a groove.
As another fun and educational option, jam along with your favorite songs. You can play along with the song note-for-note as written and improve your chops by executing the nuances and fitting in seamlessly with the rhythm, or you can use the track as a launch pad for exercising your improvisational muscles and integrating the licks you have been practicing. Play along with songs outside of your comfort zone of style or technicality to gain further benefits from this.
Jamming along with TV, commercials or movie soundtracks while you’re relaxing with a guitar in your hands can be fun and rewarding.
04. Record Yourself: There is no better way to see your guitar playing objectively and to motivate yourself to work to become a better player than to record yourself. There are countless affordable media for recording yourself on your own, and when you record, you can listen to yourself with fresh ears and hear the things you like and dislike about your playing. You’ll find it’s infinitely easier to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses and focus your practice accordingly.
Record yourself playing rhythm and then record other complimentary parts such as leads, melodies, counterpoints and complimentary alternate rhythms and you’ll learn about composition, production and ensemble performance. When you begin to focus on these complimentary parts, you’ll find that your vision and scope expands, as do your goals, and as you work to create complete songs, your abilities grow exponentially while you work to write and perform to the best of your ability.
The other benefit of recording yourself is that you will consistently maintain a record of your growth as a player. The journey of a guitarist is always (or should be) one of constant growth, and recording yourself is an awesome way to measure how far you have come.