If you’re just starting to learn guitar or have been learning for a couple of years, you’re probably wondering what it takes to become a great guitarist. This short post will give you an idea on what’s really important to build up your skills to become a great guitarist.
Becoming a good guitarist
It’s actually really easy to become a good guitarist once you start practicing properly and work on the right areas of guitar. Anybody can become a good guitarist within a couple of years. So if you’re just starting out and feel a bit overwhelmed, don’t worry. It takes a bit of work at the start but once you get the hang of practicing correctly and constantly improving, you will become a good guitarist a lot quicker than you may think.
What is a good guitarist?
A good guitarist can play some songs without struggling, confidently use basic techniques such as hammer-ons, slides, bends etc. A good guitarist may not be able to shred like crazy, but can improvise confidently.
To become a good guitarist you need to:
- Master all basic skills and techniques – you need a solid foundation before you can build your abilities
- Make the most out of your practice sessions – the way you practice is your key to success
- Have a basic understanding of chords and scales – don’t worry too much about music theory, just a basic understanding will be enough
Becoming a great guitarist
To become a great guitarist a lot more time and effort is required. It can take years of dedicated practice to build up your skills to the point that most people see them as flawless. A great guitarist isn’t perfect, but still impresses most people. Being confident with all aspects of guitar marks a great guitarist. A great guitarist can easily improvise great sounding solos in any key over any backing chords without second guessing. A great guitarist can compose interesting songs and can master technical pieces effectively.
To become a great guitarist you need to:
- Spend a lot more time practicing – not longer practice sessions, but practicing more often
- Learn how to improvise in any key all over the fretboard – this is a big challenge and takes some time to develop
- Learn how to master technical pieces in a controlled way – use a metronome to build up the tempo
- Plan ahead and figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are – or else your development will plateau
Is it worth the effort? Definitely. Being a great guitarist is a lot of fun as you can do so many things a good guitarist can’t. Most guitarists will aim for this level as it’s not too hard to get there after a few years and can result in a lifetime of enjoyment. If you put in the practice and work hard, it will pay off.
Being the top 1% of all guitarists
Quite often beginners will start out wanting to be not just a great guitarist, but the best. Very few actually consider what it means to be one of the top guitarists in the world. What does it mean to be in the top 1% of all guitarists? The top guitarists seem to do everything effortlessly and have unbelievable control over their instrument. On top of this incredible technical mastery, they also have excellent musical creativity and understanding. They don’t just play, they create. They know how to turn a melody in their head to a fantastic solo or song. If you asked one of these guitarists to play a sweeping maj7 arpeggio in C# Major at 180bpm with right hand tapping they would probably be able to do it straight away.
To become a top 1% guitarist you need to:
- Live and breath guitar – you will need to commit yourself completely
- Spend countless hours every day practicing – it’s a lot of hard work
- Constantly practice for years – during those years the improvements will only be small and gradual
Is it worth the effort? For most people it isn’t. I personally will never even touch this category and I’m fine with that. As explained below, the effort needed is high and the rewards for getting there very small. For some people it is worth the effort but for most of us, the reward just isn’t worth the commitment.
Understanding the differences between the skill levels
While the top 1% of guitarists can to amazing things, you need to consider what it really takes to get there. The obvious fact is that countless hours of practice are required. Not just practice, but focused practice on very specific things. For example Steve Vai often talks about how he will sit down and play one note for an hour. One note. He will play that note and listen to how it sounds and how he can control the vibrato. Becoming a top guitarist requires this type of commitment. Do you really want to sit there for an hour playing one note? Then moving on and playing two notes for the next hour?
The difference between a great guitarist and the top 1% of guitarists isn’t as wide as you may think. A great guitarist can do almost all of the same things, just not at the same level of control or understanding. Think of what it takes to become an Olympic level runner. Starting out it doesn’t take too much training to be able to run 100m in 12 seconds. It will take a while assuming you’re already fit, but with some training and effort a lot of people can get there. To improve and run 100m in 11 seconds it takes a lot more training and effort. Less people will be able to achieve that goal and those who do manage to do it did so because they put a lot of effort in. To run 100m in under 10 seconds it takes an incredible amount of time, effort and commitment. Most people’s bodies can’t physically achieve this goal. The people who try to do this must live and breathe this goal. They must wake up in the morning and think about it all day until they go to bed. Being a top 1% runner is an incredibly challenging goal. But the difference between a good runner and the top runner? Less than 2 seconds. The difference between a great runner and the top runner? Less than one second. The difference between 1st place and 2nd place? A tiny fraction of a second. How much effort is needed to shave that small fraction of a second off your time? Countless hours and painstaking training.
It’s the same with guitar. As you become better and better, you need to work harder to improve. You will eventually reach a point where the amount of time and effort you put in only results in small increases in skill. To become a top 1% guitarist you need to work incredibly hard and you still may not get there.
The bottom line
The point of this article was to clear up what it means to become a great guitarist or the best. Understand that becoming a great guitarist is a challenge but it’s reachable. If you want to become the best, understand that it takes a significant amount of time and effort and the results aren’t as impressive as you may think. Almost anybody can become a great guitarist if they put in the effort. Set yourself a goal you really want to achieve and you’ll end up happier.
So what’s your goal? Do you want to be a good, great or top 1% guitarist?