Improve Your Guitar Playing By Listening To Other Instruments

Listening To Other Instruments

Listening To Other Instruments

After a few years, when you’ve built up your technique and improvising skills, you’re bound to hit a point where you feel that you’re not improving, or at least not improving as much as you would like to. You feel that while improvising you keep using the same ideas and techniques. You know how to sweep your CAGED shapes, various patterns to use for your runs, the latest tapping showstoppers, and your chord shapes. And when you listen to music, you know more or less what the guitarist is doing and you’re not really getting exposed to new sounds and ideas.

At this point, it’s usually quite a good idea to start listening to other instruments where the guitar is not so dominant or even non-existent.  This will expose you to musical ideas that are less common. For instance, when you listen to someone playing the saxophone, think about what the saxophonist does differently to you when you play leads.

A saxophonist’s phrasing is usually much better than a guitarist, as he is forced to have rhythmic breaks to catch his breath. This stops him from aimlessly noodling around a scale like many guitarists like to do. He is forced to have more melodically and rhythmically strong statements with each breath. His note choice will be different as well as his technique if you were to translate his playing to a guitar. You won’t be hearing any massive arpeggios, but you will hear some really fast runs and trills and ‘outside’ playing. Also, listen to the vibrato, as it often feels very natural and tends to strengthen towards the end of the note. Try to emulate this on a guitar – the sound and the technique – and you’ll quite easily find yourself outside your comfort zone.

Another example is listening to piano-based music. Pianists have a completely different approach to playing chords and arpeggios. Get some tablature or sheet music of some classical music and try to transcribe it for guitar. For some chords, you’ll be forced to leave out some notes as a guitarist can only play a maximum of 6 notes per chord as opposed to 10 for a pianist. But this will force you to pick the notes that provide the chord with its main sound, as well as coming up with some interesting fingerings for the chords. The chord might range over 3 octaves, in which case you’ll have to tap some notes of the chord. In terms of arpeggios, many pianists use patterns while playing these, unlike guitarist who usually just sweep arpeggios. Playing these patterns can be quite challenging. Once again, you might have to incorporate some new tapping ideas to manage this fluidly.

No matter what music or instrument you listen to, pay attention to the details: the tone and the phrasing and try to visualize how you could achieve this on a guitar and then try to actually play it. Be creative and don’t limit yourself to the techniques and chords you already know. Here is a classic album that will give you some ideas. Or make you depressed.

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* Has played in the prog rock band Frequency * Has been with Guitar Excellence since 2006 * Has been teaching all ages from beginner to advanced for 4 years * He can headbang and play at the same time * Is a Rock and Shred specialist * Fluent in all styles including Spanish and Flamenco * He can play “Guitar Hero” on expert

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