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1. Practise, practise, practise

I cannot emphasise this one enough. You have to practise your guitar! If you only choose one of these tips to follow and ignore the rest, make sure it’s this one you choose.

2. Get into the habit of tuning your guitar BEFORE you do anything.

Remember to tune your guitar every time you pick it up. Nothing makes a guitarist sound worse than an out of tune guitar (and yes, even if it’s only slightly out, people will notice!)

3. Don’t try running before you can walk.

By this I mean get the guitar playing technique correct first before you try to play too quickly.  If it’s a fast piece you are learning, play it slowly and build up speed as you learn and practise it until you are playing it quickly and accurately.  Practise up AND downstrokes with your plectrum.  This may seem awkward at first, but is essential later for playing quickly.  For guitarists, the temptation is often to play faster than they are capable, which leads to ‘sloppy’ execution.  Each note should sound crisp and clear.  When the top guitarists play at blistering speed, each note is still played clearly and if you were to slow down the recording it would show that.

4. Record yourself playing

Whether it be on a mobile phone, 4 track, tape recorder, computer software etc.  When you record yourself and listen back, you will hear exactly how your playing sounds to the listener and you will often realise it’s not as great as it sounded when you were actually playing it.

5. Learn to improvise

This can be done by playing the guitar along to your favourite tracks.  Try to deviate from whatever is on the recording and be confident to try new things.  You will be amazed at how many new things you will come up with and how much quicker your guitar playing will develop.  It’s also great fun!!!

6. Have a jam!

Musicians enjoy nothing more than hooking up with other musos to generally make a noise!  It’s also a great time to develop your creative side.  Take turns playing backing/rhythm whilst the other person takes the lead and vice versa.

7. Replace your strings when they can no longer be wiped clean.

It’s amazing how much a new set of strings can bring a new lease of life to a guitars sound. Always take care of your instrument and clean your hands before picking it up to play.

8. Experiment with guitar effects and be creative.

The top guitarists keep their sound interesting by using effects to enhance their sound.  It’s amazing how different a piece can sound simply by changing the effects you use  Hendrix was a pioneer and always tinkering with sounds in the studio such as fuzz, Wah and distortion, he even played live with a plectrum between his teeth to pluck the strings.  The Edge of U2 has a trademark sound using a lot of ‘delay’ effects and Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin even played the guitar with a violin bow!!!

9. Try and learn your guitar scales

Do this to avoid repetition.  A good guitarist can look at modes, but don’t get bogged down.  Pick a mode that you really like and master it.  When improvising, you can then drop in and out of different scales and keep your playing interesting to the listener.

10. Invest in private or group tuition.

A professional teacher can enhance your playing by devising a learning schedule that will develop your ability quickly whilst keeping things fun.  They are a catalyst for you to become the rock god that you can be! Guitar lessons really do help a lot!


Ok, I know it’s a top ten, but I’m repeating one for 11. as it’s important.

Chris Donnelly BA (Hons), is a guitar expert at Morningside School of Music and has vast intensive playing experience stretching over 20 years.