Learning to play the guitar is not one skill, but it is rather the combination of many skills coming together to form the skill that is playing the guitar. There are many skills that are crucial to playing the guitar well, but not every guitarist even knows of them all.
Learning these guitar-playing skills will set you up as a good musician and allow you to grow in your musical abilities far more quickly. Let’s explore some of the most important skills for good guitarists. You may learn about a few that you were not aware of.
1. Chord Construction
Chord construction is a fundamental skill for every musician, but it is vital for guitar players.
There are so many notes available on the guitar, and there are thousands of chord shapes and chord variations. This makes it impossible to know every possible guitar chord by memory. Learning how to construct a chord quickly is the best way to have access to any chord that you need at the moment, even if you have never played it before.
There are foundational components that make up every type of chord. Learning the notes that go into the chords and where they are on the guitar is the first step. Learning the chord shapes playable on the guitar and the intervals that make up those chord shapes is vital as well.
Once you know the notes that make up a particular chord and where they fall within their key scale, then finding them within a chord shape is simple if you know the intervals that make up the chord.
When you are armed with this information and have practiced this skill, there will be no chord that you cannot play, which in turn means that there will be no song that you cannot play, as chords are the building blocks of every song.
Begin by learning the CAGED guitar chords system, and start learning the intervals that make up each shape. Then learn how to manipulate the intervals within the shapes to change the chord type.
Learn the notes in every major and minor scale, and relate them to positional note intervals, and chord construction will fall naturally into your arsenal of guitar skills quickly, making you a better, more versatile, and more capable musician.
2. Reading Rhythms
Not all guitar players need to learn how to read sheet music, as there are several good alternatives for guitarists, and there are few limitations for modern guitar players who do not know how to read music, but reading rhythms is one aspect of reading charts that no guitarist can function without.
It is imperative that guitar players learn how to read musical rhythm notations. This, along with the guitar tab, equips a guitarist to play any piece of sheet music, even if they have never played it before.
This is vital for learning new songs quickly, performing sessions well, and even developing your own sense of rhythm.
Learn the basics of reading note values and forms from whole notes (semibreves) to 16th notes (semiquavers) as a minimum. Understand how bar subdivisions work and learn how notes fit together within a time signature.
This is another skill that every musician should master, as it makes them far more capable on their instrument and within a musical ensemble.
3. Playing In Time
Along with learning to read musical rhythms comes learning to play in time. This is not learning to play with a metronome, which is an entirely different skill on its own, but it is learning to play music on time with a rhythm.
This is a critical skill for every guitarist. Whether they play in a band or just play along to tracks in their room, playing out of time is among the worst mistakes that any musician can make.
Learning to play in time keeps you on beat with other musicians and teaches you how to play cohesively with others.
Without learning to play in time, everything that you play will sound bad, it will feel off, and nothing that you play on your guitar will sound as good as it should.
This skill is non-negotiable. Even if you never learn any of the other skills on this list, you must learn how to play well in time.
4. Rhythmic Recall
The rhythmic recall is the ability to hear and recall rhythms within a musical context. This skill may not seem important, but there are only a few skills more important for active guitar players.
It is the ability to recognize a pattern and a structure within the music that allows you to play well. The rhythmic recall is the process of recognizing rhythms, strumming patterns, chord structures, song structures, progressions, and even phrasings and playing them back after only hearing them once.
Learning good rhythmic recall is critical for guitar players, especially those who want to learn songs quickly or those who play in bands.
Practice this skill by listening to a rhythm within a song or piece of music and trying to replicate that rhythm. Do not focus on notes when trying to learn this skill, but focus purely on the timing and rhythm of the piece, and tap or strum that rhythm after hearing it.
5. Melodic Recall
The melodic recall is another critical skill for guitarists, especially those who play lead. It is not the ability to hear and recall rhythms, but it is the ability to hear and play back melodies or specific single-note lines and phrases.
Learning to recall melodies is important because it trains the ear of a guitarist and teaches them to play music only by hearing it. This is great for guitar players who enjoy playing solos, those who play in multiple bands, those who enjoy playing covers, and those who want to be as versatile on their instrument as possible.
Learning to identify notes is important, but learning to identify and recall notes in a melody is far more important for guitar players.
6. Pitch Recognition
Along with learning melodic recall learning, pitch recognition is a good skill as well. Learning melodic recall is more practical and more useful than pitch recognition, but learning to identify a note by hearing it and finding it on your guitar is far more useful than many guitarists realize.
The ability to hear a note and find it quickly on your guitar allows you to find the starting place for a melody, song, key, chord, or musical line that sets you up for success when improvising or learning to play a song or piece of music.
This is an invaluable skill that guitar players need, especially if they play with musicians on other instruments or if they want to learn songs played on other instruments. This is also great for learning how to identify chords and pitches within chords, as well as learning how to learn where a note is within a scale.
Begin by simply learning to recognize if a note is higher or lower in pitch, and learn to identify pitches from there by practicing finding specific notes. Learn to sing or hum a note accurately, and this will help you to find it more easily on your fretboard and teach your ears to hear specific pitches as well.
7. Key Recognition
Key Recognition is the ability to identify a musical key by the notes that are played in a piece of music or the chords that are played within a progression.
Identifying a key can be done by playing notes or chords, listening to music, or by looking at the structure of the music on paper.
Every musical key is made from a specific set of notes and chords, and moving out of the key is very rare in most music.
Most songs are held within one key, so identifying the key that the music is in provides guitar players with all of the possible notes and chords within the music, which is critical to understanding the piece and learning how to play it well.
Take the time to learn the chords that make up the musical keys, as well as the individual notes and accidentals within the key; this will set you up to progress musically very quickly and help you learn to play with other musicians well too.
8. Triad Chords
There are thousands of possible chords on the guitar, and they all have their place in music, but learning the basic triads that makeup chords is a fundamental skill that every guitarist must master.
There are three basic notes that form the foundation of every chord, and learning these is a building block for learning every chord, chord shape, and how to use chords in a musical context well.
Learn the three notes that make up every chord in each key by playing them, learning the triad chord shapes, and using them every time you learn a new song.
Learning this skill may seem daunting at first, as there are simply so many triads to learn, but over time and with practice, they will be second nature, and you will find them to be some of the most usable, functional, and versatile chords to use on the guitar.
9. Ghost Strumming
Ghost strumming is a skill that many guitar players learn without trying, but it is something that many other guitarists struggle with until someone teaches them how to do it.
Ghost strumming is the act of keeping your strumming hand moving during a strumming pattern, even if you are not playing anything on a particular stroke.
For example, try strumming a chord by playing only down strums, but keep your hand moving fluidly in between strums, missing the strings on the upstrokes and playing on the downstrokes without stopping.
Switch the pattern and only play on the upstrokes while still moving your hand and not playing the strings on the downstrokes.
The strum where nothing is played but the hand is moved smoothly is called the ghost strum. Play through some ghost strumming exercises with a metronome to develop this skill quickly, and you will find that your strumming abilities will become far greater in very little time.
10. Hybrid Picking
Hybrid picking is playing with a pick and with your fingers at the same time. Using the forefinger and thumb to hold and use the pick, while the middle, ring, and little fingers all pluck strings independently.
This skill is not crucial for most guitar-playing styles, but those guitarists who learn how to hybrid pick develop abilities that no other guitarists can use and write music that guitar players who cannot hybrid pick will never be able to play well.
Learning to hybrid pick well opens up a realm of guitar-playing ability that no other skill provides and brings the guitar into a new musical world of unique sounds, tones, and colors that cannot be achieved by playing with a pick alone or by playing with fingers alone.
Hybrid picking combines fingerstyle and picking techniques and is great than the sum of its parts by a long way.
11. Linear Scale Shapes
All guitarists should know scale shapes moving across the strings, but not all guitar players learn linear scale shapes on the guitar.
Learning to play scales in a linear way on the strings of the guitar unlocks the full potential of the instrument and opens up a world of musical possibilities that the guitarists would otherwise have no access to.
Scale shapes tend to keep guitarists within boxes of what they know how to play, and the sound of the instrument quickly becomes very sterile and boring when guitarists do not break out of these boxes. Learning linear scale shapes is the best way to break out o these boxes and experience something new on the instrument.
12. Playing With A Metronome
The final skill on this list is more critical than most musicians would like to admit, and not many guitar players actively work on this skill, but it is the ability to play well with a metronome.
This skill is not the ability to play in time, which is also crucial, but it is the ability to play well along with the click of a metronome and not lose time, not become distracted or overwhelmed.
Learning to play with a metronome is the very best way to learn to play in time. It is the best way to learn to notice when you lose time, and it is the best way to learn how rhythm, timing, note subdivisions, and rhythmic skills are executed.
Take the time to learn to play with a metronome well, and you will quickly improve overall as a guitar player, as this skill affects all aspects of guitar playing.
These must-have skills of guitar players are important for every guitarist, regardless of the musical styles that they prefer, their current skill level, the type of guitar that they play, and the skills that they prefer using.
Learning these skills will improve your musical ability overall if you let them, and taking the time to learn them well will provide you with a range of highly useful and practical skills that will serve you very well as you learn to master the wonderful instrument, which is the guitar.