99 Ways To Play Better (And Sound Better) Right Now

(Image credit: Future)

Here at GP, we figure that if you’re going to expand and maximize your talents, you may as well learn from the best. So we offer these 99 tips from cats who know their stuff—from rock royalty to jazz patriarchs to any-and-all, top-of-their-game bad asses. Hopefully, you’ll find something in these cosmic, practical, and musical nuggets of wisdom that will kick that rut-raddled mind of yours into higher gears of inspiration.

If you’re locked away in a basement for eight hours a day with a metronome and a torturous practice book that is equal parts Mel Bay/Guantanamo Bay, you’re still not assured of transcendent 6-string skills. Sure, you may get stenographer-like dexterity and harmonic book-smarts up the f-hole, but playing soul-shaking music often requires a more diverse skill set. But this doesn’t mean that attaining the level of expression produced by someone like Jeff Beck necessitates a life of guitar monk-dom. First, don’t worry about the transcendent and unattainable talent of Jeff Beck. That’s just silly. What you need to do is ensure that whatever you play makes the hair on your arms stand up and quiver with bliss and excitement.

1. Renew!

“Moving into uncharted territory is a key ingredient to making your practice sessions a success. Playing the same stuff over and over will only take you so far. Introduce a new set of chord voicings, tunings, or scale patterns to your routine every week. It’s not necessary to know how to implement the stuff right away, just make your fingers go to new places, and let the musicality follow naturally.” —Joe Satriani

2. Sing, Sing, Sing

“Before you play a solo phrase, sing it first. Then you’ll know if it’s going to be effective or not. And if you start to sing a line, and find you have to gasp for breath—well, you’ve overextended yourself.” —Ronnie Montrose

3. Beat on the Brat

“Here’s an unconventional technique for building your rhythmic chops and expanding your ideas about inventing phrases for solos—and it involves zero notes! Mute the strings with your fretting hand. Now, forget about that hand completely, and start a groove with your right hand by scratching a beat on the muted strings. The minute you start getting bored, challenge yourself to come up with a variety of rhythmic phrases—both busy and sparse. Think of the exercise as a drum solo that maintains the groove, and try to keep going for five minutes or more.” —Bob Brozman

4. Use Dynamics

“To work on picking dynamics, plug into a practice amp and turn your guitar all the way up. Then play arpeggios—very quietly at the beginning, and then gradually louder by adjusting your touch. The goal is to vary your dynamics, but not change the position of your hands. Many guitarists change the way they hold their hands when changing dynamics. As a result, they end up with a ‘light-touch’ group of licks—the very fast stuff—but they don’t develop any power. What you want to achieve is continually making those conversions back and forth from quiet to loud picking.” —Jerry Garcia

5. Unmask Your Sound

“Try cutting back on the effects in your setup. It may help you to better discover the music.” —Bill Kirchen

6. Mess With Your Head

“Try to keep your playing as fresh as possible, and not rely on set patterns. When I practice, for example, I often tie off some strings with rubber bands to force myself to look at the fretboard differently. I might practice on the G and D strings only, or even the G and A strings.” —Jim Hall

7. Try Room Miking

“There’s a very old recording maxim that goes, ‘Distance makes depth.’ I’ve used that a hell of a lot—whether it’s tracking guitars or the whole band. People are used to close-miking amps, but I’d have a mic out around the back, as well, and then balance the two. Also, you shouldn’t have to use EQ in the studio if the instruments sound right. You should be able to get the right tones simply with the science of microphone placement.” —Jimmy Page

8. Relax

“The most important thing to remember when you’re attempting to increase your speed is to relax. Don’t push your muscles beyond what they can give. Practice for about a half hour, and then take a break. You can always resume after a few minutes. This is especially important when you’re trying to get seriously twisted patterns under your fingers. I used to sit in front of the TV when I was a kid, and alternate-pick scales very lightly. I wasn’t really paying attention, and it actually helped that I wasn’t concentrating so much, because I stayed relaxed, and yet I was able to build up my technique and stamina. But never keep playing if you start to feel pain. Ever. Tendonitis is no joke.” —Steve Lukather

9. Get Sensitive

“If you’re in a rut with your electric playing, pick up an acoustic. There’s something about playing the acoustic guitar that makes you think about songs. And if you work up solo versions of your favorite pop tunes, you’ll become more aware of how bass lines and harmony fit together. Then, when you go back to electric, those discoveries will help you play more empathetic solos.” —Buck Dharma

10. Get High

“Wherever your guitar is when you’re sitting and practicing is where it should be when you’re standing. I discovered this the hard way. Years ago, I’d practice my solos sitting down—and I’d nail them—only to go to rehearsal and blow it because my right- and left-hand positioning was completely different when I stood up. Now, most players think it looks uncool to wear your guitar up high, but I think it’s cooler to sound kick ass than it is to look cool and suck! Zakk Wylde slings his Les Paul really low, but as soon as a solo comes up, he’ll put his foot on a stage monitor to raise his guitar up. Hell, Tom Morello wears his guitar so high that he says it sometimes hits him in the chin. So, for the sake of killer guitar playing, raise ’em up!” —Rusty Cooley

11. Expand

“Learn everything you know in all keys.” —Joe Pass

12. Move On

“Don’t be precious about anything—much less a certain guitar sound. There is always another interesting sound or effect just waiting to be discovered.” —Robin Guthrie

13. Play Loud

“Start playing loud when you’re young, and you’ll be one step ahead of the game. If you start off playing soft, it will get you into a lot of bad habits. Terrible, terrible, habits. Look at these jazz people. Of course they play soft. It’s a trick so you can’t hear them.”—Nigel Tufnel

14. Slide Right

“Play slide to records to develop accurate intonation. I prefer early Ricky Skaggs albums, because they are full of simple progressions with different grooves in different keys. You don’t want to worry about exotic chords or tricky changes. Stay focused on I-IV-V progressions, and learn how to play through the changes without moving around the neck. You don’t always want to start with the I chord, move up five frets to the IV, and then two more frets for the V.”—Will Ray

15. Be Challenged

“Play with others who are more advanced musically. They will help you rise to their level.”—Bill Kirchen

16. Cork Your Slide

“If you find a slide that sounds great, but is too big for your finger, try cutting a few strips from a wine bottle cork, and gluing them to the inside of the slide. A snug-fitting slide will improve your playing immensely.” —Chris Mule

17. Dig Deeper

“Seek out talented, but lesser known artists from the past and present. Some of the coolest jewels life can offer are found on dusty back roads, miles from the main corporate boulevards of life. And when you find an artist you love, find out who they love.”—Greg V.

18. Appreciate Art

“In the long run, it’s more important to look at paintings than to listen to the way somebody plays bebop lines.”—Jim Hall

19. Think Literally

“Think of a guitar solo as a paragraph. You need a clear beginning, a middle, and an end. Look at musical phrases like sentences, and make sure you break them up using punctuation—or space. You pause naturally when conversing, right? If you don’t, you’ll bore the listener. The same thing will happen with your audience if your solo is one dimensional. You’ll wear them out and lose their attention.” —Tom Principato

20. Get the Bends

“One of the most useful exercises I’ve come across was on a Larry Carlton instructional video. Larry would play a major scale in fifth position, going up one octave, from the third string to the first string. He then proceeded to do the same scale, but he’d bend the majority of it. The best part of this exercise is that you do it the same way in reverse. This way, you learn to bend up in pitch, but also pre-bend and descend in pitch. The major scale is a wonderful reference for articulating and intonating your bends, because pretty much everyone can hear its intervals clearly, and will know if they’re sharp or flat. It’s a demanding exercise, and yet its kind of pretty.

“Then, practice Beatles songs, standards, and folk songs by using bends to play the melody, rather than traditional fingering. This is a very demanding and rewarding musical exercise that will teach you more than, say, approximating the solo of ‘Little Wing.’” —Jim Campilongo

21. Love You Less

“Listen more to the other players on the bandstand than you do to yourself.”—Bill Kirchen

22. Get Ear Training

“For some basic ear training, play any note on your guitar. In this case, let’s say it’s an A. Then pick an interval out of the air—say a perfect fifth, E. Now, try to sing the E note, and then play the same note on your instrument. See how close you came. Don’t play the interval before you try to sing it. Then you’re only imitating, not ear training. Force your brain to seek out and determine the interval you’ve chosen. Start off easy with octaves, perfect fifths, major and minor thirds, and then move on to more difficult major sixths, sevenths, seconds, flat fifths, and so on.” —Rik Emmett

23. Screw Up

“Don’t worry about a bit of slop. Instead, put truth in every note. Music isn’t about playing with absolute perfection—it’s the intense and soulful commitment to the note.”—Greg V.

24. Seek Truth

“Don’t listen to unimaginative naysayers when it comes to personal creative expression. At some point, there will no doubt emerge a conflict between the rules of instrumental mastery, and the need to follow one’s own intuition. Be strong! The only so-called advancements in art—forget about commerce—have come about when someone has either boldly modified or completely disregarded the norm. Those who deviate must stay true to themselves.” —Nels Cline

25. Get Evocative

“What is it exactly that moves you when you hear a guitarist you love? I think it’s the relation between the player’s emotional feeling and their muscle action on the guitar. To connect with this idea, first experiment with the full range of your muscle power, trying to play the same riff with an angry feel, a tender feel, and everything in between. Then, take a song you know, and try to increase the sonic contrast from verse to chorus, or section to section. Use this range of sound to better sculpt the landscape of the song.” —Bob Brozman

26. Try Being Quieter

“Experiment with not being the loudest thing on stage.”—Bill Kirchen

27. Read More

“Spend at least 15 minutes per Guitar Player magazine learning something from a GP lesson. Some of the concepts I’ve learned by doing this have stuck with me for years!” —Dave Wronski

28. Get Bluesy

“Study jazz soloing using the 12-bar blues form. Most players want to start playing long bebop lines from the start, but the simpler the melodic material is, the sooner you begin to develop a sense of phrasing. In turn, this will give you greater soloing freedom, because you’ll have a larger rhythmic vocabulary at your disposal.” —Lenny Breau

29. Wrap it Up

“Remember that the reputations of some of the greatest jazzmen ever are built on eight-bar solos. Too many guitarists play solos that are way too long.” —Jim Hall

30. Do for Others

“Recording your own music is one thing, but having to deliver something for somebody else is entirely different. Session work makes you more critical about your playing. You can’t hit notes all over the place, you’ve got to make each note count, and if you can’t play really clean, it all sounds like a mess. You may think you sound fabulous onstage, but when you hear yourself played back in the studio, it’s just disastrous most of the time. But if you can play well in the studio, you can play well onstage.” —Ritchie Blackmore

31. Find You

“A good way to crave your individuality is to get a tape recorder and get into a room that’s kind of dark—where you don’t have interruptions—and then just play with a rhythm machine. After a while, it’s like a deck of cards on the table, and you can begin to see the riffs that came from this guy, the riffs that came from that guy, and then the two or three riffs that are yours. Then you start concentrating on your riffs until you develop an individual sound.” —Carlos Santana

32. Mix It Up

“Treat each guitar track—and each song—completely different. For example, if I’m using a certain amp and guitar on one track, I’ll deliberately use something else for the next tune or overdub.” —Keith Richards

33. Balance Your Pickups 

“To balance your pickups, plug your guitar into something with level meters, such as a 4-track recorder. Play each string individually, and adjust the pickup height until the level of each string hits the same point on the meters. Typically, you’ll have to lower the bass side of the pickup. If your guitar’s overall output is quieter than what you had, simply turn up your amp to compensate. The benefit here is string-to-string clarity.” —Dave Wronski

34. Cut Back

“Sometimes that massive, high-gain, mid-cut, huge bass tone can sound about two inches tall in a concert setting. The guitar’s voice is in the midrange, so try adding some midrange and cutting the bass. For even more punch, attack, and clarity, cut your gain and distortion levels. Too much gain can be counterproductive, as it compresses your tone and kills dynamics.” —Greg V.

35. Shift Priorities

“Play what you would like to hear, rather than what you would like to play.” —Bill Kirchen

36. Try Rhythmic Soloing

“If the band is playing in 7/4 time, try to play in 4/4. When you do that sort of thing, you begin to notice certain ways in which the two rhythms synchronize over a long period of time. Thinking in these long lengths, you automatically start to develop rhythmic ideas that have a way of interconnecting.” —Jerry Garcia

37. Grease Up

“Want to make a solo greasy? Start on the ‘and’ of one.”—Dave Wronski

38. Get Funky

“Forget about the fancy chords, and just concentrate on a funky beat.” —John Lee Hooker

39. Lighten Up the FX

“It’s best if people don’t notice effects that much. If you overdo it, and everybody realizes you’re using a phaser, then you’re on the wrong track already. You’ve got to use those things with a certain degree of subtlety.” —Keith Richards

40. Get Your Rhythm Chops Together

“To become a better rhythm player, you must listen to the drummer. I’d also advise that you listen to the masters of rhythm guitar. The work that Steve Cropper did on the Stax records is the definitive document of how to play songs and accompaniment parts. Also listen to Chuck Berry. His rhythm playing is so intense that he can go out and perform with bands he has never seen or heard before and hold them together like glue.”—Danny Kortchmar

41. Go Big

“Use big strings. I like a set with a .013 E string, but I’ve gone as high as a .018-.074 set. They’ll eat your hands, your tuning pegs, and your amp, but they sound great.” —Stevie Ray Vaughan

42. Try Moderation

“Over-indulgence in anything is wrong—whether it’s practicing 50 hours a day, or eating too much food. There’s a balance with me, as there should be with everything and everybody. I’ve tried to keep it so that I’m able to execute the ideas that come out, but practicing too much depresses me. I get good speed, but then I start playing nonsense because I’m not thinking. A good layoff makes me think a lot. It helps me get both things together—the creativity and the speed.” —Jeff Beck

43. Play, Don’t Worry

“Don’t spend more time worrying about what it is you’re supposed to be doing, rather than just doing the work. Once I was stuck while trying to write some new music, and I asked my friend Wayne Horvitz how he did it. He gave me a pencil sharpener. The moral? There are no short cuts, so stop whining and get on with it!” —Bill Frisell

44. Move in Stereo

“Try using two amps and some stereo effects to get a bigger sound onstage. A ping-pong delay sounds huge when you stand between both amps, and any type of stereo chorus, flanger, phaser, or, in my case, a Leslie simulator, creates the illusion of an even wider sound. Panning your signal from side-to-side is a cool effect. I do it using a stereo Ernie Ball volume pedal. I like the amps to be almost identical, while others—including Stevie Ray Vaughan—prefer two amps that have different sounds that compensate for each other. Finally, it’s important to understand that unless both of your amps are miked, and panned left and right in the house, nobody except you will hear the stereo effect.” —Oz Noy

45. Be a Sponge

“Listening is just as important as practicing. Your ears are your greatest assets, and they work on a subconscious level. You should steal from as many different guitarists as possible, as opposed to picking one and trying to emulate that person’s style. Once you have assimilated a number of different approaches, try to blend them into one vision, instead of jumping from one style to another.” —Will Bernard

46. Vibe a Little Vibrato

“Strengthen your vibrato technique by using each finger to play a note and bending it up and down continuously, in half steps. As you move to fingers two, three, and four, remember that all available fingers can help you attain this half-step movement.” —Jim Campilongo

47. Alternate Pick

“A good way to work on alternate picking is to choose three or four notes, and work on those. Too often, players who are trying to improve their right hand dexterity get hung up by trying to play too many notes with the left hand. I hear a lot of players running whole scales from the sixth string to the first, and playing them really sloppy. Keeping it very basic—using only a few notes—and playing slowly with perfect rhythm is a task in itself.” —Al DiMeola

48. Ignore the Obvious

“When you’re comping behind a vocalist or soloist, don’t always play the root of the chord on the low strings—especially if there’s a bassist on the gig. Sometimes the third and the seventh of the chord is all you need if the bass player is playing the root. It will still sound full, and the sound won’t be muddy.”—Tal Farlow

49. Use Stage Smarts

“A good band is not all about playing your instruments. You have to work on your stage sound, too, so that you sound good out front. For the guitarist, that means not being so loud. Now, I love loud, but I soon realized that if I turned down, there would be more separation between the instruments, and people would actually hear me better.”—Peter Frampton

50. Get Down

“For heavy rhythm, it has to be downpicking. It’s absolutely key. It’s tighter sounding, and a lot chunkier.” —James Hetfield

51. Stay Hot

“Keep your guitar out of the case and handy. Practice short periods—anywhere from five to 45 minutes—many times throughout the day, rather than for one prolonged period. Often times, five minutes is enough time to work on a technique or musical passage. The whole idea of practice is to get your reflexes working like a gunfighter’s, so you can pull out that gun and be instantly hot.”—Barney Kessel

52. Get Classical

“When playing while sitting, rest the guitar on your left leg—just like classical-guitar legend Andrés Segovia. This way, the guitar will be in the same position as when you stand. You can even get yourself one of those little foot stands to really anchor the guitar to your body when playing aggressive music.”—Dave Wronski

53. Use Cruise Control

“Fast playing begins with careful and sharply targeted slow playing. You must develop the ability to ‘hear’ and ‘think’ every note. A fast passage is a rapid succession of musical notes—not the product of a frantic, panic-stricken flapping of the fingers. Begin practicing with scales or patterns, which allow you to concentrate on getting your actions and timing in good shape. Always start slowly and deliberately. Increase speed gradually. Use some form of metronome or drum machine to monitor your work. When you reach a speed at which you can no longer get things right, stop. Any further attempted acceleration will do damage, not good.” —John Duarte

54. Don’t Peek

“Adjust your amp’s volume and EQ settings by listening, rather than looking at the settings. Simply shut your eyes, and turn the knobs to where the amp sounds best. I’m consistently surprised when I open my eyes to discover things such as the Bass being nearly full up in one situation, or the Treble on 10 in another.” —Cameron Williams

55. Use Teamwork

“When you sit in with musicians you’ve never played with before, do your thing in a way that compliments their sound. Listen attentively, and make sure that what you’re doing isn’t stepping on anyone’s toes. Play as if you were a member of the unit, and keep your eyes open to allow for good communication.” —Dan Lebowitz

56. Get in Touch

“Tone has more to do with touch than gear, and the most important thing is dampening anywhere you’re not playing. Dampening can be done underneath your fretting fingers or thumb, or with the outside of your strumming-hand palm or thumb. Also, the way your finger makes contact with the frets makes a big difference. You need to learn the sweet spots on your guitar like a violin player would.” —Eric Johnson

57. Improvise

“During improvisation, a soloist should be influenced by the other musicians, and vice versa. The Miles Davis Quintet was a great example. As soon as the soloist paused, a band member would play something that would influence the solo’s direction from that point forward. This happened at every turn, so by the time the solo had finished, it would be completely different than if the soloist had played with nothing to respond to. The best improvisations come about this way. Equally important is how you respond to your tone. For example, if you are playing with a sound that doesn’t sustain much, then it’s futile to play long notes. The low strings tend to sound better with a thinner tone, and high strings with a thicker tone—which is why good guitarists continually change their settings on their toggle switch, volume, and tone controls throughout their solos.” —Warren Haynes

58. Use the Pinkie

“Use your pinkie! When I first started playing, an older country musician told me to keep practicing with my left-hand pinkie—even though it felt awkward—until it was second nature. That was the best advice I ever got. You were born with five fingers—don’t forget to use ’em all!” —Deke Dickerson

59. Think Different

“The ability to differentiate your playing while maintaining a support role in your band is crucial. Louder doesn’t necessarily mean better. I try to find a strong niche in each part—either by technique, or by finding an uninhabited frequency range. I sometimes distill ideas into a lean riff, rhythm, or melodic phrase that sits right in with the drums. Conversely, agile flourishes can make a skull-crushing riff seem nastier if you break from the pack. A fat, signature guitar tone is something we all chase after, but whether playing ensemble or stepping out front, choosing a complimentary or contrasting sound can get your point across, add structure, and make the song richer.” —Chuck Garvey

60. Damp Those Strings

“Learn to damp notes to control feedback and noise when playing slide at high volumes. Many people play slide with a pick, and then use the heel of the hand or something to control the sound. The style I got from Duane Allman is to use the thumb and the first two fingers without a pick. If you have glass or steel on your left hand, and a plastic pick in your right, you are completely isolated from your instrument. What you have to learn to do is to strike a note, then stop the note with the fingers before you strike another one, so only one note sounds at a time. It works kind of like a damper pedal on a piano.” —Dickey Betts

61. Embrace History

“The greatest musicians are knowledgeable about music’s roots. Experience provides authenticity for the music we create. Eric Clapton and Keith Richards can teach you a mess of blues, but it’s good to find out about the original artists whose tunes they covered, such as Robert Johnson. It’s like the old saying: ‘How can you know where you are going, if you don’t understand where you’ve been?’” —Marty Stuart

62. Use Circle Picking

“Use circle picking to play faster. It’s an old jazz technique. Start by playing with your pick at an angle. Hit the string with one edge of the pick, and you’ll find that you’re in position to come back on the upstroke with the opposite edge. Then, alternate pick with a rotating motion in either a clockwise or counterclockwise circle. The pick, while not changing its angle in relation to the string, is circling that area of the string. It’s not done with the wrist, but with the fingers holding the pick. When first learning, start with a large circle, just to get the feeling. After a while, you should be able to get two or three notes going so fast that it’s like a quiver. The reason it’s faster is because your picking motion is not interrupted for a change in direction. The circle also gives the notes a flowing quality.”—Roy Buchanan

63. Try a Little Compression

“Using compression is one of the best ways to get a consistently good tone. It makes the guitar feel electric and alive in your hands, because the notes sustain, rather than die on the vine as soon as you play them. Any stompbox compressor will do. I always place the compressor at the beginning of the signal chain, before going into the amp. Setting all the dials at 12 o’clock is a good starting point because it should give you a lot of extra sustain and a little bit of breathiness without affecting your basic tone much.”—Adrian Belew

64. Hang In There

“It takes time to develop every aspect of your technique. A lot of people don’t realize the crises you’ve got to go through. I used to get headaches when I started doing the octave thing, but, over time, I was fine. All it takes is to hear a little improvement in your playing, and that little bit of inspiration is often enough to push you even further.” —Wes Montgomery

65. Work on Delay Levels

“When you’re mixing a tune and adding delay to a solo, adjust the effect level to match what you played. The right amount of delay for a slow passage or a high note is going to be different than the amount of delay you want for a fast passage or a low note. For example, a fast passage with a ton of delay sounds like garbage.” —Steve Morse

66. Get Your Picking Together

“To develop picking technique, start by playing a series of downstrokes on any open string. At the beginning of the attack, stay close to the string, following through just enough to sound the note. Immediately return to the starting point. Now, try the same sequence with upstrokes. Finally, combine movements so that you’re strictly alternating strokes. Still on one string, meticulously practice the following: repeated down-strokes, repeated upstrokes, alternate downstroke and upstrokes, alternate upstrokes and downstrokes. Start slowly and gradually build up speed. Next, try moving to adjacent strings, and then to melodic skips on non-adjacent strings. Finally, apply the technique to alternate chordal picking, or crosspicking. Be sure to use alternate picking, playing downstrokes for notes that are on the beat, and upstrokes for ones that are off the beat. Focus on economizing the hand and finger movement of your picking hand, so that you don’t use excessive motion between up- and downstrokes.” —Al DiMeola

67. Find Yourself

“Get in touch with your uniqueness—even if you don’t like it. Once the crushing realization that I wasn’t going to be Brian May or Steve Morse hit me, I had to start embracing the things I hated about my style.” —Ty Tabor

68. Be Aware

“Remind yourself that you’re free to feel great instead of reserved or insecure. When you’re feeling good, you’re more apt to take chances onstage, and if you make a bunch of mistakes, it won’t matter. It’s almost like you’re the instrument, and the music is flowing through you like electricity. Like John Coltrane said—the paramount aspect of being a musician is to try to get more in touch and in tune with yourself. When you do that, it’s like returning to the center and everything emanates from there. You automatically become a better musician in becoming a more aware individual.” —Eric Johnson

69. Loosen Up 

“Practicing eighth-note lines with a triplet feel is very helpful for improving one’s rhythmic feel for jazz. Of course, the best way to get a jazz feel is to play with records or with a group. It’s something you’ve got to inherently feel. A lot of rock players have such a straight-eight feel that they can’t play jazz. They’re too stiff.” —Joe Pass

70. Get Out

“You must perform for an audience, because the real crunch happens when you get in front of people. You may discover that some things you played in rehearsal don’t make any sense, because you fooled around too much with the frilly stuff and forgot the basic drive of the song. Playing live also teaches you deal with situations like dropping your pick or breaking a string, as well as forcing you to project. You have to direct your playing somewhere—unless you want to sit in a room like a painter who won’t show his paintings to anybody.” —Rory Gallagher

71. Make Some Noise

“Once you get off the beaten path of chords and notes, any noise can be its own microcosm of songwriting. There is a deep library of songs that go from G to C. There is not a deep library of songs that use a toggle switch and a wah pedal. It’s a wide-open road.” —Tom Morello

72. Fiddle Around

“Learn to play fiddle tunes note-for-note. Don’t cheat, or play little slurs and things that you have a tendency to do when you’re playing fast. Play the songs slowly at first, until you get the notes even, and keep increasing the speed until you can play them as fast as you want. There are so many notes in fiddle music that you’ll really get your technique and coordination down. And the exercises aren’t boring, because you are actually playing something.” —Roy Clark

73. Go Big

“If you’re going to go out of the norm, go all the way. Don’t just go out a little bit. If you’re scared to go out there, then stay in the norm—just learn to play really well in 4/4. But if you want to go beyond that, you must in a totally different direction. If you want to count odd meters, they’re all broken down into groups of twos and threes. And I’m not just talking about tinier subdivisions. What it amounts to is ritardos [slowing down] and accelerandos [speeding up] inside of a bar, mathematically worked out so that instead of bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp—four beats in a bar—you get other kinds of action, where the time inside of the bar goes faster, goes slower, and goes faster again. But it all comes out on the downbeat of the next bar so you can still tap your foot to it.” —Frank Zappa

74. Find the Groove

“Slowing down our tempos really opened things up for me. Suddenly, the songs had a real groove, instead of always being driving, relentless, and in your face. As a guitarist, that openness allowed more to explore parts that had more funk and feeling.” —Allison Robertson

75. Renew

“Play a new thing every day. Learning one new passing chord or a note combination will get you moving towards something that will serve you later on. Someday, a song will come along that all of those things will relate to.” —Ry Cooder

76. Practice Patience 

“Take things real slow so that you’re not making a lot of mistakes right off the bat. You’ll learn faster if you don’t have to spend time un-learning the things you screwed up at the beginning.” —Bill Frisell

77. Be Strong

“The enemy of inspiration is self-doubt.” —Nels Cline

78. Get Healthy

“Music is life force expressed in notes and phrases, so the more life force the player has, the more energized the music will sound. Concentrate on your health. Seek a nutritious diet, and drink lots of water every day. The better the quality and balance of food you eat, the less energy your body uses for digestion, and the more energy you have in reserve for your music. For your mental self, clear your mind of unnecessary chatter and negative messages that distract your focus when you’re performing or composing. For your emotional self, address nagging problems. It’s hard to be honest and deal with things, but you’ll feel so much better afterwards, and the less internal stress sapping your energy, the more you can put into music.”—John Jorgenson

79. Separate

“Try to separate yourself from what your fingers are doing and listen to the amp.” —Steve Vai

80. Be Consistent 

“When playing legato, try to make all of the notes come out at a consistent volume. To achieve even more control, practice accenting the notes that aren’t picked.” —Allan Holdsworth

81. Commit

“Don’t be lazy. You have to want to play, and, most importantly, you have to love the guitar.” —Randy Rhoads

82. Open Up

“Self analysis can turn you into a selfish player, because it’s like saying, ‘Look at what I can do.’ In popular music, people want to hear the song and the singer, and it should be your job to make sure the song feels great. To do that, you need to feel the song, not intellectualize it. After all, the tone is in your hands, and the attitude is in your heart, and thinking things to death won’t change any of that.” —Neil Giraldo

83. Build Up

“Never forget that dynamics are a big part of the heavy factor in music. The quiet parts that build tension are what trigger a huge release that makes 100,000 kids jump up and down.” —Tom Morello

84. Adapt

“Take a note from me, put it with your own notes, and make it you.” —Hubert Sumlin

85. Avoid the Obvious

“Try to avoid ordinary licks. If I’m watching somebody for the chords, I think about the relative minor and the relative minor 7th, and I’ll do away with the root note. I find it interesting changing from minor to major, and, anyway, I always like to steer away from the obvious.” —Steve Howe

86. Absorb

“Incorporate the feel of what someone plays into your style, rather than the actual notes. Then, you’re not judging whether you can play a song as well as the recording, because you’re not trying to duplicate it. You just want to nail the emotion of how an artist’s singing and playing is making you feel, and how those feelings transform your own playing.” —Bonnie Raitt

87. Craft

“In commerce, the musician makes music. In craft, the music makes the musician. The musician of craft acts on principle and moves from intention. In this way, nothing is wasted, and our playing is not accidental. There are ten important principles for the practice of craft: (1) Act from principle; (2) Begin where you are; (3) Define your aim simply, clearly, and briefly; (4) Establish the possible, and move gradually towards the impossible; (5) Honor necessity; (6) Honor sufficiency; (7) Offer no violence; (8) Suffer cheerfully; (9) Work, but not solemnly; (10) Without commitment, all the rules change.” —Robert Fripp

88. Set Limits

“If you want to keep things raw, try limiting yourself to only two guitars on a track. Once you get into three guitars—or three of any instrument—you might as well put 60 on there.” —Jack White

89. Set Solos Free

“I enjoy solo lines that reflect the melody, but subtlely change it in a way that opens up another little window in the song. And these lines should have some freedom—some spontaneity. They shouldn’t be totally planned out.” —Brian May

90. Exercise Restraint

“Don’t play every lick you know before the end of the set, because then you’re screwed. You’ll just end up repeating yourself. But it’s a very youthful thing to jam—it’s like sowing wild oats. But as grow older, you become interested in doing something more lasting. You have to settle down and make everything count—make sure what you do is worthy of being heard again. I’ve become more devoted to the song, and I feel that jamming, unless it has a goal at the end of it, is pretty much a waste of time.” —Eric Clapton

91. Mess Up

“Play sloppy, make mistakes, and let those mistakes lead you to different territories and ideas. It’s important to take advantage of both the rational control and the irrational uncontrolled.” —Henry Kaiser

92. Let It Ring

“For an electric guitarist to solo effectively on an acoustic guitar you need to develop tricks to avoid the expectation of sustain that comes from playing electrics. Try cascades, for example. Drop arpeggios over open strings, and let the open strings sing as you pick with your fingers. It’s kind of a country style of playing, but it works very well in-between heavily strummed parts and fingered lead lines.” —Pete Townshend

93. Surrender

“The best performances are completely unselfconscious—where you’re inside the music, and it’s leading you, and you just follow where it goes. The minute you start to think about how the audience is going to react—whether what you’re doing is right, or wrong, or entertaining people—you’re in trouble. All kinds of doubts and insecurities creep in, and you lose the music. Suddenly, the music is no longer this organic, living, breathing thing. It becomes something you try to knock into shape with a set of rules you’ve picked up throughout the years. Thinking should be done at an early stage in a musician’s career. After that, you just let go. And it becomes a blissful experience to play.” —Bill Nelson

94. Move On

“When you’re recording, if you haven’t got the take in three or four tries, then there’s something wrong with the arrangement. It’s madness to worry yourself to death listening to 15 takes of the same song.” —Dave Davies

95. Think in Colors

“Paint pictures with sound. First, find your white—the deepest, roundest sound you can play on the guitar. Then, find your black—which is the most extreme tonal difference from white you can play. Now, just pick the note where you’ve got white, pick it where you’ve got black, and then find all those colors in between. Get those colors down, and you’ll be able to express almost any emotion on the guitar.” —Les Paul

96. Choose the Right Distortion

“Tailor your distortion tones to the material you’re playing. If you’re doing a slower, droning song, try a fuzz-style tone—a sound with some low end that kind of hums. If you’re doing something faster and more crazy, go for a sharp, midrange-heavy tone with a lot of harmonic content. For songs that are in-between those two extreme, any vintage distortion tones usually sound great.” —Mick Murphy

97. Use Melodic Delays

“A bit of delay can smooth out the unpleasant, raw frequencies you get from a fuzz box. I have two units, and I have different echo settings on both. There are times when I have both running at the same time for certain effects. During solos, I usually try to set the delays to have some rhythmic time signature in common with the tune. I usually set them to a triplet—the notes all intertwine, so it doesn’t really matter anyway, but I find that a triplet delay is very melodic.” —David Gilmour

98. Mach Schau!

“All music is theatre. All music is expression. So never let the music get in the way of your stage act.” —Pete Townshend

99. Trust Your Hands

“Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It’s the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use.” —Stevie Ray Vaughan

Guitar Player Staff

Guitar Player is the world’s most comprehensive, trusted and insightful guitar publication for passionate guitarists and active musicians of all ages. Guitar Player magazine is published 13 times a year in print and digital formats. The magazine was established in 1967 and is the world's oldest guitar magazine.

When "Guitar Player Staff" is credited as the author, it's usually because more than one author on the team has created the story.