A tight sound is one of the most convincing attributes you can possess as a guitar player. Here are 10 essential tips for tightening up your playing:
1. Join A Band
Joining a band is by far the best and most-efficient method of tightening up your playing. This is for two reasons:
- It holds you accountable: When you’re not part of a dedicated project, it’s all-too-tempting to start slacking on your practice regime. However, when several other musicians are relying on you to perfect your parts, you won’t want to let them down. Similarly, if you’re preparing for a show, you’ll want to ensure you give the absolute best impression possible to those in the crowd.
- It forces you to prioritize group sensitivity: A live band is an unpredictable environment. Tempos fluctuate, mistakes happen and spontaneous jam sessions break out. Placing yourself in an unpredictable environment forces you to focus on what’s going on around you and adapt to sudden change. This will tighten up your playing much faster than backing tracks ever will.
If you don’t feel ready to join a full band yet, I’d recommend playing with just one other person in order to acclimatize to playing with others. If you’d like a few actionable tips on joining your first band, check out our article ‘Joining A Band With No Experience | The Ultimate Guide‘.
2. Minimize (Or Skip) The Effects
Whilst effects (distortion, delay, reverb etc.) can add variety and depth to your tone, they can also disguise sloppy technique. Therefore, it’s easy to become overly-reliant on your pedals rather than your actual technique.
When practicing anything new, I’d strongly advocate setting your guitar to a clean setting with no effects. This’ll expose any problem areas and force you to tighten things up. Once you’re happy with the tightness of your playing, then you can re-introduce the effects.
I’d also recommend keeping your effects to a minimum when you’re actually using them. Take anything unnecessary off of your pedalboard to remove temptation and keep everything as conservative as possible. Without a heavily-modulated tone to fall back on, you’ll have no choice but to tighten up your technique.
3. Practice To A Metronome (Click Track)
Practicing to a metronome is an excellent way of tightening up your playing as it requires you to perfect your technique before introducing speed. Here’s a quick how-to guide on practicing with a metronome:
- Ensure your guitar is set to a clean setting with no effects
- Set the metronome to a speed where you can comfortably play an entire section
- Once you feel comfortable with the section, increase the tempo by 5bpm
- If you find you’re struggling after increasing the speed, go back to the previous tempo and try again
- If you find yourself stumbling over a particular phrase in the section, loop the phrase and repeat the above process
Whilst a basic online metronome will do the job, they’re often very limited and fail to analyse your technique. Instead, I’d recommend investing in a physical metronome that analyses your tone, volume and pitch in order to keep your technique as tight as possible. I was surprised at how cheap Korg’s trainer metronome was on Amazon, especially considering the number of features it has.
4. Focus On Technique Quality Rather Than Quantity
When learning guitar, it’s all-too-easy to get carried away with learning new techniques. With so many different techniques to learn, it’s tempting to hastily-learn each one in order to move on to the next one as quickly as possible. However, this will lead to an incredibly sloppy overall technique. When learning a new technique, make sure you get it to the point of flawlessness before moving on to something new. Whilst this might slow your progression a little, it’ll make you a much tighter guitar player overall.
Here’s a quick guide on how to fully-master a technique:
- Break it down into individual phrases
- Rehearse each phrase with a metronome, gradually building up the speed until you’re comfortable
- Once you’ve nailed each phrase, put it all together and practice the full technique with a metronome. As suggested in the above point, gradually build up the speed until you feel comfortable
- Find 2-3 songs that utilize the technique and learn/practice them in full
5. Don’t Look At The Frets
Aside from the fact that ‘shoegazing’ will quickly bore a crowd, staring at your frets can cause you to become overly-reliant on your vision. If you’re serious about tightening up your technique, you should literally be able to play a guitar with your eyes closed. This’ll not only ensure you’ve nailed your parts, but also force you to rely on your hearing rather than your vision.
Here’s a quick guide on how to play guitar without looking at the frets:
- Play as much as possible: A big part of playing the guitar without looking is muscle memory, which takes time and repetition to develop.
- Practice a static phrase without looking: Take a static phrase (i.e. one that doesn’t require your fretting hand to move up or down the neck) and practice it on a loop without looking.
- Practice chord progressions without looking: Once you’re comfortable with your static phrase, move on to chord progressions. Try practicing a wide range of chord progressions up and down the neck, using a mixture of open chords and power/barre chords.
- Practice more-complicated lead phrases without looking: Try playing some lead phrases that require you to move your hand up and down the neck. Similarly, practice lead phrases that feature more complex technique.
BONUS TIP: A great way to practice guitar without looking at the frets is to simply play whilst watching TV. The TV will usually serve as an adequate distraction, which enhances your muscle memory.
6. Video Your Practices
Videoing your practices will allow you to tighten up problem areas at breakneck speed. When you’re actually playing, it can be difficult to gain an all-encompassing idea of how you truly look and sound. Filming your practice and watching the footage back allows you to view your playing from an audience perspective, making it much easier to pinpoint any problem areas and make the necessary changes.
A smartphone will do just fine for videoing your practice sessions. However, you might consider investing in a cheap smartphone tripod such as this one on Amazon to keep your phone steady.
7. Hire A Tutor
Hiring a tutor is essentially a step up from videoing yourself. Regardless of playing standards, I can almost-guarantee that you’ll derive significant benefit from taking guitar lessons. An experienced tutor can quickly identify problem areas in your technique, before providing actionable advice on how to improve. Similarly, they’ll devise lesson plans and practice routines that are specifically tailored to you and your goals.
If tightening up your technique is something you want to focus on, make sure you tell your tutor! They’ll then be able to provide additional guidance on how to tailor your playing in order to achieve a tighter sound.
8. Play ‘Song Roulette’
Song roulette is an awesome way of tightening up your guitar playing, especially if you’re unable to join a band. Here’s a quick guide on how to play:
- Find a playlist of random songs that you’ve never heard before (preferably in a range of different genres)
- Play along to the playlist, attempting to figure out each song by ear in real-time.
- Once you’re halfway through the playlist, start adding in improvised sections
Song roulette is effective at tightening up your playing because it requires you to think on your feet and adapt to sudden change. Once you’ve played the game several times, you might consider finding playlists with more-technical music to take things to the next level.
9. Warm Up For A Minimum Of 10 Minutes Before Playing
Warm ups are an essential component of an overall tight technique for the following two reasons:
- They effectively prepare you for a practice or performance
- They force you to fundamentally-nail basic techniques
I’d advocate spending a minimum of 10 minutes on warm ups before a practice or performance. Here’s a really effective warm up tutorial from Steve Stine Guitar Lessons on YouTube
10. Practice Daily
In order to make consistent progress as a guitarist, you’ll have to put it consistent effort. If you’re serious about tightening up your technique, I’d recommend practicing for at least 1 hour per-day. If you feel you haven’t got time to practice, you’re going to have to make time. This might mean getting up an hour early (which I did for years as a teenager) or sacrificing that Saturday night out drinking in order to practice.
Once you’ve scheduled your daily practice time, I’d suggest creating a plan to allow for maximum productivity. Here’s an example of an efficient hour-long practice plan:
- Warm ups (10 minutes)
- Practicing a technique with a metronome (20 minutes)
- Practicing 2-3 songs that use the same technique (15 minutes)
- Review video footage of the previous point (5 minutes)
- Implement any necessary changes and run through each song once more (10 minutes)
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