With the new year getting less “new” by the day, chances are you may have already floundered on any new year’s resolutions. But wait; some things are both more achievable and plain fun than eating organic vegan/committing to household budget spreadsheets/adopting a goat. Really!
When it comes to playing guitar, it really is possible to promise yourself: I will improve in 2017. But it does take effort. Some players are simply super-human and get better without even noticing or trying. Most of us – yep, me too – need a plan.
Without any further ado – we don’t want to waste time that could be used perfecting a new mung bean casserole diet – here’s just 17 ideas to incorporate into your 2017 guitar regime. One of them is about sharing. So, please, add your own and let’s get a discussion started!
1 – Play. Every. Day.
Easier said that done, we know! But if you de-clutter and rearrange, you can make sure your guitar is always to hand. At this point, don’t even worry about what you play. Just make sure your guitar is there, and that you do play. Every day.
2 – Keep A Guitar Journal
Any personal trainer/psychologist will tell you that people who record goals and aims are more likely to actually achieve them if they write them down. When it comes to guitar, again, it doesn’t so much matter what you write down, just that you do. It could be: “Monday: learn new 7th chord inversions” or “Thursday: I need new strings.” Make sure you record your achievements, too: it will keep you motivated and give you a good sense of progress.
3 – Write songs!
Drunk/sober, tired/inspired, happy/sad... doesn’t matter. Just try and write a song. Hard editing – that’s the important part – can come later. Rubbish lyrics to begin with? Doesn’t matter, either. That can also come later (or from someone else). After all, if Paul McCartney had given up early on “Yesterday” it would have remained a reject starting, “Scrambled eggs / oh, my baby, how I love your legs…” But McCartney persevered, because he knew his melody was strong. Note also, that melody came to him in a dream and he got it down first thing because he had a piano near his bed. See the importance of having your guitar to hand?
4 – Practice Smarter
This interlocks with having a journal, of course. Smarter practice means knowing what you want to achieve and how/when you go about it. And how you measure up week on week (ouch)! A separate topic itself, really, so let’s just spring an evergreen alert of who says Practice Makes Perfect.
5 – Take Care Of Your Guitar
If you’ve resolved to better care for your own body in 2017, do it for your guitar too. A neglected guitar won’t inspire you... too often, players (ok, me!) decide they need a new one rather simply giving your main axe some TLC. Here’s 20 tips just on cleaning your guitar.
6 – Expand your vocabulary
This can apply to chords, voicings, scales... Truth is, it’s all too easy to “stick to what you know” and just repeat. Of all the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of words in English, scholars reckon Shakespeare invented about 1700! Ok, the bearded bard was hardcore, but you get the picture. I still don’t really know what diminished chords are all about (even though I think I play them without knowing it.) So: I’ve got a resolution to learn about them. What about you?
7 – Swap Your Instruments
Got 5 electrics but no good acoustic? Or vice versa? Or all guitars and no bass? Don’t let it be so! Transferring your skills onto a different member of the guitar family can yield surprising results for both your technique and writing smarts. Ask a twangin’ friend for a temporary trade if you don’t want to commit to a full purchase straight away. (It’s like a free month’s introductory gym membership... with strings attached!)
8 – Listen More, Listen Harder
Les Paul once said, “People listen with their eyes.” In the wired world, this seems truer than ever, with music’s just become something happening in the background or the soundtrack to some eye candy. Even if you’re on a dedicated learning spree, there’s much merit in watching YouTubes and lesson videos, but... you should maybe resolve to actually listen more to what your favorite players do. Phrasing, timing, attack... the nuances of sound are best appreciated by your ears (thanks Captain Obvious!)
9 – Share!
Not sure about you’re playing? Ask a fellow player. Wide-open public sharing on social media usually requires a thick skin due to excessive trolling, but in my experience guitar players are a generous, encouraging breed. There are numerous Facebook, MeetUp and numerous other style-based, artist-related or tuition groups. Get involved.
10 – Record Yourself
If you’re not ready to share, at least record yourself. There are loads of tutorials online, too. Listening to yourself will help you understand what aspects of your playing you may need or want to work on.
11 – Join a band!
The big one, if you’re a play-at-home kind. But from informal jamming/writing sessions to fully-fledged gigging outfits, nothing will improve your playing more than playing with other musicians. You may suck! But you’ll likely have fun and make new friends. Where’s anything wrong with that, huh?
12 – Play Better Gigs
If you’re already out there gigging, work on your show. Playing “proficiently” is only part of the job or fun. There are many things we can all work on – here are just 15 Gigging Tips. And we know stage fright is, erm, frightening! Learn how to conquer Stage Fright.
13 – Teach!
If you’re pretty skilled, why not consider teaching? You don’t have to know music theory, honestly. There are plenty of beginners out there seeking help with the real basics – chords, timing, strumming, picking – and it’s immensely rewarding. You may not even get paid, but even just be volunteering you’ll help others and reignite your own passion for guitar. Fact: it’s also good for your happiness. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” said Muhammad Ali. Okay, those gloves may have made him a lousy guitar playre, but you know he’s right!
14 –Stay Fit
Yep, even your guitar playing can benefit from a “gym workout”. Another reminder of how to Stay Fitter and Play Better.
15 – Experiment with the Little Things
People can feel completely different by changing a small part of, say, their diet – a friend of mine still eats dairy, but swapped cow’s milk (in liquid form) for almond milk and felt totally transformed – so why not guitar? It may be your pick or string gauge, how high you strap-on your guitar, your practice regime (which you’ve now planned, right?)... Being consistent is good, but being too set in your habits isn’t!
16 – Switch Your Tuning
If you’re writing songs, using new tunings can open up a whole new world. It’s not exactly a “little” thing – it usually requires a major rethink of your fretboard and chord shapes – but it can be the making of any player. At least promise yourself to try it. Keith Richards pretty much defined his style from adopting open G tuning for The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” onwards. Sheryl Crow concurs, “When you tune your guitar in a different way, it lends itself to a new way of looking at your songwriting.” Learn more about guitar players who use alt tunings and what they are.
17 – Enjoy playing
These are just ideas. A springboard. And I admit, if I follow all of these, I’ll amaze myself! But as we said early on, it all depends on what your goals for 2017 on the guitar really are. If you at least resolve to work towards something, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be seeing-in 2018 as a better guitar player.
What are your aims, goals and guitar resolutions for 2017?