Oblique Strategies

If you enjoyed 20 Ways To Play Guitar Better, here are 10 more tips. Take whatever benefits your own playing and if it doesn’t work, don’t worry. Bottom line is: there is no “correct” way of playing guitar. If you enjoy playing and want to try and improve your numerous skills, what’s not to like?

1. Use Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) is a deck of printed cards, created by music producer Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975. Some are specific to music composition and playing. Others are more general.

Examples include:
Use an old idea.
Only one element of each kind.
What would your closest friend do?
What to increase? What to reduce?
Are there sections? Consider transitions.
Try faking it!
Honor thy error as a hidden intention.
Ask your body.
Work at a different speed.

Sounds like psycho-babble? Maybe, but Eno uses Oblique Strategies often when producing U2. On an early demo of U2’s Achtung Baby album, one song idea wasn’t quite working. Eno decreed the four U2 members should re-start, live, but with studio screens so they couldn’t actually see each other or interact face-to-face.

As U2 guitarist Edge told me, “I’m not saying which song it was, but we were suddenly ‘feeling’ the music better. We moved on quickly… We were separated from each other but hearing each other better.”

2. Play with your eyes closed

Related to #1. Try playing with your eyes shut will possibly help your spatial awareness of the fretboard. Without looking where you are putting your fingers, you may get better at your brain’s/fingers’ desire of where you want them to go.

3. Change your picks

Just experiment. It’s easy to get used to one gauge of pick, but remember that some great tone has come from unusual choices. Brian May of Queen uses old U.K. metal sixpence coins (and replicas): ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons uses Peso coins (and replicas). Experimenting with your pick can give a wholly-different attack and make you play differently… and maybe better.

Here’s some classic Billy F Gibbons tone.

4. Go to music school

It’s a luxury for most. But many successful musicians extend their career and share their knowledge by teaching and studying. Just one example - Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea went back to school in 2008, to study music theory, composition and jazz trumpet. “It's so much fun to learn this stuff because I never knew anything,” he said. “I played trumpet in the school bands. I learned things I liked to play on my trumpet but I didn't learn why this note goes with this note and why it produces that sound. Or how to create tension in the composition. Knowing the structure is really fun.”

RHCP now all have involvement in the Silverlake Conservatory music school, alongside Tracey Chapman, Metallica, David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel’s guitarist), and many more. Find schools near you and you may get to learn from your heroes.

5. Watch guitar videos

There’s a lot of misinformed video “teaching” online. But there’s equally some great stuff that will help you, when you actually see how it’s really done. Naturally, we recommend you start at the Gibson Skills House.

6. Warm-up without a guitar!

Remember, playing guitar is a physical activity. Here are four basics from a pro-teacher I can recommend, about how to warm-up before touching your guitar. Here are more tips.

7. Join a Guitar Forum

Yep, say goodbye to your spare time by joining an online forum. As with YouTube videos, there is a lot of disinformation out there, but find the right forum/posters and you can learn a lot more, from songs to technique to gear. Start, of course, with the Gibson Forum . The unofficial fan-led Les Paul Forum is endlessly engaging for endless debate.

8. Respect Your Audience

Good tip here, from Gibson.com forum member JohnChester: “Never talk down to your audience.” You may be occasionally depping in a bar-band playing music that isn’t wholly your taste. So what? Play as best you can, try and entertain people, and you’ll get the audience feedback that can put a smile on your face.

John5 recently Tweeted: “I get up and I want to entertain people and I enjoy doing it.” And John 5 is good at doing it. Remember, all people perform better when they are happy. Never treat any gig as a chore.

9. Know Your Expectations…

Related to #8 in terms of happiness and playing better. As Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth says, “You are so much better making sure that you keep your ‘dreams’ in proper perspective, and that you really concentrate on simply getting better and more experienced within the scope of your guitar playing.” Full Arlen Roth column here.

It’s so true. “Scope” is the key word. If you waste time trying to learn techniques you cannot master - for whatever reason - you are denying time for what you probably are good at. Example: AC/DC’s Malcolm Young doesn’t “do” solos. Does that make him a bad guitar player? Hell, no. Young is a legend of rock rhythm guitar. Who says he’s a “bad” player?

10… But Also Set Your Goals

In a Gibson.com blog, Triumph’s multi-skilled Rik Emmett revealed how he once noted down what he thought made a truly exceptional guitarist. Rik’s list was:

“Emotion, soul, feeling, personality, interpretation”
“Attitude, desire, intellectual hunger, persistence”
“Timing, feel”
“Melodic sense”
“Harmonic sense”
“Physical technique”
“Mental approach”
“Tone – sound”

Thanks Rik, that’s a helluva checklist! But Emmett is, of course, making a wise point. If you can focus on goals/approaches, you are much more likely to reach them… and improve. If you try and do everything at once, you may end up being a jackass of all trades and master of none.

Sure, there are some stellar players who could seemingly do it all. Yet many guitarists still deem Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page as “sloppy,” Eric Clapton as “predictable,” or Eddie Van Halen as “unmelodic.” You cannot please all the people all of the time. And if you do try, your playing maybe won’t please yourself?

So that’s 10 more varied tips. Not all of them will suit every player, of course, so cherry-pick the ones that may work best for you. Above all, enjoy your guitar playing. There’s nothing better than realizing you have made progress...

Add your own tips below, please do!

Want More Tips?

20 Ways to Play Guitar Better

Arlen Roth’s Live Performance Tips

10 Vocal Tips for Performing Guitarists

Capo Tips and Tricks

Gibson’s Skill House