How To Focus Your Guitar Playing

by Liam Cain, 12th June 2018 

Guitar players are generally a curious bunch seeking out new players to listen to, new songs to learn and most importantly, new gear to buy. The resources available to guitarists for study and self-improvement are endless which can leave you unsure of the path to take. You end up looking for the next new shiny object to take your playing to the next level. Limiting your guitar resources for a month can provide focus to your guitar playing.

When I was a fledgling guitarist, it was difficult to discover new players. My first guitar teacher, John Beck, was a Mark Knopfler fan. Naturally, Knopfler became my first guitar hero. A family friend, hearing my musical dilemma, turned up with Cream's Disraeli Gears. Clapton became an influence for a while. A huge turning point was hearing All Along The Watchtower played on the radio for the first time. Jimi Hendrix started to influence my playing.

My favourite Saturday pastime was visiting the local record shop. My choice of records was simple. I looked for album covers that had guitars on them.
If the artist was holding a guitar that I liked or found interesting, I bought it. One such purchase was Arlen Roth's Hot Pickups album. I loved his version of When a Man Loved a Woman and his August Night's track appealed to my Knopfler influence. It was a huge thrill rushing home from the shop with a record in my bag, putting on the turntable for the first time and hearing if I had bought a hit or a dud. Whichever it was, it went into my ever-growing record collection that lived next to my guitar amp.

Transcription books covered just chords. Everything had to be learned by ear. I would record albums on cassette and use this to playback sections of songs or solos I wanted to learn. It kept me out of mischief.
My learning grew organically. I didn't have instant access to music. I saved my pocket money and could afford to buy one album a month. My listening skills grew at the same rate as my physical playing. My limitations gave me focus. I couldn't afford a new shiny object.

I advise guitarists to study an album or collection of songs for a month. Try Scott Henderson Blues Guitar Collection. Here is the Spotify playlist. You will hear Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan and fusion influences in Scott's playing, all based on a blues. 

Start learning the songs, see how many you learn in the month. You can do this with any player of your choice. Aim to play along with the tracks, imitating a player's time feel, phrasing, dynamics, and tone. Your playing would move to the next level.

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