Should You Learn Multiple Styles Of Guitar Or Stick To One?

I think at sometime or another many guitarists have felt like they aren't versatile enough. They feel that because they can't play many styles of music fluently, that they aren't reaching their potential as a guitarist. Because of this feeling of inadequacy they then start on a journey of trying to master as many styles of guitar playing as possible.

But is this the right thing to do?

Well, like all things in music, it's definitely not a black-and-white thing. Here are a few things that you might want to consider...

Your Long-Term Goals

Probably the most important thing to gain clarity on are your actual goals. In other words, what do you have a burning desire to do? Once you know what your long-term goals are in music, then asking yourself the following questions would make sense...

  • Do I need to learn many styles to achieve my long-term goals?
  • Would learning different styles of music stop me from achieving my long-term goals?

Let's imagine for a second that your long-term goal is to become a neoclassical shred guitarist with the chops that would melt the face off Satan. Obviously this goal would require an immense amount of time spent on developing technical facility and speed. So if you spent countless hours learning different styles of music, that might have a negative impact on your goal.

But what if your goal is to become a freelance session guitarist who is capable of fitting into any musical situation? Obviously, in this case learning many styles of music would be incredibly important to your long-term goal. In fact, you probably wouldn't achieve your goal unless you gained fluency in many styles.

Paying The Price

One lesson we all learn as we get older is that, because time is a limited resource, you just can't be good at everything. The price of working on multiple styles of guitar playing is that it's much harder to get good at each of those styles. You will always become better at any one style if you focus exclusively on it. If I'm being totally honest here, many guitar players who try to learn many styles just end up sounding lame at all of them. Their playing just ends up being the musical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting!.

When I think about the guitarists I know that can play multiple styles extremely well, they generally have the following qualities...

  • They have played for a really long time. (i.e. decades).
  • They are full-time professional musicians.
  • They are extremely talented individuals who have worked hard at their music over a long period of time.

These qualities aren't really a surprise. Getting really good at one style is hard enough for most people. You can imagine how much of a greater challenge it is to get really good at multiple styles.

Time Available For Practice

It's important to realize that each style of music has a different learning curve. What I mean by this is that in order to gain basic competence in a specific style, then you will need to do a certain amount of practice. For Example: Of the styles of music that I've worked on, I found that jazz had the steepest learning curve by far. I had to do an immense amount of practice to even start to get some very rudimentary fluency. [Side Note: This was one of the reasons why I did a three year degree in jazz performance. I realized early on that if I didn't focus 100% on jazz for a number of years that I would fail miserably with learning the basics of it!].

In my teaching I usually recommend a basic guideline of two hours practice per style of music you are working on. This means that if you practice for two hours or less per day then you probably should stick to one style at any point in time. This doesn't mean that you can't learn new styles later on. But I definitely recommend sticking to the one style at least until you get some competence at it. Of course, if you have a lot more time for practice, such as four hours a day, then it might be OK to learn two styles simultaneously.

With that said, I still feel that most people will get better results focusing on one style at a time.

Do You Want A Unique Style?

One thing to keep in mind is that some of the most influential guitarists aren't versatile at all. They have a style and sound that is unique to them. As soon as you hear them play, you just know that it's them!

So the question is this...

Do you want your own unique style?

If you do then you need to seriously think about how learning different styles will affect that style. Do you think that B.B. King worries that he can't play shred guitar and do 8-finger tapping? Do you think that Yngwie Malmsteen worries that he doesn't do country style chicken-picking? I haven't asked either of them , but I'm guessing the answer would be no. J

I'm definitely not saying that you can't borrow ideas from different styles of music. But it would be very important to integrate those ideas into the central style of playing that you are trying to develop. It would be a shame to become a jack of all trades and not develop your own identity!

A Few Last Words

I personally have really enjoyed learning different styles of guitar playing over the years. (I'm somewhat of a musical schizophrenic!). But it's really important to realize that it's not mandatory for everyone to do it. And you definitely don't need to master all styles of music to become a good guitarist.

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