Unleashing Your Musicianship

Sometimes the best thing you can do to improve your guitar playing is to stop focusing so much on your guitar playing. Yep…that's right. You'll get better by focusing on it less.

Right now you might be thinking that I'm crazy for saying such an outrageous thing. But before you stop reading, let me explain myself quickly. I promise it will make sense soon.

The Guitar Is a Musical Instrument

Yeah, I know I'm stating the bleeding-obvious…but you'd be amazed at how many guitarists don't keep this in mind when learning electric guitar. They focus so much on the physical aspect of learning guitar that they forget about developing their overall musicianship. And this is a fatal mistake…because the better a musician you become, the better you'll become at playing guitar.

Understanding Musicianship

Although other guitar teachers will have different definitions for musicianship, mine is really simple. And what is it? Simply this…musicianship is the collection of musical skills and knowledge you have that are transferable to other instruments. In other words, they are skills and knowledge that you have that is not specifically guitar-oriented.

Obviously musicianship covers a huge number of things. But here's a short list of general areas that I consider to be included under musicianship…

  • Ear-training
  • Developing rhythmic perception
  • Transcribing.
  • Improvisation.
  • Composition.
  • Music reading.
  • Arranging.
  • Music theory.

Are You Sure That's Right?

You might have read through the list and been a bit surprised. For Example: You might be thinking that improvisation shouldn't be included, because you improvise guitar solos while playing the guitar. And that's partially true…

But you have to realize that a lot of things that you can learn when working on improvisation are totally applicable to all instruments. For Example: One of the best ways to improve your improvisation is to learn and internalize different rhythmic motifs. (These are short rhythmic ideas that you can internalize to make your phrasing more interesting). Obviously any work you do on rhythm will be equally applicable to all musical instruments.

Another example would be practicing singing melodies over a chord progression. Even though this is helping you to improve your improvisational abilities on the guitar, it is also a skill that will transfer exceptionally well to other instruments.

My Own Personal Breakthrough

I must admit that when I started learning electric guitar my ears weren't very good. I found it almost impossible to work music out by ear. I also found that because of this lack of pitch perception, that I couldn't improvise in a very musical way

So what did I do? When I was 21 I bought an ear-training course and worked very hard at it. In fact, I did about 30 minutes a day of practice on the course material for the next five years. (I might have missed some days when I was sick…but you get the idea. I worked on it consistently for a long time).

This period of intensive ear training helped my improvisation (and overall guitar playing) tremendously. Why? Because it helped me to become a better overall musician!

Take The First Step

I invite you to take a few minutes now to think about your own guitar playing. Do you have any specific weaknesses in the area of musicianship that are holding you back? If you do (and let's be honest…we all have them), then write them down now. Then make working on them a priority. Make a commitment to work on them daily. I can guarantee that this commitment to becoming a better musician will help your guitar playing tremendously!


Return To: Guitar Articles