PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- March 3, 2017
Mastering anything can typically be broken down into easy steps. “Easy” is a little misleading because mastering something requires discipline and persistence. It’s no different when you try to master guitar. It will demand your concentration, patience, and endurance. Breaking it down into five easy steps is just as challenging. You may find some shortcuts and, by all means, if you get inspired and find a shortcut that makes you want to work harder, go for it. There’s no magic formula here and no genie to grant you three wishes. It’s going to take some work so let’s try to make it attainable.
Step #1: Master Guitar Through Rapid Repetition
Start by picking up a copy of “Muscle Fitness for Guitar.” It’s a book of exercises with 196 possible combinations that will stretch the heck out of your fingers. You're gonna need your muscles and ligaments to stretch and grow strong enough to master guitar. At first, do the exercises slow and steady, making each note clear. When you have the notes sounding good and in time at this slow pace, speed them up and play them to a metronome until you can reach an impressive tempo. Make sure you play one note down with the pick and the next note up with the pick. You’re also training your right hand, or picking hand. Finally, don’t just stay on the first four frets. Each day, do a regimen of exercises and move up a fret at a time until you reach at least the 12th fret.
Step #2: Scaling the Fretboard
In this step, you must pick up a book of the major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and other unique scales. You can download some of these ideas from the internet, but there is a Book of Scales. You need this in your library. Start with your major scales.
Each of your major scales will have the bright Ionian or Major sound or DO RE ME FA SO LA TI DO. On guitar, there are two octaves playable from each position on the fretboard and there are five positions. So, learn all five positions of the major scale in A, for example, and how they link or overlap. Do this for all 15 key signatures. This doesn't come quick or easy, but it will train your ears and fingers the path to the other scales and modes. Take your time! If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, you’ve got to buckle up for the ride. Master one key at a time. Also, use the down with the pick, up with the pick, or alternate picking, when playing these scales. Speed will come, but be smooth and accurate.
Step # 3: Breaking the Modes
There are seven basic modes based on the seven diatonic chords of the major scale. Diatonic, meaning “in the key of.” Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Strange words, right? Sure, but in this step, you will unlock the sounds of the world’s music (or at least the pop music). Getting familiar with and mastering these seven modes in each of the 15 key signatures will take you a while, but once you get the concept and finger patterns down for one key, it’s the same for the other 14 key signatures. The patterns are just rearranged on the fretboard to accommodate where you start from and end. As you progress on your journey to master guitar, you’ll start to put the missing pieces together. There are many modes to produce many different world sounds. All that’s happening is you’re adding or taking away certain notes of the scale to produce a unique tonal expression. There are books on modes you can read or you can check out the many online sources out there to help you along.
Step #4: Unpacking Progressions
It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach played every possible musical progression in his many creations. If you’re going to master guitar, you need to take on the task of learning songs. From classical to metal, there’s no shortage of musical magic that will help build your list of influences. The important thing is to learn the songs the way they were written.
By doing this, you’ll get into the genius minds of other guitar greats. Part of what made these guys so great is that they were willing to challenge the norms or at least live in ignorance of them. You will have to bend and break the rules too if you’re going to learn to reproduce that sound. To be a master guitar player, you will need to be able to play various styles convincingly. You may certainly be a classical master or a blues master, but knowing other styles and techniques will only broaden and deepen your career. Great session guitarists like Tommy Tedesco of the Wrecking Crew in LA made a living and a name for themselves because they could create music convincingly on the fly. Learn as many songs lick-for-lick as you can.
Step #5: Gig Until You Get There
Playing guitar in a live setting will sharpen your ears and performance skills. Whether it’s in a local club, coffee house, or on a church praise team, you need a regular gig. It forces you to hone in on a set of songs and perform them perfectly week after week.
You want to build a good reputation, so always show up prepared and know the music well. If you’ve put in the work beforehand, you can just enjoy the audience. The more you play live, the more you’ll be at peace in front of a crowd. As your reputation grows, your offers to do bigger and better gigs will grow too. Tours or weekends with higher profile artists may come along. The more prepared you are, the more you’ll work. Don’t try to compete with quick bloomers whose main skill set only consists of the ability to play a few guitar chords and look cool in long beards, skinny jeans and goofy goggles. They’ll come and go. If you’re going to master guitar and stand the test of time, you need to discipline yourself and do the work.
Now that you have our five steps to master guitar, make sure you set your alarm clock and get up an hour early. Later in the day, try to find another hour to commit again. Put a few rehearsal lists together. Maybe one for each day of the week. Do Step #1 for 15 minutes, Step #2 for 15 minutes, and so on. On the next night, feel free to mix it up. Do a different set of exercises, scales, modes etc. If you put a 15-day planner together, you can work in all 15 keys and become a master of guitar in no time. Once you’ve earned the credentials, get that steady gig and you’re well on your way.
No matter what skill level you’re at, guitar players need to take lessons. These help you to find new methods, remind you to practice, and give you a little more structure. Pro Lessons offers online guitar lessons for every skill level. Learn from our experienced guitar instructors at an affordable price. Find out how you can be our next student by clicking below.