1. Play Music, Not Just the Notes
Sometimes I notice when someone is struggling to play a guitar ‘part’ that they rehearsed on stage instead of playing music. It’s always obvious when someone is trying to play something exactly like they rehearsed it or how they expect to hear it. We are all individuals and we will never play something exactly like someone else does it. We need to own our individuality as musicians and play it the way we feel most comfortable. I’ve often heard to think of your instrument like your voice. In other words, you want to ‘sing’ the notes not just play them!
2. Never Sacrifice Timing or Rhythm to Reach a Note
When playing, whether live or in practice, you should put rhythm and timing above playing all of the notes correctly. I believe there are really very few accidents when playing. Most ‘mistakes’ will often go unnoticed if you make rhythm and timing a priority in your playing.
3. Practice Your Timing and Play with a Metronome
A solid sense of tempo is one of the marks of a great player. Use a metronome when practicing or learning a new tune. There are many free smartphone apps and even a free metronome feature you can use on the front page of Google. Training your subconscious mind to keep a solid tempo will dramatically improve your overall playing.
4. Play with Other (Better) Musicians!
It’s important to jam with other pickers, especially better players, and learn the dynamics of playing in a group. You can learn a ton from the way other people play and the dynamics involved in playing with an ensemble. Try playing live! I know playing live can be intimidating at first, but it really is the best way to practice and improve your playing. Don’t worry about making mistakes, no one will notice if you focus on rhythm and dynamics and just keep picking!
Challenge yourself to learn more difficult material. Techniques you pick up while learning a new song can be carried over to your soloing and rhythm playing. At the same time, you will also be adding new material to your repertoire and building your setlist.