Don`t Stop Growing as a Guitarist! Here` s How to Keep Challenging Yourself

Do you find that you always play the same riffs or licks whenever you pick up a guitar?

Are you starting to feel uninspired creatively?

Listen - we all hit plateaus from time to time. This is inevitable.

But if you want to keep progressing, you have to make the decision to grind it out. Sometimes it doesn't take much to work yourself out of a rut, but you have to be willing to do things differently for a while.

Here are several tips on how to keep growing and learning as a guitarist.

The Risk Of Not Challenging Yourself

I'm going to say out loud something that we all instinctively know - some pros never change or evolve as players.

Without naming names, I have a lot of admiration and respect for players that have paved the way for modern guitar playing. The issue is that I don't see them doing anything new - sometimes in 20, 30, or even 40 years!

They get locked into a certain way of playing, and they don't take a conscious approach to improving as a guitarist.

Don't get me wrong - you can get pigeonholed in a particular genre or style, and by the time you've built a following, making the decision to do something different at the risk of alienating your fans isn't exactly easy.

But that doesn't mean you can't continue to evolve and improve.

So whether you've hit a plateau, or you're just not sure what to tackle next, here are several ways to keep challenging yourself.

Pick A Genre, Any Genre

"I'm a metal guitarist - I will never play anything other than metal!"

Well, if you have the desire to keep improving, you might want to change your tone a little.

I can't really explain why - but for me, sometimes learning a classical song inspires a new fingerstyle blues song. Sometimes working on a jazz progression translates into writing a rock lick.

If you are already in the habit of working on songs in a variety of different styles, then maybe this tip won't help you much. But if you're always listening to the same songs and working on music in a single genre, it's no wonder you've stopped growing.

Human beings are creatures of habit. The problem is that we tend to take in the same things over and over again. How will you ever be inspired if you never expose yourself to new input?

So if you haven't tried anything new in a while, it's time to pick a new genre and start exploring how it works. You may not work yourself out of a funk instantaneously, but give it some time, and you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

Scale Your Neck

No, I'm not talking about finding a guitar with a bigger neck - that would be kind of silly.

I'm talking about learning new scales. Most guitarists know the major and minor scales, the major and minor pentatonic scales, and maybe the blues scale. Certainly, that's all you really need to play lead guitar 80% of the time.

But there are a lot of cool possibilities with the modes of the major scale. If you haven't learned your modes yet, that's a good place to start. Check out a song like Joe Satriani's "Flying in a Blue Dream." Sorry, you can't get that sound with a standard major scale.

If you're already familiar with the modes, try out the whole tone, hirajoshi, or the Persian scale. There are plenty of exotic, unfamiliar sounding scales out there for you to explore.

And don't just learn how to play certain scales - also learn how they work. What makes the particular sequence of notes unique? Why does the scale sound the way it does? What musical situation could you apply it to?

Do a deep dive into the scale and internalize what you learn.

Arpeggio Your Way To Heaven

Yes, I'm playing off of Yngwie Malmsteen's "Arpeggios From Hell."

But seriously, how well do you know your arpeggios?

I mean, I know some guitarists that focus almost exclusively on swept arpeggios, and it is a pretty cool technique, but if you only know your major and minor arpeggios, then you're really just scratching the surface.

How many of these can you honestly say you know off the top of your head?: 6, add9, maj7b5, m13, 7sus4, 9b5, or dim7.

Forgive me if you know your theory inside and out, but I'm guessing there's still a lot of learning for you to do in the area of arpeggios (and not just sweep picking!).

Again, don't just learn arpeggios note for note. Look for ways to apply what you learn immediately. Use the arpeggio in a song. Make an exercise out of it. Use it while you're jamming.

If nothing else, arpeggios will help you explore new patterns on the fretboard, and this will stretch your playing.

Other Ways To Keep Challenging Yourself

I've only scratched the surface of possibilities here.

Here are several other ways to keep things interesting:

  • Expose yourself to new rhythmic patterns. Getting stuck in a rut can have a lot to do with rehashing the same rhythms you already know well. Find new rhythmic patterns to explore.
  • Try percussive style guitar. It's not as hard as it might initially seem, and the techniques you learn can really help you tighten up your rhythm, accuracy and finger strength.
  • Stretch the limits of two-hand tapping. Try things you've never tried before with two-hand tapping. Incorporate more fingers. Try bigger stretches. Tap a new arpeggio you just learned.
  • Do a random search on Google Images. Search for something like "Joe Pass licks" and see what comes up. Work your way through as many examples as you can.

Bottom line - there are always new ideas to try, new techniques to learn, new areas to explore. We all have our idiosyncrasies, and some of those will never go away, but if you remember to keep challenging yourself, you will never run out of runway for improvement.

Hailing from Camrose, Alberta, Canada, David Andrew Wiebe is a multi-talented guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter.

One of his primary projects at this moment is The Music Entrepreneur web site, which features blog posts, podcast episodes, eBooks, audio courses, and other resources.

David Andrew Wiebe