Improving Acoustic Guitar Playing Using Other Instruments

How Studying Other Instruments Will Make You A Better, More Creative, And Superior Acoustic Guitar Player

To become more creative and inventive with your own guitar playing, you sometimes need to look outside of the guitar world. Studying how other instruments go about sounding and arranging the notes they play can provide many benefits to your own playing.

How do you do this?

Simple, take the music that another instrument is playing and arrange it to play on your acoustic guitar. Doing this will open up and reveal to you ways of playing that you would never have thought of otherwise.

The thing to realise is, while all instruments have the same notes to choose from when creating music, they are all unique in the way they sound and arrange these notes. As guitar players we can tap into this by arranging and transcribing either full songs, solos, or just a riff or two that another instrument is playing, to our acoustic guitars.

Assuming you have no actual music to go from, you will need to use you ear to work out what the particular instrument you are studying is playing. There are resources out there that will have done this for you (ie. arranged things from other instruments to the guitar), but I recommend you take the route of using your ear.

This can be challenging at first, however a challenge is nothing more than an opportunity to improve, and you will improve in many areas of your guitar playing when developing your ear.

>h4>What If You Can't Work Music Out By Ear To Save Your Life?

You can skip this section if you already know how to, and are comfortable with working music out using your ear. However if you haven't, take it from me, learning this skill will be one of the best things you will ever do regarding your guitar playing and musicianship.

It is challenging at first no doubt, I certainly found this, but like anything it gets easier the more you do it. The achievement you feel and the run on effect it has to the rest of your playing is well worth it!

With the focus of this article being on arranging music other instruments play to expand and transform your guitar skills, I won't go too deeply into the art of working music out by ear. However the following are some guidelines to get you started.

* Remember that it's not necessary to have the skill of working music out by ear to reap the benefits of arranging music from other instruments. There are some resources that exist that you can work from that have done this for you (ie. transcribed music from another instrument to guitar).

5 Things You Need To Do When Working Music Out Using Your Ear

1. Working out what the bass guitar is doing in a song really helps in finding the chords. This is because the bass will most likely be playing the root note on the first beat of each chord.

2. Take it one little piece at a time. This will likely be a single note or chord. Trying to hear and work out too much at once won't work. Little by little you will work out the song using just your ear.

3. There are many programs and apps that now exist allowing you to manipulate songs so you can slow them down, change the key, and loop sections. You need to take advantage of these by using them to help you in working music out by ear.

4. You may feel silly, but singing/pitching the notes you are trying to work out by ear first, really helps you connect with that note and find it on the guitar.

5. Stop the recording immediately after the part of the song you are trying to work out. What you last heard sticks. This way you will have much more chance of getting it down.

The key is to just get in there and start developing your ear by using it to work out music. Down the track you will be so thankful you started doing this.

About Phrasing

Phrasing is an extremely important and critical part of any musicians playing despite the instrument. In a nutshell, phrasing will make or break your playing. Learning music from other instruments on your guitar will get you phrasing your notes in ways you probably would not have otherwise, and is one of the advantages of doing this.

All instruments will be unique in the way they phrase their notes. By 'phrasing' I am referring to the way in which an instrument plays and arranges its notes.

In the context of this article, I am only referring to the general phrasing of a particular instrument. Each musician themselves will have unique ways in which they phrase their notes. This in itself will provide many cool nuances and subtleties to your own playing when you go about arranging music played by a particular musician.

Exactly Why And How Learning Music Another Instrument Is Playing Will Make You Better Guitar Player

There are so many areas of your guitar playing you will develop by working out music from another instrument, and is the reason why you want to do this.

Consider a vocal line to a song (yes, your voice is an instrument).

To bring more melody to the lines you play as a guitarist, oppose to playing back to back riffs and licks all the time, transcribing a vocal line from a song will do wonders for your playing! You will learn about the finesse, subtitles and nuances that a melodic vocal line has to offer. Don't underestimate the benefits this will bring to your guitar playing.

How About Something A Piano Is Playing?

A piano is of course very different to a guitar in the way it plays and arranges notes. In fact, some things a piano plays just won't be possible to play note for note on your guitar. This is the beauty. You will be forced into having to come up with unique and creative ways to emulate music played by a piano in a lot of cases (see example below).

Think about a trumpet player or saxophonist for a moment.

Can you work out the main difference in the way they play their notes compared to us guitar players?

Answer: They need to stop to breathe in order to continue playing.

A big reason why guitar players are notorious for over playing is that we don't need to stop in order to take a breath between the phrases we play.

The notes you don't play are as important as the notes you do. By transcribing music played by horn instruments, such as a trumpet or saxophone, you will learn to 'breathe' between the phrases you play. Instead of wall to wall notes, you will have something that is much more expressive and musical.

Arranging For A Piano

Let's take the following progression played by a piano as an example of arranging something from another instrument to our guitar:

Transcribing this note for note isn't going to really work out well for you on the guitar. Some of it may, but not all of it, so you need to get a little more creative in arranging something that will emulate what the piano is doing.

Here is one possibility:

I decided to capo my guitar at the 5th fret when arranging the piano example for guitar. This is so I had more open chords to use than I would have had without it. Open chords generally allow for more embellishments and sustain in your playing via the open strings used. I am also fingerpicking throughout, mostly arpeggiating the chords with a few chord hits thrown in to emulate the piano part.

Notice I am not trying to play the piano excerpt note for note, but rather emulate the feel and flow of it instead. On the repeat of the progression, I have fretted my chords an octave higher to resemble what the piano is doing. This is an example of the little creative and innovative things you find yourself doing when arranging music played by other instruments.

Extend and broaden your horizons as a musician by looking beyond the guitar world. There are many things other instruments can teach you about your own playing to make you a much better guitarist and musician.

Learn advanced fingerpicking patterns on your acoustic guitar that are also easy to play!

Specializing in online acoustic guitar lessons, Simon Candy is based in Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school.

Simon Candy

He has taught guitar for over 20 years to people of all ages and levels covering a variety of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking.

Send comments or questions to: