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I've been playing guitar for about 11 years now and i'm at the point where I need to start learning something new. I have a book of exercises (for building chops) which covers the major scale in every key and the minor pentatonic in every key. I also bought a DVD which is intermediate theory for guitar. I have played in pentatonics for a while and I am very proficent in this scale.

My question is, should I work on pentatonic exercises and get better at them or should I dive into intermediate theory? I want to get to the point where I am considered an advanced player. Thanks for any input in advance.

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    If I were in your shoes, I would pick some harder songs to learn and not worry too much about exercises. And by that I mean, when I was in your shoes, I picked some harder songs to learn and didn't worry too much about exercises. You can build scale mastery by learning solos note-for-note. And the more songs you know, the easier it is to jam with some other people and find a band. – Todd Wilcox Nov 4 '15 at 14:47
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    Do you have a band? Play guitar with other people and learn the music that they are working on. Take any opportunity to learn to play music different than that which you are familiar, if you can play with other people. You will grow a lot as a musician. – user1044 Nov 4 '15 at 17:52
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You didn't mention what DVD you bought, so I don't know if you do this already, but if you want to be recognized as an advanced player as you say, start thinking less about scale shapes and try to think more in terms of notes. In other words, force yourself to think musically.

I suggest you try approaching greek modes - and with them, comes a LOT of musicality, perception and knowledge that will be required from you: intervals, harmony, tonality, chords and whatnot. Because this may be boring for many people, you may try a lighter, generic approach through this material:

  • Creative Guitar 1 - Cutting-edge techniques, a book by Guthrie Govan. You can find it used for about 10 bucks in Amazon, just make sure you get the accompanying CD. This book explains all I've mentioned in a very easy to understand way, yet not skipping over any important parts. Also, if you're into exercises, it has a lot of pentatonic views and different approaches, as well as modes.
  • Modes, No More Mistery by Frank Gambale, this is a DVD that demonstrates all the modes, how they sound, why they sound like they do and how to use them. This is excellent stuff, also kinda funny because it was made in 1991, with mullets, leather pants and colourful shirts.
  • This video by Guthrie Govan, is not only enlightening, but also very informative. No boring repetition of what everyone says. Very, very interesting concepts that have changed the way I thought whenever I felt stuck.
  • Mimi Fox also has a few very cool videos on Youtube. I forced myself to watch those over and over until I understood what she was saying, and boy, was it worth it.

Of course, advice is relative, but it's what I took from experience in 24 years of guitar playing. Once I dived into notes, my world changed. It is hard at first, but keep going, it WILL come to you faster than you think. Also, improvise, improvise, improvise: get generic backing tracks from the web (there are thousands) and spend some time with each.

I hope this helped, best of luck.

  • Yes, I agreee strongly, but don't throw out your patern knowledge (scale shapes) I know, @Fractalizer did not say that but just to be clear. Enhance it that knowledge with the knowledge of notes, and also learn new patterns that can help you break out of ruts. Also, if you don't know major minor and pentatonic scale paterns, you should. Arpegios, modes, mode theory... the list goes on and on. – amalgamate Nov 4 '15 at 17:08
  • That's right, you can never let technique aside! I still struggle daily to improve my right hand. And I didn't mean to throw out your patterns, they're vital. You will not think note-by-note when playing fast, you'll visualize the patterns. I just assumed you nailed some of them and wanted to go beyond... @amalgamate 's comment is very valid: do not get stuck with the same patterns, there's always more than one way to play the same thing. :-) – Fractalizer Nov 4 '15 at 17:13
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This seems like opinion land, but here is my opinion: "Yes." In other words, the studies you suggest are not incompatable, in addition Todd Willcox'e suggestion is also good, and so is Chochos. It is likely that other answers will also be good. I figure "Advanced" is that same thing as having allot of skill and knowledge. To truely achieve your goals of being advanced, spend some time doing all of that, and a few more things. Everything you can handle, in parallel (Different parts of your practice time). When you learn a few different things at once, there is a tendancy for the learning of the differn't subjects to support each other. Your brain also learns faster, if subjects are varring back and fourth from one thing to another (changing say every 15 or 20 minutes) in each practice time.

My opinion in a nutshell: For the truely advanced, all music subjects and skills are seen by the user as part of the whole and interact with and support each other. (In this case the whole is the study of music and your instrument.)

PS: (I do not know a guitarist who is both advanced and does not know their Major and minor scales quite well.)

Edit: I like Wheat Williams' comment so much I am stealing it here: Do not play in a vacuum. Perform for, and play with others.

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One thing I love about playing guitar is - no matter how good I get, there is always room for improvement. It's a never ending journey and I enjoy every step. I admire your desire to continue improving your skills.

I am not sure what your personal definition of "advanced" is - but it is clear that you want to become a better guitar player. It is also apparent that you are willing to put in the time and effort to accomplish your goal of becoming an advanced player.

There are many paths to improvement. All of the options you mentioned in your question and all of the options presented in the answers thus far, will help you improve. You did not mention lessons which can help tremendously if you have the right teacher, but I will assume that self study is your preference.

Everyone's path to improvement is different. One method may work better for some, other methods may work better for others. The common goal of study, exercises, drills, and practice - is to improve your skill at playing your instrument.

I don't want to discount the importance of practicing scales and learning theory and new techniques - but I would like to explain the method I prefer to utilize to continually improve my playing ability.

First let's look at why one would want to even learn to play an instrument. I learned to play the guitar because I wanted to be able to accompany my singing and perform without an external accompaniment source. When I started writing songs, my ability to play the guitar took on an even higher purpose - that of helping me to compose the music to go with the lyrics I write. Other's learn because they want to perform for friends, play in a band, jam with other musicians, or perhaps simply for their own enjoyment.

In short - you learn to play an instrument (such as guitar) in order to be able to make or play music. And making music involves more than just playing scales and playing notes and chords. Nobody learns to play an instrument just so they can play scales. They want to be able to apply the skills and theory to the art of making or performing music.

More than anything else, I play guitar because I enjoy it. I spend some time practicing scales so I can improve. But for me personally, the more enjoyable way to improve my skills and master new techniques, is to continually learn to play new, more challenging songs, or play more challenging and more advanced arrangements of songs I already play.

I almost always have 4 or 5 songs I am working on and I like to spend most of my practice time working on mastering those new songs. The songs or arrangements I work on will incorporate the skills I want to improve, whether it's picking hand accuracy, picking hand speed, fretting hand techniques, new chords, fast chord changes or whatever.

By learning to improve my skills by applying them to more complex arrangements of actual songs, I feel that I am learning by making music - which is why we play an instrument in the first place. There is more to making music than being able to faithfully execute scales and techniques. Making music involves, timing, rhythm, soul, feeling, touch and all the nuances that make our playing musical. So when I focus on learning new songs to improve my playing ability, I am also learning to make my playing more musical!

Also, I find it far more enjoyable to learn a new song than to play scales and practice drills. It gives me a measurable goal. And I get a greater sense of accomplishment from mastering a new song that I previously could not play - than I do from getting faster and/or more accurate playing a scale. I am working towards "look - now I can play this new song" instead of "look how fast I can now play the A minor pentatonic scale".

I play guitar for the joy of being able to play music (which to me means playing songs). If I improve my skills by learning new songs, I have more fun and expand my musical repertoire at the same time as improving my playing ability.

Rote repetition has it's place, but it also has its limitations. Unless it gives you pleasure to play scales backwards and forwards - I would recommend that you challenge yourself to learn some new songs or new solos that you can play as part of the process of making music and make that a big part of what you do to improve your skill.

Then you will not only become a better guitarist, you will become a better musician. And you will derive more enjoyment from the time you spend with your instrument.

Good luck on your journey.

  • I agree: I think after 11 years of playing, it is past time to stop focusing on scales. A scale is not a solo. I always struggle with metaphors for this concept, but its like a carpenter who only makes jigs, or a dance troupe that only talks about dancing. – Yorik Nov 5 '15 at 15:38
  • @Yorik You are making an assumption that the OP ever focused on (non pentatonic, since that skill is claimed in the question) scales before. This assumption could in fact be wrong, taking the question at face value. – amalgamate Nov 5 '15 at 18:12
  • @amalgamate: I was focusing on the idea that scales are not solos. Running perfect scales is like making perfect color wheels or drawing a perfectly straight line: a useful exercise perhaps, but pragmatically useless in the wild. – Yorik Nov 5 '15 at 19:23
  • @Yorik Yeah, I understood. I would disagree with useless. There is a reason why art classes have color wheels. I don't remember any straight line exercise though. You make it sound a bit like you are giving an excuse not to work hard. Most hard work is good, and open minded and balanced hard work is better. – amalgamate Nov 5 '15 at 19:30
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You talk about scales and keys. How about some rhythm exercises? Syncopation, etc; it's not only for bass/drums, you can play some very interesting stuff in the guitar when you drift away from the usual rhythm patterns.

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My advice; Play what turns you on, and get out there and play live.

If you don't have a band, go to Open Mic Night at your local pub or coffee shop, and play in front of other musicians.

Visit one or two local Old Folks Homes, and arrange to go in and play and sing for them. Those old ladies and gentlemen will appreciate anything you have to offer, and they will inspire songwriting like you won't believe.

Set up on the corner at a local mall or shopping district, leave your guitar case open with a small amount of currency for seed money, and PLAY.

When guitar players get stuck in a rut, it's because they have narrowed their left and right limits of creativity. You will fix that by getting out there and interacting with a lot of other people.

Try it, you'll like it.

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