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Essential Elements Of Musicianship For Guitarists

With all of the endless resources circulating online, guitar players have access to more information than ever before. Countless channels on YouTube are available offering free advice, video tutorials and breakdowns of how to play songs, and tons of other content. This is all great of course, but through teaching, I have noticed a new problem that seems to plague eager developing guitarists.

Lack of available information certainly is no longer an issue for anyone with access to a computer or smartphone, however, for guitar players seeking to improve their skills and develop in a well-rounded way, focus seems to becoming an increasingly rare virtue. Although it’s easy to get caught up in what songs we know how to play, or what cool new tricks we can pull off on guitar, it’s important to remember that there are several different areas of musicianship that combine to complete a truly skilled guitarist’s arsenal, and neglecting any of these areas will cause your playing to suffer. I thought I’d break down the key areas:


Although to a beginner, scales may not seem like the most interesting topic, but to those in the know, scales are really an exciting and liberating concept. We can use them to write melodies, improvise, and create audible colours in our music. Having a fluid knowledge of scales and modes across the neck of the fretboard, and being able to play them in different positions, is a critical skill for the guitar player regardless of stylistic preferences.


Many guitar players begin to fall off track here. Yes, it’s true that rock guitar players might not find a ton of uses for an A7b5#9 chord, but having the skills to visualize the fretboard and create chord voicings does a lot for one’s songwriting, arranging and improvising ability. Being able to play chords in root position, 1st and 2nd inversions, as well as being able to form any chord extension are important skills, and one can’t say they are truly comfortable with the guitar fretboard until they can do so quickly and easily.

Rhythm Guitar Playing

The backbone of the songs we love, we can’t neglect rhythm guitar. Being able to read a chord chart, and put together an inspiring and stylistically suitable rhythm part is a lot tougher than a lot of guitarists might think. Having extensive knowledge of the previous two topics will come in very handy here. Not just being able to improvise chords and fills to connect them, but being skilled with rhythm and syncopation to the point that our rhythm parts are varied dynamically and in terms of the strum pattern. Lots of fun can be had with this topic especially when we can start experimenting with our right hand technique.

Lead Guitar

This is the favorite of most guitar players, so I’ll leave this one a little more sparse. However ,being able to not just play in key but hit the “right” sounding notes, as well as navigate through chord

changes without playing anything that sounds out of key.

Aural Skills

There is much we can cover here, but sound aural skills depend on the guitarist’s ability to name intervals by ear after hearing two pitches, identify chord types and extensions by ear, repeat melodic phrases by ear, repeat rhythms by clapping or stomping, as well as identifying time signatures after hearing musical phrases (not necessarily phrases beginning on the beat). A difficult set of skills to master, but when these are comfortable, it’s sure to make your playing experience flow easier and become much more enjoyable.

Although this is just a brief overview of some of the most essential skill areas for complete guitarists, having a firm grasp on all of these will definitely put you well on your way to becoming a well- rounded musician.

Matt Chanway is a professional guitarist and teaches guitar lessons in Surrey, British Columbia.