STG 064: 15 Components of a Complete Guitar Player


complete guitar player

What is a complete guitar player? There are a lot of different aspects to being a well-rounded musician. People debate this subject all the time. Is it all about how well you can play technical passages, or how well you understand theory or how many cool sounds you can wrangle out of your guitar? The correct answer is “all of the above”!

In this episode, I’ll get into 15 different components that go into making a complete guitar player. I’m sure there are MORE than 15, but this list is a good starting point. If you have a good understanding about what makes a guitar player “professional”, you can help your guitar students make a lot more progress on the instrument and do a lot better with your teaching business, too.

What do you think it means to be a complete guitar player? To call in with a question, a comment or to leave feedback for the show, call the Listener Feedback Hotline at (719) 428-5480 and leave a message! I just might include your recorded message in a future episode.

Items Mentioned In This Episode (15 Components of a Complete Guitar Player):

Link – Theta Music Trainer
Book – “Fretboard Theory” by Desi Serna
Book – “A Modern Method For Guitar” by William Leavitt
Link – Guitar Pro 6
Link – The Gear Page
Book – “Zen Guitar” by Philip Toshio Sudo

Podcast Transcript

One of the goals for your teaching business should be to produce well-rounded and complete musicians. Obviously you have a lot of goals, a lot of things that you’re kind of shooting for as a guitar teacher. You want to make a good living and you want to make a difference in people’s lives, and you want to attract students, and do all those cool things, but you should also have as one of your goals to help them develop and become the best musician that they can be. A lot of times that’s not just helping them take lessons over a year and teaching them just the songs that they want to learn, and things like that. I mean yes, your lessons should be kind of guided and directed by the interest and the goals that the student has, but there are also some things that you bring to the table as an experience teacher, as a musician, where you can help them develop in areas that they may not have thought about before.

So, the goal here is to produce well-rounded and complete musicians. And that just begs the question: “What is a well-rounded and complete musician?” What are all the aspects that make someone a complete guitarist, without any gaps, without any weak areas, without any things that they’ve overlooked in their pursuit to learn how to play the guitar? So, that’s what we’re going to talk about in the episode. You know, there are a lot of different pieces to that puzzle and there’s a lot of disagreement between guitar teachers and between musicians about how it all fits together. Nobody agrees one hundred percent on what makes a musician great or complete or well rounded. There’s a lot of common ground and that’s what I’m going to get into today, but I’m sure I’m going to leave things out in this discussion. So, if you have any suggestions of things that should be on the list, then please tell me about it in the show notes and then we can talk about it there.

But what I’m going to do is I’m going to give you 15 of those pieces to the puzzle in this episode. And I’m not saying that you aren’t a good musician if you don’t have all 15 of these things mastered. Okay, very few people in the world probably do, but it’s all things that we can be working on to become better guitar players ourselves and better teachers too. We all have areas that we can improve in. So, let me know in the comments for this episode, in the show notes, what you think are the most important areas for being a successful and complete guitar player.

So, the cool thing about this though: if you have a good understanding of this information, then you can focus your lessons and you can focus your curriculum on these various areas of development, and then you could probably produce some pretty stellar guitar players out of your teaching business. You know? I mean these things – these 15 things – I’m going to talk about will help you create more complete musicians out of your students, which is going to increase your retention and it’s going to increase the word-of-mouth referrals coming into your business. It’s going to help you in a bunch of different ways, but these 15 things will also increase your credibility and your “expert status” in the eyes of your students and the people that want to study with you, because you’re going to be perceived as someone that knows their stuff.

And these 15 things are also going to inject an element of variety into your lessons that can help your students. You know, help them keep them from getting bored. If they’re just kind of working on the same things a lot, you can mix in some of these different areas and kind of shake things up a little bit for them. And then also, these 15 things are going to help you focus on developing all of these areas in your own musicianship too. So, by having a better understanding of what makes up a great musician – the components of a complete guitar player – it helps you in every different level. It helps you as a player. It helps you as a teacher. It helps your students. It helps your teaching business. It’s just a good thing to do sometimes; is just take a few minutes and stop and think about all the different aspects of musicianship that you could cover in your lessons so that you can incorporate those things maybe a little bit more.

So, 15 is a pretty long list, and I’ve made a commitment to myself to keep this podcast episode relatively brief and concise because I know I have a tendency to kind of ramble on a little bit sometimes, so let’s jump right into this list of 15 things and talk about each one of them and how they can apply to your teaching business and your own guitar playing too.

Component #1 – Technique

Okay, so the first thing is technique. This is probably the thing that people that aren’t musicians that are still kind of on the beginning side of being a musician or guitar player – that’s what they think is important. Technique. That’s what seems to impress people the most when they don’t really understand what makes up a true musician. This is the obvious thing that people notice about being a complete musician, but really it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You know, it’s not about how many notes you can play, and how fast you can play, and how clean you can play. I mean those are all important aspects of being a good musician, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

I mean you can just go to any guitar center or music store, here in the States for sure, and you’ll find people over there that can play all kinds of fast licks and stuff that they’ve learned listening to CDs and YouTube video, but they don’t know the notes on the fretboard and, you know, they don’t have a basic understanding in music theory and things like that. So, technique is definitely important. I don’t want to downplay it, but really the goal of technique is not just to be able to play fast and clean. It’s about craftsmanship. It’s not about how fast you can play. It’s what you can do with that technique to actually create music that means something and that moves people emotionally and connects with them.

So, that should be the goal of technique. Not just to be able to play, you know, as fast as Slash or Buckethead, or whatever guitar one or more of your students are kind of interested in. You know, it’s about: “Okay, what can I learn from this person technically, and then how can I use that to kind of create my own thing and find my own voice on the guitar?” So, technique is important, but it’s not the most important thing by far. You know, there are a lot of really great musicians that don’t have super fast, blazing technique, but the ones that are complete and well rounded and have great technique are even that much better.

So, when you think about technique, I just want to encourage you to keep the word craftsmanship in mind. Think about what you can do with that technique, what kind of beautiful things you can build, and bring a level of artistry to guitar playing, and then you can encourage your students to do the same thing. So, if they get obsessed with speed or get obsessed with technical exercises, and things like that, then you can say, “Okay, this is good. It’s good that you’re working on this, but you have to think a little bit bigger. You have to take a step back and view things from a higher level so that you have a context for this technique and so that you know what to do with it to make real music.” You know? So, technique is the first area of musicianship that’s important.

Component #2 – A Well-Trained Ear

The next one is to have a well-trained ear. Now, this is one of the areas that are going to pay the biggest dividends in your musicianship; is if you can spend some time yourself doing ear training, but also doing it with your students and helping them to develop their ears more fully from a guitar playing perspective. So, what I’ve found out – I’ve spent a lot of time doing ear training over the years and, you know, every once in a while I’ll pick it up and try to do some more stuff and learn more intervals and do different things like that. But I’ve found that if you can’t hear it, you can’t play it either and you definitely don’t understand it. It all starts. Before it comes out of your fingers, it starts in your mind and it starts with what you hear, with how well trained your ear is.

So, if you want to be able to understand how something is working and you want to be able to play it, then you definitely have to start, in my opinion, with being able to hear it first. Having ear training done in that area. And it improves everything that you do on the guitar. It’s been my experience. All the times that I’ve spent working on perfect fourths and perfect fifths and major and minor thirds and octaves, and a lot of the way that you train your ears is to just sing those things, to play them and sing them, because just playing them a lot of times doesn’t develop your ear enough. You actually have to use your voice. And if you can sing something, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve mastered it from an ear training perspective, if you can do it well consistently.

So, you know, singing things like intervals, like I just mentioned. Singing scales backwards and forwards, and mixing them up and things like that. Singing different arpeggios, major and minor and different keys, and things like that while you’re playing them on the guitar. Those are all examples of things you could do to develop your ear a little bit better, and you can create exercises out of those and work with your students on them too. So, ear training is very important. There are lots of websites available that will help you do ear training. They’ll drill you and give you exercises that you and your students can do outside of the lessons and things like that too. So, if you do some Google searches, I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

But there’s one site. It’s called Theta Music Trainer that one of the guitar teachers in STG All-Access turned me on to, and it’s a paid site, but they have like an annual fee of, I think, like 99 dollars a year, and it lets you offer that ear training portal to all of your students for free. You know, you just basically buy a one-year 99-dollar studio license, and then all of your students – you can set up logins for them and they can login. And basically, it takes ear training and turns it into an online game, and there are like tons of different games and things in there that can help you develop your ear in a more interesting way. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes to Theta Music Trainer, and then you can check that out and see if that’s something that would help you with the ear training part of the lessons that you teach.

Component #3 – Practice Skills

Okay, so the next of the 15 components of a complete guitar player is practice skills. So, think about that one for a second. You know, this is kind of like which comes first: the chicken or the egg kind of thing, because if you don’t have good practice skills, then you’re probably not going to become a professional, complete, well-rounded guitar player anyway because you’re not going to develop any of these skills that I’m talking about. If you want to have good technique, you have to practice. If you want a well-trained ear, you have to practice. It takes work that you have to do to get to that point. And without good practice skills, it’s going to be a lot harder to develop the rest of these qualities. I’m going to say that it’s going to be almost impossible.

So, practicing is easy. It’s simple. I should say simple. It’s not really easy sometimes. It’s hard work, but if you want to have good practice skills, you have to be disciplined and you have to be organized. And I’ve done other podcast episodes and articles about practicing and things like that. You can check those out on the site. But basically, if you can just help mentor your guitar students and teach them how to practice, then half of the battle is going to won right there, because they could take that knowledge and they can go and learn anything that they want to be able to do on the guitar. If they have the self-discipline to organize their practice schedules and keep track of their progress, and all of those kinds of things, then there’s nothing that they can’t learn if they want to put their mind to it, because you’re going to give them a framework that they can use to develop any skill that they want, musically and even in other areas of their lives too. So, practicing is that important.

So, help them. Help your students to discipline themselves. Give them some accountability on their practicing. You know, ask them how much time they got in and what they accomplished in the previous week before their lesson and things like that. And then, you know, give them written practice handouts and lesson plans and exercises, and organize everything for them and help them to know what to practice first, and how long to do it, and how many repetitions, and what metronome setting, and all the other different details. Help them kind of figure that stuff out so that they just have a nice, clear, easy plan when they go into their practice sessions that they can just kind of knock it out from beginning to end.

And then, you know, making it easy for them like that is going to make it a lot more likely that they’re actually going to practice. And if they don’t practice, they’re not going to get results, so it’s in everybody’s best interest for them to get their practice times in. So, make it as fun and easy and engaging as you can for your students, and it’s going to help them and that’s, in turn, going to help you because it’s going to make your business more successful too.  So, practice is an important one.

Component #4 – A Good Sense of Rhythm and Timing

The fourth aspect to being a complete guitarist and a well-rounded musician is a good sense of rhythm and timing. Very important. I started out my music journey. You know, I’ve mentioned other times that I kind of started playing guitar when I was like eight or nine years old, and I got put into a group guitar class with a terrible teacher, and I only lasted about three session and then I quit and didn’t pick the guitar up again for ten years, until I was 18. That’s the whole lost decade with the guitar story that some of you may have heard me talk about before. Well, what I haven’t said very often is that in the middle of that ten years, when I was 13 or 14, I started playing the drums. So, that ended up being the first instrument that I really took to and spent a lot of time practicing.

And I had great parents. They helped me come up with the money to buy all the symbols and drums, and cases and hardware, and everything else that I needed. And they were gracious enough to let me practice and beat the crap out of those drums and cymbals every afternoon when I would get home from school for two, three, or four hours sometimes. I would just play until I had blisters and my ears were ringing, and it was crazy. I was like obsessed with the drums, man. And my parents helped me out a lot by putting up with that. You know, as a parent today, I don’t know if I would let my kids play the drums all afternoon, you know, because you could hear that racket from like two blocks away, down the street. So, anyway. The whole point is that rhythm was deeply ingrained into me.

I used to practice on a pad whenever I couldn’t get to my drums, and I would use a metronome and just play, play, play, play, play all the time. And you know, ended up playing drums in bands and things like that before I finally got tired of lugging all that equipment around and wanted something that I could write songs on and picked up the guitar again. But those rhythm and timing skills that I learned as a drummer made a huge difference in my ability to play the guitar. Having great pitch is important, but it doesn’t help you if you can’t play in time. You know, you really have to have the skills. If you want to play with other musicians, you have to be able to play without speeding up and slowing down. You have to not be sloppy whenever you execute your picking and your fretting hand, and things like that.

So, having a good sense of rhythm and timing is a critical skill, and you can throw out a bunch of rhythmic exercises for your students if that’s something that they need improvement in. You know, one of the things that I did is I had all of these drum books, like Progressive Steps Towards Syncopation and some of these older drum method books that I picked up when I was actively playing the drums. I don’t play very much anymore, the drums anyway, but I took those books. They had a lot of rudiment exercises in it. So, one big way that those books helped me was it helped me with learning how to read music from a rhythmic perspective. And in drum music, they don’t have all the notes and the lines and spaces like for guitar, but I really learned a lot about how to read rhythm from my days as a drummer.

And those exercises, those rudiments and different exercises and note combinations and the sight-reading exercises for drummers were great for working on your picking skills and learning how to do a little bit of reading at the same time. I’ll talk about reading in a second, but I’m not an expert reader at all, but I got a really good, solid foundation from my days as a drummer. So, all of that experience and all of that time I put in did not get wasted when I switched over to the guitar. I brought that sense of rhythm and timing with me, and it’s made me a much better guitar player than I would’ve been otherwise. So, if you could work those elements into your guitar lessons with your students, then you can help them get a lot better too.

Component #5 – Music Theory

So, the next one is music theory. I’ve done a whole podcast or more on music theory, so I’m not going to get into how important that is. You guys already know that if you’ve been listening for any length of time, but a good musician understands the language of music and understands why things work the way that they do. You know, a lot of us can play things on the guitar, but we don’t know why we’re playing them. We don’t know why it sounds this way whenever you change this interval and why it sounds that way whenever you play it this way, and things like that. But if you want to be a complete guitar player, you really need to understand the rules of the game.

Here’s an example for you. Let’s take a look at car mechanics. If you’re going to take your car in to get it worked on, you’ve got a lot of choices of mechanics that you can pick from. And some of them know how to change parts, right? They know how to take off an alternator and put on a new one. They know how to replace the battery in your car. They know how to do different things. They can take off one part and put on a new one to replace it if it’s broken. So, there are some kinds of mechanics that are good parts changers, and then there are other mechanics that actually understand how an engine works. They understand how a car works. They understand how a transmission and a clutch works.

So, which would you rather bring your vehicle to, to get serviced? Somebody who just know how to change some parts or somebody that has such a deep understanding of your car that they could fix pretty much any problem with it without costing you an arm and a leg? Obviously you want to bring your vehicle to the second kind of person. And there are two different kinds of musicians. There are musicians that know how to play the guitar and there are musicians that understand how music works on the guitar. And whichever camp you fall in, if it’s something that – you know, if you know how to play the guitar, but you don’t really have a deep understanding of theory, that’s something that you can work towards and aspire to. And the more you learn, the more you’ll be able to teach your students.

But you can impress the importance of it on them as well in the lessons. And theory is so cool because I’ll tell you what. It changes the way that you write when you write songs and it changes the way that you play the guitar because it opens you up to all of these possibilities for music that you never knew existed before. You know, you really do. You have to know the rules before you can break them and bend them. And just having a good understanding of music theory can help you in untold ways on the guitar, in more ways than I can explain here in this episode. Just like ear training, learning more about music theory improves everything that you do on the guitar. Not just the fact that you understand how everything is based on the major scale and how the intervals work, and the formula for different chords and chord progressions, and things like that.

Yeah, that’s all important, but it helps everything that you do on the guitar. It helps your soloing. It helps your songwriting. It helps your improvisation and it helps all these different areas so that you can be more successful in everything you do on the guitar. So, ear training and music theory are two of the big ones that can really pay big dividends for the time that you invest. And learning more about music theory is easy. All you’ve got to do is check out a book called Fretboard Theory by Desi Serna. And it’s a really good book. I’ve gone through it myself and it really helps you understand music theory from a guitar perspective. There’s not a lot of sight-reading and stuff like that in it. It just explains the relationship of the different shapes on the neck and all the ways that you can build off of that, and then how they all fit together from a music theory perspective.

So, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well, so you can check that book out. It’s great. I highly recommend it. Actually, Desi just came out with Volume II of Fretboard Theory, which it just came out like a few weeks ago and I’m actually reading that one right now too, but you should definitely check out his books if you want to learn more music theory from a guitar player’s perspective. Highly recommended.

Component #6 – Sight Reading

So, the next component of a complete guitar player: guess what it is. Sight-reading. I kind of alluded to that a few minutes ago, but sight-reading is one of the things that just polarizes people so much. I know that those of you that are classical and jazz players that are listening to this right now – you’re probably kind of rolling your eyes a little bit and you’re like: “Man, come on. Everybody. This is not that hard. Everybody should know how to do this.” And I agree with you. But then those of you that are rock and country and blues players, and things like that, you might be listening to this and like: “Man, I don’t know how to read a note. And it’s overwhelming to me. You know, I kind of wish I could, but it’s never anything that I really spent the time to learn. Do I really need that?” You know?

Well, let me tell you. You can be a good musician without learning how to read, but you definitely limit yourself. And reading music is just like being able to read books. It’s about literacy. Musical literacy. If you can read music, it opens up the doors to tons of additional music and resources that you would not otherwise have access to. I mean you could buy the books and the sheet music and things, but you wouldn’t be able to read it to actually apply it to your playing. You know? There’s this huge body of information that you have access to when you know how to read that you can’t get to any other way.

It also improves your understanding of rhythm, of timing, of pitch relationships, of harmony, and even music theory because it gives you a visual reference for the things that were only audible before or just concepts in your mind that you were trying to process. Well, if you look at it on a sheet of paper, it really pulls everything together and helps you understand it better. And then another benefit of being musically literate is that it enables you to communicate with higher-caliber musicians better. You can speak their language, which opens doors for you to do studio work maybe, to play with higher-caliber musicians than you have in the past. A lot of times, being able to sight-read is what can get you in the door.

So, even if you don’t learn how to like sightread in real time while you’re playing, if you could at least learn the basics and get used to being able to interpret a piece of music and read it so that you can figure it out, that’s a huge advantage over someone that never developed that skill. And like I said, I’m not an expert reader. You know, it takes me a while sometimes to kind of pick certain pieces out and everything, but I understand all the fundamentals and I know enough to be able to pick up a piece of sheet music and basically play it if it’s not too complicated. And you know, it’s been great. It’s really helped me as a guitar player.

So, reading. Let me just tell you. It’s not that hard to learn. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The main thing is just you need to make sure that you don’t have a bad attitude about it.  Not being able to read music doesn’t make you a second-class citizen or a second-rate musician. You know? It’s just one component of being a complete guitar player that you could probably work on if it’s something that you think would benefit you, because it’s a skill that you can learn if you really want to.

So, I have a couple tips for you if you want to get into reading and start learning this yourself, or you’re looking for a good way to teach it to your students. There’s a guitar method. It’s called A Modern Method for Guitar, by William Leavitt, and it’s published by Berklee Press. And there are three different little skinny volumes you can get at the music store. I’m going to put a link in the show notes to, and all three volumes are bound together into one paperback book. And if you want to learn how to start reading music, I recommend that you pick up A Modern Method for Guitar by William Leavitt, and then just start working through it one page at a time.

Every day go through one lesson, because he’s got all kinds of stuff in there. He teaches you the fundamentals, what the note values are, the lines and spaces, the rhythmic values, all the different notation symbols, and things like that. And then he has a bunch of original music in there that you’ve never heard before probably so that you can actually learn how to read and not have your memory kick in and tell your fingers where to play. You actually have to use your eyes to figure out what he’s teaching you to do, so it helps you learn how to read a lot faster. So, I’ll link to that in the show notes.

And if you have software, like Guitar Pro 6, you could put together tabs and then it’ll automatically translate them into musical notation for you. So, you can download and run scores that other people have put together for Guitar Pro, and you can follow along and see what the notes do while you’re listening. So, it’s a great way to kind of familiarize yourself with things a little bit more. You can drag and drop notes and different musical notation symbols, and see what it does to the sound. Stuff like that. A great way to experiment and kind of learn and figure more about what reading music is all about. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes to Guitar Pro. You should definitely check that out as well.

Component #7 – Repertoire

Alright, so the next component is repertoire. Lovely French word there. Repertoire is the songs that you can play on the guitar. A body of good songs that you know, that you’ve learned, that you’ve mastered, that you can play on the guitar. Knowing a bunch of songs kind of gives you context for all the musical concepts that you learn. If you’re learning all these different things about music theory, if you’re learning all these different things about ear training, it’s nice if you can have songs to fit all of those different things into so that you can understand them better. It all makes sense because it’s about making music. It’s not about these isolated concepts.

And another thing is you could be like an amazing guitar player, but if you can’t play songs, then you’re not going to impress too many people a lot of times, because average people don’t think you’re a good musician unless you can play songs. That’s kind of the gauge. “Oh yeah, this guy over here, man. He can play this song and this song and this song. He can play every song by this band.” You know, and they think you’re so cool because you can play songs. So, not only does it make you a better musician and give you context for all these different musical concepts, but it really makes you look good in front of all your family and friends too. So, yeah, work with your students on building a repertoire of songs, and it should be songs that they like. Okay, it goes without saying. And you could use every song they want to learn. You can pick it apart and turn it into a theory lesson or an ear-training lesson, even a sight-reading lesson if you use Guitar Pro or by the score for it, or something like that.  So, take that repertoire. Work it into your lessons with your students, and you can help them cover a lot of bases through the songs that they already want to learn.

Component #8 – Musical Memory

The next component is musical memory. Musical memory is kind of important, and it’s something that you can develop. And it basically is the ability to pick up and remember lines and phrases on the guitar. Being able to listen to something and then remember it in your mind so that you can figure it out and play it. And then, whenever you’re doing jamming and improv and things like that, and you’re doing call and response playing, so you’re listening and remembering what the other person plays so that you can play something to counter it and things like that. And having good musical memory really helps you to be quick on your feet in a live musical situation, and it can cover your butt in a lot of ways, especially if you’re not a good sight-reader or whatever. You can hear something and then you remember it, and then you can play it.

So, that’s something that you can work on with your students. You can do drills with them. You can play two or three things and then have them go back and either sing them or play them for you. You can do things to help them improve their memories. You can give them assignments and drills, and things like that. So, it’s just something to be aware of that you can work into your lessons to kind of help your students do a little bit better with it. So, musical memory is important.

Component #9 – Understanding of Gear and Tone

The next thing is one of my favorite things. The next component is understanding of gear and tone.  I have gear acquisition syndrome pretty bad. Every since I started playing the guitar and reading guitar magazines, you know, that was before the world wide web and all that came out. But especially I joined this forum called And if you’re interested in gear at all, I highly recommend that you check it out, but they talk about a lot of other things on there too. But there’s like – I don’t know – 100 thousand guitar players on The Gear Page, and a lot of them have this thing called gear acquisition syndrome. You know, the initials are GAS.

And it’s a chronic condition that has no known cure, but basically it’s all about just buying the best quality gear that you can afford and then getting as much of it as you can. Acquiring as much gear as you can and then having this huge pile of amps and guitars and pedals, and stuff like that. So, I’ve done that several times. I’ll get a huge pile of stuff – boutique stuff, modded gear, amps, and all this stuff. I’ve owned almost every kind of amp that has ever been made from every manufacturer over the years. And bought it, sold it, traded it. Oh man. And then I’ll amass this mountain of stuff and then end up selling most of it, and then getting back down to nothing. So, I’m kind of at the bottom of the curve right now, where I’ve sold a lot of my gear and I’m starting to kind of start acquiring a little bit more of it again. So, GAS is on the rise here.

But as fun as it is to collect pedals and to put boards together and wire everything up, and all of that, you know, what I’ve found is most of the tone that comes out of your guitar really does come from your fingers. You know, guys like Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I mean those guys sound like themselves pretty much no matter what they played. And you can go and pick up their guitar and their exact rig, and you know what. You’re not going to sound like them. You’re still going to sound like you, playing through somebody else’s equipment. You know? The whole thing about tone – it’s not that elusive. You just have to develop your playing and the way that you fret your notes and the way that you pick your notes, and the emotion and the expression that you put into it, and all of those different things, and that does a lot for the way that you actually sound as a guitar player.

But all this other stuff is icing on the cake. So, you should know how to achieve the sound that you hear in your head. That’s the goal of messing with gear and guitar tone and all that. You could obsess about it. You can play with EQ forever, trying to dial in the exactly perfect sound that you think you should have and all of that. And whatever, that’s cool, but if you at least have a basic understanding of what pedals do what, the basic categories, kind of what order to put them in and kind of how to dial in some of the settings and things like that, and what you can use them for to make music, then that’s a good place. That’s a good foundation of gear and tone. And you can teach your students that. You can bring your rig in whenever you teach and you can demonstrate the different pedals, and you can explain how they’re wired up and what you use each one for, and things like that, and that can help them out a lot.

But the whole thing about gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) – I know that it’s not about how much gear you have or how expensive it is, or what name brand is on the pedals and things like that, or the tube amp. It’s really all about knowing how to use it. So, I want to encourage you to teach your students how to use amps, how to use their effects, how to use the pickups on their guitars, and things like that to get really cool sounds and things that they want to be able to play and the tones that they want to be able to reproduce. So, gear and tone is an important component. A complete guitarist has an understanding of tone and gear.

Component #10 – Listening Skills

The next one is listening skills. So, listening skills. This is all about paying attention to the small details. You know, and some people are better listeners in general than others. You know? But when it comes to music, it’s about listening to a song and not just hearing the melody and the chords, but listening deeper, and listening and trying to kind of figure out what’s going on rhythmically. The interplay between the drums and the rhythm guitar. The interplay between the kick drum and the bass guitar. The harmony vocals. And if there’s more than one guitar player, kind of how they’re working together and what’s going on from a music theory perspective. Just listening and paying attention to the details. Listening critically to music.

And this applies to playing live too, because if you want to be a good band member, a good guitarist in a band, you’ve got to be able to listen to the other people in the band. You have to be play off the drums. You have to play off the singer. You have to lock in with the bass and with the kick drum, and all of those things. So, those listening skills come very, very, very handy in a live musical situation, but they also help you kind of get a better awareness of what’s going on in the music you listen to.

So, a good way to work on this with your students is to play a piece of music and then ask them questions about it. Like: “Did you catch the way that the high hat in the acoustic guitar were locked in rhythmically in this certain part of the song?” And maybe they never even noticed it before, but you can point it out. And point out all the other cool things that you’re aware of, and then they’ll start to listen for things like that more whenever they listen to music too. And then you can expand on that and get into live performance and things too, but at least an awareness of what listening is and how important it is. You can communicate that in your guitar lessons to your students.

Component #11 – Performance Skills

So, it’s important, and that leads right into the next component, which is performance skills. So, unless you plan to be a studio musician exclusively or just play in your bedroom for fun, then you’re going to be playing in front of people, so you need to work on your performance skills. And you know, those things include stage presence. I mean you can be a phenomenal-sounding guitar player, but if people are going to be watching you play, you want to make it a little interesting for them so that, at the very least, you can smile. You look at people. You can nod. Acknowledge that there is an audience of people in front of you, watching you play your guitar.

You can move around a little bit. You can express yourself while you play. Okay, important stuff. And then the other piece of that is audience engagement. So, instead of them watching you, you engage with the audience a little bit and you can even get them involved. You know, there’s a lot of cheesy example of that, like doing claps and chants, and things like that at concerts, but you can do things to give people what they paid for and help them have a good time while you’re up there playing your guitar. So, impress the importance of that on your students because it’s going to make a big difference whenever they go to play in bands and if they try to do anything with music as a career. The better live performer they are, the more in demand they’re going to be. So, you can really help them out by teaching them a little bit about that and how to have performance skills.

And one way you can do it is through student recitals. If you have recitals every once in a while, you can give your students a chance to get up and play, and then you can give them tips. You can teach them how to be a good performer as a way to prepare for their recital, and then they can get up in front of their family and friends and actually do it. You know, you can give them little tricks to do and little funny things to do to make people laugh, and stuff like that. I mean just be creative and you can really improve their performance skills and teach them what it means to be a true performing guitarist in their lessons, and especially if you do recitals with them. So, performance skills are an important component.

Component #12 – Musical Diversity

And let’s see. We’ve got about four of them left here. So, the next one is musical diversity. Musical diversity. Most complete, well-rounded, professional musicians don’t get locked into a single genre of music and a single thing that they do all the time. You know, usually they are very diverse in the music they listen to and all the aspect of their musicianship. So, the truth is you can learn so much from people, from styles of music, from areas that are different from what you presently know as a guitar player and a musician just by kind of experimenting a little bit and just absorbing a little bit here and a little bit there. Listening to things and stepping outside of your comfort zone musically, you could pick up on a lot of cool stuff that you can apply to your playing.

So, you can do things like play lots of different styles of music. If you’re a rock player, then branch out a little bit. Maybe learn a little classic. Learn a little bit of jazz. Learn a little bit of country, heaven forbid. I mean they have some amazing guitar players in country music, like Albert Lee and Brad Paisley, and people like that. And I mean get into a little bit of their music and try to figure out what kind of stuff they’re doing, and then you can apply that stuff to your rock playing and do things that people may have never even heard before. So, play a lot of different styles of music.

Play other instruments besides the guitar. You know, I mentioned that I started out seriously as a musician with the drums. And I told you about what impact that made on my guitar playing. Well, I also took some piano lessons whenever I was a teenager too, and that made a huge impact, because that started teaching me how to read music and how the notes lay out on the chromatic scale, the major scale, and all the different things. Sharps and flats. All of that stuff. I first got exposed to that in piano lessons, and all of that stuff applied directly to the guitar when I started playing it. It helped me learn that much faster. So, if you haven’t branched out into any of these other instruments, learn bass. Learn piano. Learn drum. Pick up a ukulele or a banjo, or something, and broaden your horizons a little bit, and that’s going to all be stuff that you can bring into your guitar lessons with your students.

And then the other thing you want to do with diversity is you want to play with a lot of different people. You know? Go to jam sessions. Go to open mic nights. Go and sit in with as many different bands, as many different musical settings, as many different musicians as you can, and just see what comes out. See what happens. And then encourage your students to do all the same things. Try to expose them to styles of music that they may have never experienced before. They to encourage them to mess around with other instruments, and then try to get them to play with as many different people as they can, because they’re going to learn a lot from that too. Okay, so diversity is huge. It really brings in a whole new world of information into your musicianship.

Component #13 – Creativity

And the next one is creativity. This component is about finding your own voice and creating something new and not just copying other people. So, we learn new things. We start out by imitating people. When we’re little kids, little babies, we imitate our parents and our siblings, and the people around us, until we grow up and discover our own voice. When you first start to talk when you’re a baby, you just copy like a parrot what other people are saying. But then eventually you get it and you understand language, and then you can speak and express your own creative thoughts and have a conversation, and things like that, when you’re like three years old and older.

So, same thing with music. We learn. In the beginning, we learn by playing by wrote and memorizing things that other people have written and played, and then we learn how to do that as a way to understand what it means to be a guitar player. But then, at some point, you have to break away from that a little bit and you have to start trying to discover your own voice as a guitarist and create something that’s unique to you if you can. And you know, the avenues of expression for that are improvisation obviously. When you’re first learning how to play lead guitar, you end up memorizing a lot of guitar solos, and I still do that once in a while. When I kind of want to shake the dust off of what I’m playing, I’ll go and take a solo that I really like and just try to kind of copy the phrasing that that guitar player is doing.

And then I’ll forget about it, after like a few days, and then sometimes it’ll just mysteriously crop up in my playing, kind of regurgitated and rehashed into what I do. So, that’s something that I enjoy doing once in a while too, but beyond just memorizing other people’s solos, it’s good to be able to come up with your own. Even if you write them out in advance and kind of compose the solo, and then go out and play it, you know, that’s cool too, but you can help your students to do that. And after they’ve been learning solos from songs for a while, then you can say, “Okay, let’s see what you can come up with on your own,” and then throw a chord progression at them and let them see what they can do.

You know, let them express their creativity. And then songwriting falls into this category. It’s really good if you could teach your students how to write songs, or at least how to write guitar music. So, work with them. Help them. Give them writing assignments if it’s something that they’re interested in at all. And when you’re playing back and forth in your lessons, give them opportunities to just come up with little pieces, and then put it all together. And if you want to write songs with them, you can do that too. That’s going to instill a lot of confidence in them and it’s going to open up a well of creativity that’s going to serve them for as long as they play the guitar.

And then the last piece of that is collaboration, obviously. One of the cool things about writing songs with other people is that it forces you to just come out of your shell and to lay your inhibitions aside, and you just have to kind of put your musical ideas out there into the world and let come what may, right? They may be great. They may be horrible. They may be average. You know? But you put your ideas out there and it takes a special kind of courage to be able to do that. You know, not everybody could do it. If you’re afraid of rejection and if you really need approval from other people, it’s going to be really hard to collaborate with someone live, sitting down with two guitars. You know? But if you can encourage that with your students, if you can make them feel safe when they do that, then you’re going to help unleash that creativity in them that’s going to make them amazing musicians and songwriters.

So, the songs that they write may only be stuff that their mom and dad can appreciate. Maybe it’ll never make it on to Top 40 Radio or something like that, but whenever we create something new as musicians, we add beauty to the world. You know, that’s what the art piece of this is all about. The word art is the keyword in artist, and as a music artist, you create art. So, by helping your students be more creative and expressive on the guitar, you make the world a better place.

Component #14 – Attitude

So, two more components here and then we’re going to wrap it up. The next one is something I talk about all the time. Attitude. Attitude is a huge component of a complete guitar player. And this is one of the qualities that can make or break you as a musician. You know, everybody knows. You could probably think of two or three people right now that are great musicians with terrible attitudes. They can play really well. They have all the other stuff down, but nobody likes them. Nobody wants to work with them, because I don’t know. They’re ego driven or they don’t show up on time, or they’re mean, or whatever. I mean there are just all these different things that are attitude-related that can determine whether your successful as a musician or not.

So, here’s some of the good attitudes that you need to have.  You need to have a passion for music. You need to love music.  It shows if you have a passion for music in everything that you do with the guitar. So, if you don’t have that passion, if it’s just one of those things where it’s like: “Eh, I could take it or leave it. Yeah, I’ll go to my guitar lesson today. Yeah, I’ll practice a little while,” but then you’re not really excited about the guitar. You’re not really in love with the guitar. Then that’s going to show and you’re probably never going to be more than just a hobby musician. And I’m talking about your students here.

So, passion is important. Work ethic is important, because if you don’t have a good attitude of a good work ethic, then you’re not going to put in the work that it’s going to take to become a truly great musician. You’re not going to practice. You’re not going to study. You’re not going to do ear training. You’re not going to learn how to read. You’re not going to learn how to do music theory. All of those things take work. Okay, once you understand how important they are, you have to put the effort in to do them, and your students are going to have to do that too. So, their work ethic is important.

They have to be prompt. They have to have the ability to show up on time. If they don’t show up on time for the lessons, chances are they’re not going to show up on time for other stuff either.  So, if you can somehow help them to develop that on-time-ness, where they honor other people’s time and they respect other people’s time, then you’re going to serve them well because they’re going to carry that over into their careers and stuff too.

They should be positive and optimistic. Okay, negative and pessimistic people – nobody really wants to be around them. A positive and optimistic musician is going to have a lot more friends and a lot more networking opportunities, and a lot more opportunities in general to do stuff with their guitar, because people are going to want to play with someone that’s positive and optimistic and makes them feel good about themselves.

And then the last attitude that’s important is to never stop learning; to be a lifelong learner. And that attitude of: “I will never have completely arrived.” You know, I’ve been playing almost 25 years now, the guitar, and I still have so many things I want to learn. I mean I just love learn things on the guitar that I didn’t have a good grasp of before. And if you can impart that spirit of always seeking more knowledge about the guitar and music into your student, then obviously they’re going to keep studying with you for a lot longer because they want to keep learning stuff. So that’s going to help your retention, but it’s going to make them lifelong learners and guitar players that are going to constantly be getting better as they get older, and that’s an amazing thing too.

Component #15 – Self-Expression

All of those things have to do with attitude. Then the last one. The last component of a complete guitar player is self-expression. Self-expression. I just got finished reading a really cool book that you should check out. It’s called Zen Guitar. And I will put a link to that in the show notes because I think it’s one of the coolest books I’ve ever read on understanding what a guitar playing is supposed to think and act like. And it gets into every internal aspect of what it means to play guitar so that you’re playing for the right reasons and that your expectations are realistic, and all these different things.

I mean it kind of comes at it from a Japanese, Zen perspective, but the book is made up of all these different little one or two-page chapters that each one teaches a lesson about how you can think more effectively as a musician and how you can get in touch with what you’re actually doing on the guitar and with the source of music and everything so that the ultimate goal is for you to be able to express yourself through the guitar. I think this is honestly the most important musical skill of all.

Self-expression allows you to convey your soul through music, and that’s one of the highest forms of art. One of the highest forms of musicianship, because it’s not, you know, how fast you can play 16th note triplets and 32nd notes on the guitar, and how fast you can do downstroke palm muting and things like that, or how many fancy chords you can string together that look impressive on the guitar, or something like that. You know, all of that stuff – that’s not really what playing music is all about, is it? It’s really about making an emotional connection with the people that are listening to you and about expressing who you are as a person through your guitar.

If you can do that, then you can touch people at a deep, deep, deep level with your music.  That’s where guitar becomes meaningful. That’s where it becomes art. So, check out Zen Guitar if you want to learn more about that. I highly recommend it. Man, it’s a really good book. There are a lot of good quotes in there too by other artists that he uses, the guy that wrote it, to illustrate his point. So, very good book, man. The way that I read it was I just took it and tried to read one or two chapters every day because some of it is so deep, you’ve really got to think about it and chew on it and apply it, so I didn’t want to read through the whole thing too fast. So, I kind of almost treated it like a devotional book or something, where you just read a little bit every day, but it’s really encouraged me and helped me to improve my self-expression on the guitar too, so you should definitely check that out.

And you can learn a little bit about it yourself, if this is kind of a foreign concept, and then you can teach it to your students.  That’s the common thread through all of these things. Check your own musicianship and apply things, learn things, fill in gaps in yourself, and then take that information and then teach it to your students too. It kind of flows through you, like water going through a stream.  It comes into you. It goes out into your students. And from there, it goes out into the world. So, it’s really cool stuff.

So, those are the 15 components of a complete guitar player. And like I said at the beginning, there are a lot of different aspects of being a great musician, which means lots of different things that you can teach your students. Lessons with them shouldn’t just be about learning new chords and scales and songs. That’s all important, but you should also dig into the deeper areas of musicianship and draw those things out of your students. Draw it out of them. Draw the greatness out of them. Give them opportunities to experiment, opportunities to learn, and opportunities to grow on the guitar instead of just giving them information every week. You’ll be a lot more successful as a guitar teacher if you do.

Thank You For Listening!

If you enjoyed this episode, or any of the other of the episodes of the STG podcast, and you haven’t left a rating or review yet on iTunes, I would really appreciate an honest rating and review from you. It’s one of the most important parts of the ranking algorithm in iTunes, but more importantly, it’ll show future listeners that this podcast is (or isn’t) worth listening to.

To leave a quick review, open up iTunes, search for Start Teaching Guitar and then leave a rating and review as shown below. You can do this from your mobile device as well, even if you’re not subscribed, and even if you listen on another platform – this is where I’d appreciate you leaving your review.


Feel free to use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this episode, to suggest a topic for a future episode or just to join in on the conversation with other guitar teachers.

STG 064: 15 Components of a Complete Guitar Player was last modified: May 12th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder