Many of us who have been playing for a long time wonder about our skill level. Are we still beginner or intermediate players, or can we consider ourselves advanced? What qualifies you as an advanced guitarist anyway?
The question is ultimately subjective. A player who seems advanced to one guitarist may be another’s beginner, and so forth. It’s also unclear what specific traits define an advanced guitarist.
That said, I’d like to lay out some meaningful guidelines that seem generally agreed upon in the community. Note that you can be an “advanced guitarist” without hitting everything on this list, since everyone has different points of focus.
1) Advanced Musicianship
Musicianship is about understanding, performing, and appreciating music. Advanced guitar players know a lot about music (history, theory, artists, etc.) and can demonstrate that to others, usually through performance.
Appreciating music sounds easier than it is. I mean, we all appreciate music to a certain degree, but experienced musicians listen to and love music on a whole new level. They hear more and feel more than ordinary listeners, and they think more as well.
So how do you improve your musicianship? I think the true answer is slowly and over time. But staying passionate about the sounds you love will surely speed up the process.
2) Technical Skill
We often associate advanced guitar playing with impressive technique. And while technical skills aren’t everything, I think we can all agree that they’re beneficial (and crowd-pleasing).
At their best, guitar chops grant you freedom, unlocking musical and interpretive possibilities. They also give you access to difficult repertoire across many styles.
If you’re looking to build up your technique, I recommend isolating any skills you need to work on (hammer-ons, barres, sweep picking, etc.) and drilling them each day.
The key is to treat technical practice as a kind of workout regimen. You wouldn’t expect to go to the gym once or twice and see immediate progress. Similarly, it takes at least months of regular training to turn your body into a capable guitar-playing mechanism.
If you want fingerstyle chops, be sure to check out my new eBook, Fingerstyle Fitness
. It offers 10 simple exercises for greater playing fluency and comfort. All 10 will enable you to master your fundamentals, fast-tracking your playing like never before.
3) Fretboard Knowledge
Many guitarists see knowing the fretboard as crucial to advancement. I tend to agree. Memorizing the fretboard is easier than you may think, and it pays huge dividends down the line.
So go ahead and learn the fretboard like the back of your hand. You’ll find many possible ways to do this, each with their own pros and cons. I’ll list a few methods below:
- Memorize like a schoolkid. Use flashcards, fill out printable fretboard charts, recite the notes up and down each string or fret, etc. Arguably the fastest method.
- Learn through scales, chords, or arpeggios. This ensures you learn the grid and real-world applications at the same time. But it’s slower than “pure” grid memorization.
- Regular Sight-Reading. This is my recommended approach. It allows you to explore the grid while engaging with real music, and it becomes fun after the initial difficult period.
Keep in mind that learning the fretboard takes time and effort, so don’t beat yourself up if you still don’t know it well after years of experience. You were probably more focused on learning music, and that’s totally justified.
That said, any part of the fretboard that feels unfamiliar to you is only holding you back. Taking some time to systematically learn each position is worth your while, and again, easier than you may think.
Check out my post on How to Memorize the Fretboard
for even more information!
4) Theory Fluency
Here’s a music theory test: how well would you be able to teach the basic (and not so basic) elements of music in a classroom setting? Do you know notes, chords, scales, modes, intervals, melody, harmony, etc.?
Advanced guitar players, likely having played for many years, tend to know that kind of stuff (often better than they admit). If you’d like to be on their level, it may be time to hit the books.
Read, watch, or listen to everything you an about the structure of music. I say just dive right in. Try to foster in yourself a hunger to learn, an eagerness to finally understand this aspect of music. Remember that anything you learn only adds to your playing arsenal, so there’s no harm in going for it.
If you’re looking for the best place to get started, check out my post on The Top 4 Books to Learn Guitar Theory
5) Creative Abilities
Advanced guitar players tend to be creative in their playing, but the way their creativity is expressed can vary.
Some guitarists focus on improvisation, creating original sounds in the heat of the moment. Although this is most common in Jazz and Blues, you’ll find musicians who love to improvise in virtually any style.
Another creative possibility has more to do with interpretation. That is, not making up lines on the spot but rather working with existing music to make performance an artistic statement. Classical guitarists are known for this, but this is a key practice for all musicians.
Finally, many advanced guitarists turn to composition. I’ve heard it said that composition and improvisation are two sides of the same coin, but the former simply gives you more time to think. In many ways, all these creative outlets for musicians are closely linked.
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of what might characterize an advanced guitar player. Again, not all these skills are necessary to be an amazing guitarist, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t find yourself everywhere on this list.
Let’s also note that being an advanced guitarist isn’t the end-all be-all. Music is about expressing yourself, having fun, and connecting with others (among other things), none of which requires an “advanced” self-rating.