What makes a good guitarist? The best attributes that make a good guitarist include a good grasp of music theory, musical aptitude, dexterity, discipline, dedication, commitment, curiosity, creativity, and of course, substantial knowledge of the instrument and how it works.
Trying to define what makes a guitarist good can be tricky because it is subject to individual opinions.
Perhaps many would say that a good guitarist possesses all the technical abilities to play flawlessly. Maybe, for others, a good guitarist is someone who can play any part and improvise. Others may hear a really wicked solo and think, “Hey, that’s one hell of a good guitarist right there!”
Yes, the answer to the question “What makes a good guitarist?” is contingent on subjective assessment.
But, really, to be considered a good guitarist, one does not necessarily need to know how to play like Jimi Hendrix (because he is not a good guitarist—he’s the greatest!). Certain traits separate a good guitarist from the average one, and these are:
A Good Guitarist Knows His Guitar Really Well
First of all, a good musician knows his weapon. A good singer is aware of her vocal range and knows how to use it. A good pianist understands the piano and knows how to blend different notes together to create a moving piece. A good drummer recognizes each and every component of his percussion set and knows how to use them to construct expressive beats.
A good guitarist knows the guitar—from the instrument’s hollow body up to its neck and headstock. He knows how the individual parts work, and he knows when any of those parts don’t work! He knows it like the back of his hand; he has a deep understanding of the instrument.
Has a Good Finger Dexterity
Playing the guitar is going to be harsh on your hands, especially on your fingers. You will be doing finger gymnastics that will absolutely leave you with hand cramps, calluses, and a whole feeling of awkwardness realizing how your fingers can do those things while you sometimes fumble with your front door keys.
A good guitarist is someone who has developed good finger, hand, and wrist coordination. This means that he can play with good accuracy and rhythm, executing every note clean and clear.
Has a Good Level of Musical Aptitude
Musical aptitude can be defined simply as having a fine ear for music, which means the skill of being able to recognize pitch, melody, rhythm, harmony, and other elements of music. When a guitarist knows the interplay between all these elements, trust that he can always come up with something good!
This attribute also brings us to the next section; when a guitarist has the makings of a musical genius, then he most likely…
Understands Music Theory
Yes, we know this one has been a subject of debate for the longest time now. And this section is going to be a little lengthier than the rest, but it’s a point worth exploring.
Do you really have to have a good understanding of music theory to be called a good guitarist—or a musician, for that matter?
We can almost hear the choruses of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, David Bowie, and many other outstanding musicians of the modern world who didn’t know (or study) music theory.
These musical geniuses do know how music works, and that, in theory, is music theory! As one former Redditor beautifully put it, “Good musicians who don’t “know theory” or were never trained, actually do know theory, they just don’t know the universally standard words to describe what it is they know.”
Also, these talented musicians had been exposed to musical experiences where applied music theory is intrinsic in those experiences’ nature. Paul McCartney, for instance, had years of experience singing in the choir, and this must have been the secret as to The Beatle’s delicate vocal harmony.
These artists have, within them, this innate sense of musicality that’s characteristic of what music theory demonstrates. They just didn’t have a reference point to know the theory labels, but they know. When you observe them carefully, you will see what we mean.
In addition, these artists may also have eventually picked up some pointers from other musicians and people in the industry they have worked with—pointers that are the crux of music theory.
And now, going back to the main discussion, a good guitarist is someone who has a good grasp of music theory. Because, by understanding music theory, by understanding why some chords sound good together, how pitch and rhythm work together to create melody, why augmented chords work so well for specific pieces, how syncopation adds another dimension to the music, and many others, the guitarist is able to:
- Enrich musical development;
- Helps achieve mastery of the instrument with proper understanding of how music works;
- Communicate and work with other musicians seamlessly;
- Improves skills in improvisation, critical listening, song arrangement, and composition;
- Develop a deeper appreciation of music.
These are only some of the many benefits of understanding music theory. If you want to know more about this, here is a practical guide:
Has a Strong Sense of Discipline
And having a strong sense of discipline entails patience to keep going when the going gets tough (you know you could be having fun with the boys at the bar, but here you are with your guitar, polishing those last bits of your first solo).
Having a strong sense of discipline also means having the will to learn something new each day. You can’t go stagnant; you have to do something, learn and relearn—a riff, a chord pattern you first thought was boring, a new finger exercise routine, whatever it is.
A good guitarist sticks to practice and playing routine, and tracks his progress as well so he knows where he falls short of and where he excels. With a strong sense of discipline, the guitarist becomes committed to growth.
Curious, Committed, and Creative
Curiosity is a natural precursor to being committed. Being committed is a natural precursor to creativity.
When he is curious, then he will more likely listen, observe, and take note of how high-caliber guitarists play. He has a natural desire to learn and to improve. This enthusiasm leads to him being committed—or dedicated—to this journey.
Being committed to this art means devoting some of his time to honing his skills. He takes time to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses. He wants to be a good guitarist, so he has got to earn it. There are no shortcuts.
Soon, he finds himself doing improvisations. He becomes creative. He gets excited at what other things he can execute on his guitar.
And that’s how a good guitarist is born.
Here’s a video that is a great complement on this topic:
The Makings of a Good Guitarist: Final Thoughts
As a guitarist, you probably wonder where you fall in the guitar playing goodness scale. But if you find that you are lacking on, let’s say, discipline department, or maybe, finger agility, don’t get discouraged. More often than not, what stops us from becoming good at something is just all in the head.
Knowing what your weaknesses are gets you one step forward to becoming a good guitarist! However, you should not stop there; take the next few steps as you work on your finger dexterity, or figuring out the best times for playing when you know you will be at your most motivated self!
Anyone can become a good guitarist if they will put their heart and mind into perfecting the art! While some artists are born, others are made. You can do it!