September 4, 2023 by Klaus Crow
After a considerable period of time and regular guitar practice you will pass the stage of the beginner and move up to a more intermediate guitar level. You’ve acquired all the basic skills and you’re looking forward to take things to the next step. But what does that actually mean, intermediate level? What should you be practicing now to take it even further?
A lot of guitar players start out all excited in the beginning. They learn how to play songs, fingerstyle, some riffs and solos, but then lack the persistence to follow through. They lean back in their comfort zone, practice less and improvement becomes meager. The basics are solid, but it becomes difficult to maintain the same eagerness and passion to grow into an even better guitar player.
So how do you go from the beginner path to the intermediate path and keep walking? How do you keep that same spirit and pace of improvement to get to the next level? Well today, we’re showing you the intermediate path of learning guitar. The path of progress and becoming the guitar player you set out to be.
Here are the keys:
Level up your chords
Work on learning, memorizing and applying new chords. Learn slash chords to create smooth transitions between chords. Work on a vocabulary of jazz chords that are also often used in pop, rock and blues music like Maj7, Maj6, mMaj7, Min6, m7b5 and dim7 chords.
Apply the chords to songs and keep using them so they are fully integrated into your playing. Learn the chords you already know and new chord types in different positions on the neck to become more versatile and free in your playing.
Intermediate rhythm playing
When you got all kinds of basic strumming patterns under your belt for different kind of beats (4/4 – 2/4 – 3/4 – 6/8 beat) you want to step up your game and learn more sophisticated strumming patterns and rhythms. This means combining your rhythm playing with mute strumming techniques. This can start with moderate tempo mute/slap strumming patterns all the way up to fast and funky rhythms.
The best way to learn this, is to listen to songs with this kind of rhythm playing and trying to figure them out by ear. Transcribing songs and learning these techniques by ear, listening carefully, trying, struggling, ploughing, listening and trying again. Learning these rhythms needs hard work, patience and persistence and you’ll get there.
Play and practice the right songs
As you improve your playing you need to keep challenging yourself. Don’t rely on the techniques and songs you already know or you’ll get stuck in a rut. Look for new songs that kick it up a notch! Get out of that comfortable chair, get back in the ring and start working on songs that move you to a better place.
As you go from basic fingerstyle patterns to more intermediate level, you will need to a invest a little more time and effort to get to the next step. Depending on your intermediate level start with songs like Blackbird by Paul McCartney, Dust in the wind by Kansas, Tears in heaven by Eric Clapton, then move up to Queen of California and Speak for me by John Mayer song and Never going back again by Fleetwoodmac just to give some examples.
Another challenging and beautiful classical guitar masterpiece is Asturias by Isaac Albeniz, which starts from an intermediate level to a more advanced level. You could also become competent in different fingerstyle techniques like travis fingerpicking, or the slap/thumb fingerstyle technique (often used by John Mayer). You’ve got to put yourself to it. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, other fingerstyle patterns will be easier to play and you’ve found yourself on the intermediate side.
Intermediate guitar riffs will demand some more speed and flexibility, but will definitely upgrade the fun in your playing. Learn riffs like Whole lotta love by Led Zeppelin, Can’t stop by RHCP, Always on the run by Lenny Kravitz or Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. Check out The 50 Greatest Riffs of all Times for more riff inspiration.
Picking technique and dexterity
To improve your speed and dexterity it’s a good idea to practice scales and exercises on a daily basis. Your finger muscles need to be exercised and put in shape. Practicing scales and exercises 30 minutes a day with a metronome will really speed up your skills. If you don’t have that luxury start with 5 to 10 minutes.
Practicing speed is not just for shredders and heavy metal players, it’s a must for every player and it will benefit your playing in every aspect, from playing chords to riffs to soloing and high speed runs. Also work on your different flat picking techniques like alternate picking and economy picking. They are the fundamental techniques to increase your picking speed.
Intermediate blues rhythm
You also want to level up your blues playing skills by learning some more challenging blues shuffles like Pride and Joy or Travis Walk by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Of course there are many others to choose from. Intermediate blues playing also means learning more juicy sounding blues chord progression to spice up your progression to old school blues turnarounds.
Learn to grasp as much music theory as you can and put it to practice. Music theory will give you constant “aha” moments that will open up your musical world and make it easier for you to get from A to B on your guitar. It has the answer to all your questions. Why is a chord named this way? How do I know which chords to play? In what key is this song? What scale do I need to improvise over these chords? What chords fit this progression? Music theory makes you understand the guitar and music as a whole.
Scales and Improvisation
As a beginner you want to learn the pentatonic and major scale, but even as an intermediate guitar player you can keep expanding your pentatonic scale to a whole new level. You can learn to enhance the scale, broaden your pallet by adding the blue note (the blues scale), adding other notes and learning to solo and improvise around the entire neck making sure every area of the guitar uses it’s full potential to benefit your playing. That becomes a real game changer. A guitar course like 50CoolBluesLicksImprovisation will take you to that next level.
You could also learn to play and use the major scale and natural minor scale for soloing, practice other scales like major pentatonic, dorian, mixolydian and the harmonic minor scale. Of course there are many more scales but these are widely and extensively used in blues, country, rock, metal and jazz and are a great selection for the intermediate guitar player.
Learning solos, just like learning riffs and songs is one of the best way the learn the skill. Great solos contain the techniques (hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, slides, picking styles) and elements you need to learn to get become a true lead guitar player. Still a great solo to learn is the original electric guitar version of Hotel California by The Eagles. It’s got all the important techniques and absolutely beautiful phrasing.
Ear training for the intermediate guitar player can consist of transcribing guitar songs, learning to hear and recognize intervals, chord types and progressions. If you had to choose one, I suggest you start with transcribing guitar songs, riffs and solos by ear as much as you can.
You’ll learn to analyze and understand solos from the bottom up. This will give you a great advantage over time. If you practice this skill often, you’ll become really proficient at recognizing notes, techniques, chords, progressions and will quickly or even instantly know what to play. That’s one awesome skill.
It’s great to learn to play guitar, but you’ll learn even more when you collaborate with others. Take a brave step and find other musicians to play with. Play with every kind of musician. The best learning experience is to join a band. If you can’t find a band, set up a band yourself! Search for musicians of your own skill level and musical taste. If that’s seems to overwhelming, start with a drummer or bass player and grow your band from there. Once you’re with two people it’s easier to find the next one, and the next and so on.
Playing in a band acquires the skill to lock in with the drums, bass and keys and really learn to play with each other and become a unity. This is the ultimate feeling of rush, accomplishment and musicality. You will find that playing in a band quickly improves your playing as long as you have the attitude to listen, learn and collaborate.
The real creative part of playing guitar comes to light when you start creating yourself. For some this might seem really difficult or overwhelming but it all starts with making up an easy chord progression, writing a few lines and humming a simple melody to those lines. And it doesn’t need to be a brilliant song already, it’s just practice.
The more you write, the better you get, and the more fun it is. Just try it. If it s@cks, that’s okay, it’s just practice, try again, and again, and again, and most importantly enjoy the process. Creating gets you out of your comfort zone and pushes you to think outside of the box which really develops your musicianship.
Once you’ve created a piece of music, a chord progression, a small solo, a riff or whatever, start recording yourself. Download and install some recording software on your computer and record your guitar playing. Listening back is like a mirror, and can be a confrontation with reality. Playing tight, with feeling and in time is a skill in itself and the recording tells you what you need to work on. Practice and record again.
Recording is also fun. You’ll learn how to program drums, play some bass or keys, or ask other musicians to do it for you. You’ll learn the skill of producing and mixing. Your musical ear will step up to a new level.
Throughout the intermediate path you need to keep motivating and inspiring yourself. Keep listening to new music, read regularly about your favourite guitar players, singer songwriters and bands, watch music documentaries, go to concerts, check out local bands. Build a network of musicians to keep inspiring each other. Read books, blogs and listen to podcasts on motivation and how to reach your musical goals. Do whatever it takes to fuel the fire.
Your goal is to find your path in playing guitar. What is it that excites you? What is your musical taste? What is it that you love to play, or gets you moved? What do you want your guitar playing to be or what would you like to accomplish? Before you can decide that, you need to explore all the different aspects of being a musician.
Dare to try new things on your guitar, see what clicks and sticks. Play with others, and some more others, start that band, create, record, practice different songs and styles of music, get out of your comfort zone, train your aural skills, study music theory, learn and learn some more.
You got to challenge yourself to improve, expand and grow, follow the path of the intermediate guitar player and work your way to become an accomplished guitar player.
Now start your new journey!