5 Guitar Hacks To Improve Your Playing

Ayla Tesler-Mabe  /  LessonsJan 21, 2022

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There’s no denying that there’s some magic that separates the great guitar players from the good ones. But it can be hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s making this type of playing stand out. Well in this lesson, Ayla Tesler-Mabe demystifies the secrets of your favorite guitar heroes and shares the top things guitarists should work on to improve their overall playing. These hacks are more conceptual guitar tricks than technical ones so players of all skill levels will have something to take away from this video.

#1 Vibrato
The first hack is one that many guitarists consider to be a lifelong pursuit. Vibrato is like your fingerprint on the instrument and is one of the ways you can stand out from the crown. Vibrato is typically more associated with the electric guitar but is important for acoustic players as well. When performed properly, this technique comes from the wrist and sounds smooth and fluid. 

If you’re not sure where you should be using vibrato in your playing, a good place to start is at the end of a phrase. Whichever note you land on, you can use vibrato to add some emotion. You can also try using it in the middle of a lick if you stay on a note for a little longer. Ultimately, it’s up to you!

#2 Bending
Bending is similar to vibrato in many ways but can be pretty challenging to execute correctly. Many new players will over or under-bend a note which can be a little offputting. Accuracy is the key skill you want to develop when it comes to improving your bending. A great exercise is to check your reference pitch between each bend to make sure they match up. This will help to connect your ears to your muscle memory and before long you won’t even have to think about it! Be patient with this one and don’t forget to have fun.

Ayla’s Tip: Attach a headstock tuner and keep it on while practicing your bends to fine-tune your accuracy.

#3 Space
Here’s where we start to get into the more conceptual ways to amp up your guitar playing. When we take about space we’re referring to the time between the notes you choose to play. This space can be just as expressive as the notes themselves and is a great way to build anticipation for what comes next.

“Music is the space between the notes”

Claude Debussy

A great way to practice this is to imagine you’re speaking and the guitar is your voice. As you breathe out, play some notes, then as you breathe in, stop playing. As you get better at this you’ll realize how important it is to listen to the music around you, whether that’s a backing track or other musicians. 

#4 Pocket
When we talk about “pocket”, we’re talking about the rhythmic nature of playing the guitar. It has a huge impact on the way the listener perceives your playing. It’s not necessarily about playing perfectly on tempo, but instead, it’s about the groove you have within that tempo. It’s about having awareness and listening to what’s going on around you. 

One of the best things you can do to hear an example of this is listening to Questlove’s drumming on the album “Voodoo” by D’Angelo:

#5 Emotional Intention
Our final guitar hack is the most conceptional of all of the points in this lesson. Great guitarists always keep emotional intent at the forfront of their mind so that it drives every musical decision they make. Music’s true purpose is subjective, but it has the ability to convey feeling and emotion in a way that transcends many other mediums. The best music always seems to connect with people in this way. 

To round out this lesson, we’ll take a quick look at one of Ayla’s first videos on YouTube. This video garnered millions of views not because of its perfect execution, but because of the way her guitar playing carried the intended emotion and feeling of the original song. Check it out:

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