Transferable Skills on the Guitar, Part I

Posted by on Aug 6, 2023 in Musicianship | No Comments

(or how to own on the guitar in record time)


Hey folks…it’s me again…time to settle down guitar in time with a nice cup of tea and a biccy and listen to my words of wisdom…

No but seriously… today I want to have a chat with you all about the usefulness of transferable skills, specifically transferable skills on the guitar, more specifically guitar playing skills which can be transferred from one style to another.

First and foremost, how to practice effectively.

This is essential to your progress as a musician whatever style you play. If you don’t know how to practice your progress will be haphazard at best. Knowing how to practice consists of:

  •   what you want to achieve
  •   how to achieve it
  •   how to practice the material you’ve chosen each day
  •   how to keep yourself motivated over the minutes, hours, days, weeks,  months, years and decades of your playing career

Any break in the chain will cause you to progress less the optimally.

Secondly…developing a good ear.

Whatever style you play,  skilfully trained ears are a massive asset. They enable you to learn new music more quickly, detect mistakes in music that you’re playing or hearing and interact effectively in a band. Some of the biggest ears in the world belong to jazz musicians! Sure…it’s not as bragable as being able to shred semi-quaver licks at 600bpm but damn…other musicians are going to love to play with you (oo-er missus behave!)

How can you improve your cloth ears I hear you say? Well there are plenty of free ear training sites out there like this one or you could go upmarket and get a copy of Earmaster Pro. These will basically drill you hard (don’t go there) – sure it’s a  bit dry but the medicine is good – 5-10 mins a day will give you an edge.

Of course the gold standard for ear development is learning by ear (and if you’re particularly hard, writing it down – aka transcription and for that I’d recommend you grab a copy of transcribe here: But you can start easy…just figure out simple tunes, riffs and solos by ear. If you don’t know how…well I’ll get to that in a later article.

Thirdly, learn some theory.

Ok…I’m sorry to have to tell you this but it’s for your own good. You’re going to do a lot better if you learn a bit of theory. Yeah yeah…I know some of the greats didn’t know a hyperlocrian b6#7bb9 scale from a german sausage but you know what? They had ears for years…so they undersood how music works on an intuitive level. Average guys like you and me need all the advantages we can get. And theory is one of them. What’s it about? Two things : two things – reading and writing music (developed before we had recordings) and a set of rules for composers and improvisers (who are also a type of composer) on how to avoid sucking. Put it like this – if you used trial and error alone, there is a high probability that you will suck hard. Learning Music theory reduces that probability.

HOWEVER…don’t full into the trap of thinking that just because you memorised the rule book you’re going to rule the world. What you have to remember is these rules are empirical. E.g they are the result of hundreds of years trial and error to determine what does and doesn’t suck. And further more many of them are specific to a particular style – if you want to sound like classical music, obey the rules of classical music; if you want to sound like a metaller, obey the rules of metal. If you want create a new style, play around with the rules until you come up with something you like. In all cases though, theory is a great reference point.

There are scores of theory resources out there (musical pun)…for a good grounding in the basic of notation, plus a beginner course in classical harmony you could try the following

Well folks…looks like I’m running out of time and space but I hope I’ve given you some brain food. Above all aim to work and play smarter as well as harder. Till next time, keep it plectral…

Your hard plucking amigo

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