How To Develop Lead Guitar Skills Faster Through Guitar Skill Integration
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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There are 2 ways – one fast, one slow – to level-up your guitar playing and play guitar like a pro.
The slow way is to practice guitar according to conventional wisdom:
Practice your lead guitar skills separately (for weeks, months or years) until you master each one... and ‘then’ finally put them together.
The second (much faster) way to level-up your guitar playing is very counterintuitive.
It goes like this:
Spend some time practicing guitar skill integration while you’re still trying to master each of your lead guitar skills in isolation.
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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What is “guitar skill integration” and how does it help you to play guitar like a pro?
Guitar skill integration is your ability to smoothly and seamlessly connect musical skills when you’re writing, performing or improvising music.
And it’s possibly the quickest way to level-up your guitar playing and truly master your lead guitar skills.
How do you practice guitar skill integration?
Watch this video and I’ll show you:
Here are a few more ways to practice guitar skill integration and sharpen your lead guitar skills:
Guitar Skill Integration Tip #1: Practice Guitar To “Remove Seams”
One of the best ways to practice guitar skill integration is to create guitar licks that force you to combine multiple techniques.
For example: practice guitar licks that combine directional picking with legato. Or practice guitar licks that contain string bends and double stops. Or practice guitar licks that contain string skipping and 2-hand tapping. Etc.
Isolate the transition from one technique to another and practice guitar using that transition as your exercise. Your guitar skill integration goal is to make the switch from one guitar technique to another as seamless as possible.
That means: playing the part cleanly (with no sloppy string noise), in time and with flawless 2-hand synchronization.
To see a more in-depth explanation of what it means to practice guitar to “remove seams”, check out the talk I did with Guitar Practice Expert Mike Philippov:
Note: you will very likely find that your guitar skill integration top speed is slower than your top guitar speed with lead guitar skills played in isolation. Possibly much slower. That is completely normal. Find the top speed of guitar skill integration and practice at that speed (or slightly below). As you do, you’ll see, hear and feel gains coming on fast.
(You should also find your top speeds for other elements of guitar speed, such as 2-hand synchronization.)
Question: “But Tom Hess, if I find a different top speed for every element of my lead guitar skills, it will take me forever to build my guitar speed! Isn’t there a faster way?”
Answer: This approach IS the fastest way to build guitar speed, level-up your guitar playing and play guitar like a pro. If you practice guitar simply by pushing yourself to play as fast as possible, you will often end up playing sloppy and with a lot of excess muscle tension. (Which is the opposite of what it means to “play guitar like a pro”). If, on the other hand, you take the time to work out the weakest link among your guitar speed elements and make it stronger – your guitar speed will often jump on its own, without you even trying.
Watch this video to see what I mean:
Guitar Skill Integration Tip #2: Integrate Your Musical Skills To Become A (Better) Improviser
So, you thought guitar skill integration was all about technical lead guitar skills? Not so!
To really play guitar like a pro (and become a creative soloist, improviser or songwriter), you need tie together all of your other (non-technical) skills too.
For example: say you are about to solo over a chord progression: Am F Dm E7. To play guitar like a pro over those chords, here are (some of) the lead guitar skills you need to integrate together:
- knowing what notes are in those chords, so you can play melodies and guitar licks that fit the chords.
- knowing what scale(s) to use over these chords to sound good when you solo. Note: you level-up your guitar playing faster by knowing one guitar scale really, really well (vs. knowing 1-2 scales on a surface level).
- knowing how to play those scales all over the fretboard, so you can finally stop thinking about “where the notes are” and be free to play guitar like a pro.
- lead guitar phrasing – this is about making even the simplest guitar licks sound like the work of a savvy musician. (More on this below.)
- hearing melodies in your head (and knowing what notes you are hearing, so you can find them on guitar quickly).
And beyond that…
… you also need to know the emotional function of each chord within the key. This allows you to make the best musical choices when you solo and truly play guitar like a pro – with maximum musical freedom.
Watch this video to see a demonstration of how to practice in this way and develop the ultimate skill of playing guitar like a pro:
Question: “Tom Hess, will memorizing the notes on the fretboard help me to play guitar like a pro?”
Answer: Yes and no… but mostly no. Knowing the notes on the fretboard IS part of learning to level-up your guitar playing… but it won’t help you play guitar like a pro. That’s because knowing note names doesn't help you understand the thing that really matters - the emotion of each note.
Watch this video on how to practice guitar skill integration to understand what I mean:
Guitar Skill Integration Tip #3: Level-Up Your Guitar Playing By Integrating Together Phrasing Ornaments
Here is a cool way to practice guitar skill integration and master your lead guitar skills:
1. Make a list of phrasing ornaments you know (vibrato variations, string bending variations, slide variations, double stop variations, harmonics, picking hand rakes, trills, etc.)...
2. Choose any short guitar lick (4-6 notes long) ...
3. Choose 2 phrasing ornaments from step 1 and repeat the lick over and over, while adding them to any 2 notes within the lick. Each variation is your chance to practice guitar skill integration of different phrasing ornaments. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
For an extra challenge, play several phrasing elements one after the other on the same note. This lets you stay longer on each guitar lick you play and have more time to think of what to play next (while still being able to sound good and play guitar like a pro).
Watch this video to see what I mean:
Tip: if you are having a hard time keeping your string bends in tune as you practice to level-up your guitar playing, do 2 things:
1. Check your hand position. Make sure that your fretting hand thumb is wrapped around the neck of the guitar to give you optimum leverage for mastering string bending and learning to play guitar like a pro.
Here is what a proper hand position for string bending should look like when you practice guitar skill integration with phrasing:
Question: “But Tom Hess, how do you practice guitar skill integration with lead guitar skills like vibrato and string bends? Those techniques are very simple!”
Answer: There is quite a bit more to both of these lead guitar skills than most people realize. For example, string bending can one of the hardest lead guitar skills (at least when it comes to phrasing), since there are many advanced string bending variations most guitarists don’t know.
There are also several ways to do vibrato that allow you to level-up your guitar playing quickly and play guitar like a pro.
This video shows you how to practice guitar skill integration using different types of vibrato:
Guitar Skill Integration Tip #4: Integrate Guitar Speed With Melody
One of the best ways to level-up your guitar playing is to play guitar licks that combine fiery fast guitar playing with emotion-soaked melody.
But how do you do this?
Here are the steps for this element of guitar skill integration:
Step 1: Plan out a short melody on guitar.
Step 2: Choose any of the fast lead guitar skills from your guitar technique arsenal and use it to connect the notes from step 1.
Boom! You now have a guitar lick that integrates elements of shred and melody. And if you practice correctly to build speed with it, it’ll sound awesome and you’ll play guitar like a pro.
Here is an example of this guitar skill integration process in action:
Bonus tip that helps you level-up your guitar playing and play guitar like a pro: Practice integrating guitar speed with melody by studying your favorite singers.
- choose a singer whose style you like (note: it has to be someone who actually sings melodies – not growls).
- learn their vocal melody on guitar (focus on matching the singer’s phrasing as closely as possible).
- play the melody while inserting fast and flashy lead guitar skills between notes.
Watch this video to see how I’ve done this with one of my favorite singers of all time:
Question: “Tom Hess, how is learning to practice guitar skill integration this way going to help me play guitar like a pro? I won’t ever play a singer’s melody in my own songs or guitar solos!”
Answer: The goal of learning to practice guitar this way is to go through the process of guitar skill integration. When you are able to combine slower melodies (that someone else wrote) with good phrasing and faster lead guitar skills – it becomes much easier to create melodies of your own and have them sound great.
Guitar Skill Integration Tip #5: Integrate Chords With Melody
Most guitar players neglect practicing guitar skill integration with chords, because they think practicing chords isn’t as fun as polishing their lead guitar skills.
But believe it or not, you can make even the simplest chords sound awesome when you practice guitar skill integration using voice leading.
What is voice leading?
It’s the way in which the individual notes (called “voices”) in one chord move to the notes (voices) of the next chord.
Few guitarists practice guitar voice leading and that’s why the notes of their chord changes sound abrupt and harsh instead of melodic.
How do you practice guitar skill integration with voice leading?
Check out this video and I’ll show you:
Here is another simple way to practice guitar integration with chords and play guitar like a pro:
Write a short and simple melody. Then harmonize each note of the melody with a chord that contain that note. As you are doing it, pay attention to voice leading of the other notes in each chord and make it as smooth as possible.
The better you get at this, the easier it becomes to level-up your guitar playing and play guitar like a pro.
You now know possibly the single most powerful way to level-up your lead guitar playing. The next step in your quest to master your lead guitar skills & play guitar like a pro is to develop all the OTHER skills you need to reach your goals.
I can help you with this in my personalized Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Unlike some other lessons (or courses), I create lessons specifically for YOU, based on your skill level and goals. And I give you an almost unlimited amount of feedback between lessons to help you level-up your guitar playing FAST. I’ve helped hundreds of my students become pro-level players and can help you do the same.
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