Guitar Playing Improvement Test - Are You A Deaf Guitar Player?

by Mike Philippov


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You probably take it for granted that you know how to “listen” to your guitar playing while practicing. However, the truth is that most guitarists only “hear” themselves play - they never (or only rarely) truly LISTEN. Want proof? Have you ever struggled to improve your guitar playing with some exercise, playing it over and over without any idea what was causing your mistakes? If you answered “yes”, then your guitar listening skills must improve.

Why Is “Not Listening” Such A MASSIVE Obstacle For Improving Your Guitar Playing?

Very simply: you will make little or no progress in your guitar playing if you don’t know how to accurately evaluate your playing by listening. When you aren’t able to identify WHAT causes your specific guitar playing mistakes, it becomes next to impossible to actually “fix” them. As a result, you continue to wonder why your guitar playing isn’t improving until you either learn how to listen correctly or get a guitar teacher to point out the causes of your problems to you.

How Can You Test Your Ability To Listen To Your Own Guitar Playing?

To help you test yourself, I will ask you several questions about a variety of general guitar playing skills. You will need to answer either “Yes” or “No” to each question (for yourself). Warning: if you can’t answer with a definite “YES!” to a question, then your listening skills are poor in this area. Below each set of questions I will list several action steps for you to take to refine your listening and improve your guitar playing with each skill.

Take the test below:

How Efficient Are You At Improving Your Guitar Playing (Technique) Problems?

  • When you struggle to play something cleanly on guitar, can you usually identify (by listening only) WHICH notes aren’t clean?
  • When you make mistakes at faster speeds, can you tell if the problems occur because of poor 2 hand synchronization, picking articulation, strings bleeding (ringing) together, noise from other strings or combination of the above?
  • If your hands get out of sync while playing guitar, can you tell EXACTLY which note of the phrase this happens on?

If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, you need to improve your listening skills in this area.

Solution: Hearing some of your guitar technique flaws becomes easier at slower speeds (this is one of the reasons why you hear the common advice to “practice guitar slowly”). In addition, exaggerating your guitar playing problems to make them even MORE difficult will often make the cause of the problem easier to hear/see. This is especially true of problems that can only be detected “in real time” at faster tempos. Watch this free video for a demonstration of this process of solving guitar technique problems.

How Effective Are You At Improving Your Guitar Vibrato Technique?

  • Can you tell (by ear) the difference between vibrato done in quarter notes, eighth notes or triplets?
  • Do you know for sure if your vibrato locks in rhythmically with the background music you are playing over?
  • Can you tell for sure if your vibrato is totally in tune when you play?

All great guitarists who have vibrato mastered can hear these nuances and know right away when any of them are not right. This is what enables them to self-correct their mistakes and continuously improve on guitar.

Solution: If you cannot answer “yes” to all the questions above (without hesitation), then your vibrato REALLY needs a lot of work and your ears need to become more refined to allow you to use this technique creatively in your guitar solos. To get help with this, watch the video below:

Watch the 2nd part of this guitar vibrato lesson here.

How Good Are You At Listening To Your Own Improvising?

  • Can you hear which (specific) notes of your phrases sound good over the music you play and which ones don’t?
  • Do you hear (in real time) if the current phrase you are playing fits together well with the phrase that came before?

If you said “No” to at least one of the questions above, here is what to do:

Solution: There is no single solution to the above problems relating to improvising on guitar, since these issues can occur for a variety of reasons. However, in most cases you can improve your guitar playing in this area by slowing down and “focusing” mentally on the sound of each note over the chord (to determine if the note fits that particular chord or not). In addition, you will have a much easier time listening to yourself while improvising after you learn to play scales all over the guitar, and master the skill of fretboard visualization.

How Good Are You At Improving Your Rhythm Guitar Playing?

  • Can you hear if your guitar playing is locking in perfectly with the beat (and when it is slightly off)?
  • Can you tell at what points your rhythm guitar palm muting is becoming unintentionally lighter or harder as you play?
  • Do you notice when your picking articulation is becoming unintentionally softer on some notes that are harder to play?

Did you fail at least one question above? If so, then read below:

Solution: You can develop your listening skills relating to timing by first clapping your hands along to a steady metronome click. Your task is to create the illusion of the click “disappearing” (by clapping EXACTLY on top of the click). This will also develop your listening awareness for playing guitar in time. In addition, refining your picking hand articulation will make it much easier to improve your guitar playing in this area.

Now that you have gotten an honest evaluation of your ability to listen to your guitar playing, you will have a much clearer understanding of how to improve your guitar skills. Of course your guitar playing challenges will change and evolve over time, but if you consistently refine your ability to listen for and detect flaws in your playing, you will always know what must be done to improve your guitar playing to the next level.

To learn more about the process of improving your guitar playing, study these resources:

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