Should a student specialize in one genre of guitar playing or learn as many guitar styles as possible?
The answer to this question is to do both.
To learn from different genres but specialize in the guitar styles you love most.
To learn techniques and get ideas from great guitar players in different styles, but master the ones you want to express yourself through.
In this lesson we’ll explore 6 guitar styles you can either learn from, or specialize in.
I will also give you some personal examples to explain how you can learn from each genre and apply it to your playing.
If you want to compose or improvise guitar licks and solos, learn the blues first!
Blues kind of opens the door to guitar soloing.
It’s not a very difficult genre to start from. Though some blues masters play complex music, most blues guitar licks and solos are reachable once you’re fluent in phrasing techniques such as string bending, vibrato and slides.
The frequent use of such techniques is another reason why you should start improvisation and soloing with the blues.
You will use these techniques over and over, in all their different forms and variations and be able to apply them to any genre/s you want to specialize in.
For those who love the blues, and want to specialize in the genre rather than just using it as a stepping stone to start improvising and soloing, I would start learning about all the different sub-genres of blues and study the greatest guitarists in each.
As well as learn the from other genres to blend in new ideas with your blues.
Blues opened me the door to guitar soloing, and Punk Rock opened me the door to songwriting.
Punk Rock is (in most cases) a pretty simple form of music.
This is an great opportunity for a beginner songwriter.
A song doesn’t have to be complex to be good.
Being able to do complex stuff, whether it’s in guitar playing or in songwriting, means that you have more options to choose from, which is why the study of both skills should be lifelong.
However you shouldn’t wait to start writing songs until you have gained all these options and skills.
Use the guitar skills you already have, or can easily acquire, to start training your creativity skills.
Since I was into Punk Rock a big time, and the threshold to writing a Punk song is pretty low, I started writing songs earlier on in my musical journey.
This was very beneficial to reaching my musical goals since I started training my creativity and songwriting skills earlier on and these skills are transferable to any style of music.
Even to other areas in life!
If you are into Punk Rock and want to specialize in this genre, I would give you this advice:
You do not need to know a lot of stuff to play Punk Rock, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Learn from other genres of music and think creatively how you can apply it to your own unique style of Punk.
Don’t be the guy recycling the same riffs and tunes.
From experience in being both in a Punk audience as well as playing in front of one, I conclude the most successful bands are the most creative, unique and musically accomplished, not the ones with the longest mohawks.
Rock is actually a big umbrella of genres, rather than a specific style.
Punk Rock is a form of Rock music, so is Heavy Metal, the next genre.
Exploring all areas of Rock music – classic rock, blues rock, rock n roll, folk rock and the numerous other rock sub-genres – will broaden your horizons on everything you’ll do on the guitar.
Rock is like the melting pot of many guitar oriented styles of music and can easily blend with most forms of music.
Heavy metal is the genre of music I specialize in as a guitar player nowadays.
I still love Punk and like to blend it with metal music, but Heavy Metal gives me more options to express my feelings and emotions.
If you’re new to this style of guitar playing, this guide will show you how to get started.
Funk music is miles away from the style of music I play nowadays, yet it has influenced my playing quite a bit.
The role of the guitar player is different in Funk than Rock, Metal and Blues.
In these genres we like to shine but in Funk, guitar players tend to take the back side and are part of the rhythm section of the band. Their role is to provide steady rhythmic chops that are part of the engine of the song, rather than to be the center of attention.
Though this doesn’t mean great Funk guitar solos don’t exist.
Such rhythmic discipline is one thing I’ve learned from Funk guitarists.
Another is the strategic use of silence – rests – in music. When you learn how to play Funk you will gain a lot of experience in subdividing the beat in notes and silences of different duration.
Acquiring a thorough sense of rhythm is applicable to any guitar style you want to specialize in.
I have never spent a lot of time listening to or playing Jazz since it’s not a musical preference of mine.
Occasionally I do though, because the amount of stuff you can learn from Jazz, whatever your guitar playing style, is next to infinite.
The reason for this is that Jazz melodies and harmonies are much more complex than those in Blues or Rock.
An example of this is the kind of chords used in Jazz. Many songs in Rock or Pop music use chords like power chords, major and minor chords and 7th chords.
In Jazz, further extensions of the triad than the 7th are the norm and chords in common use include 9ths, 11ths, 13ths.
These chords are not necessarily any harder to play on the guitar. The dissonance found in these chords make them harder to improvise on though – to know where and how to use them requires a good knowledge of theory and harmony as well as a trained ear.
Key changes are also much more frequent in Jazz music, which is another reason why playing this guitar style requires a higher level of musicianship than playing other genres.
You don’t need to become a Jazz master if you’re not into the style, but if you take a peek at what Jazz guitar greats are doing, you’ll realize there’s a whole world out there you didn’t know about.
A musical world where things work differently (than in Rock, Punk, Blues, Metal etc).
Having taken that peek, or better still, a deeper look, will help you grow as a musician and appreciate different layers to musical knowledge you may not have noticed.
Conclusion: What is the right balance?
I can’t give you a specific answer to this question since this depends on your specific musical goals, as well as on your level of guitar playing.
What really matters is that you do set goals and are oriented towards them (an issue I go on into deeper depth in the book 5 Steps to an Ideal Guitar Practicing Mindset)
For instance if your main goal is to be in a Heavy Metal band you will need to specialize as much as possible in the genre, while if your main goal is to become a session musician, you’ll want to learn from as many genres as possible.
Even further, if you want to be the main songwriter in a Heavy Metal band, you may want to explore more genres than someone who just plays pre-composed music in the band.
See where this is going….
Set specific, long, mid and short term musical goals and make a plan how to reach them.
When forming your plan, take a look at which genres of guitar playing will get you closer to reaching your goals, and learn from each style accordingly.
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