We all have our favourite genres/styles of music and, when learning
guitar, we might naturally gravitate towards them, developing a
learning process around a chosen style.
We might be inspired
by guitarists who have defined certain genres and try to
There's nothing wrong with that to a certain degree.
being too focused on style early on in your guitar learning journey can
prove a crucial mistake when it comes to reaching your full potential
as a unique, individual musician.
What's more, style is drawn
by increasingly vague boundaries. We now have countless crossover
styles and sub-genres that blur the lines between styles and make
pigeon-holing bands and musicians ever more difficult (and let's be
honest, such pigeon holing often undermines the true scope of
When you really think about it, what
is style? Take a moment...
Where does one style end and another begin?
thinking about the defining characteristics of a style - the
techniques, timbre and melodic/harmonic frameworks - are they really
A closer look and listen reveals that most styles
share the same fundamental guitar techniques and musical systems, with
minor differences in how they are applied.
analogy for this is food - a Chinese dish may use many of the same
ingredients as a Thai dish, but it's how we combine, cook and season
these ingredients that determines the outcome. The recipe is different,
but we still need those core ingredients stocked up and the fundamental
cooking techniques learned.
Back to musical instruments, style
is merely the selective application of technique. It's
good to have those fundamental techniques under your fingers whatever
style you might play towards. That way you can approach style in a
truly open minded and organic way.
soon as you start to dictate how and what you play based on
pre-existing styles/outcomes, you instantly narrow down your creative
options as a musician.
You think: "nah, that doesn't sound
blues/metal/ska/indie/jazz/classic rock/funk/punk enough" rather than
thinking: "hey, that sounds cool, how can I use it in my own music?".
second, far more liberating question is how new styles are created.
Once you start asking the question of how fundamental techniques and
melody/harmony can be applied, that's when your creative juices really
Let go of style and focus on the core ingredients
of music, in their purest form, independent of style...
The Open Musician's Mindset - Unstyling Yourself
remember, first and foremost, you are a musician. There is
no need to
prefix that title with anything else, and from this open mindset you'll
evolve naturally towards your own
style - building on your strengths
and technical nuances rather than constantly evaluating whether or not
you're playing fits a preconceived style.
It's far more useful to think of music(ians) creating style, rather
style creating music(ians).
your favourite guitarist may be considered a "blues guitarist", but
what specific techniques and applications make that guitarist unique?
That's what you should be analyzing as a learning guitarist.
At the core of every style are the fundamental techniques and
theoretical frameworks that produce the music we hear.
At the core of the physical
side of playing guitar, we simply have fretting and plucking
the theoretical side we have intervals
- the building blocks of music,
typically split into two main applications - chords (intervals played
together, harmonically) and scales (intervals played one after the
These are the primary foundations of any guitar playing style.
plucking the strings, we can then split this down into more fundamental
applications shared across countless styles/genres...
Strumming, finger picking and flat picking
(plus hybridizations of the three).
if you had styled yourself early on, you might have chosen blues, for
example. All these picking techniques are used in blues, both
separately and in combinations.
The same could be said for rock, country, metal and many other parent
you see, style doesn't really come into play until the much later
stages of technical development. If any style
specialization is to
occur, it's going to make the most sense later on in your learning
journey, once you have a well rounded, fundamental skill set under your
Even then, you'll find genres like blues, rock, country and metal share
many technical similarities. The lines blur wherever you look and play.
There is a constant crossover and merging of style.
Even the most identifiable differences between genres - timing
straight 4/4 vs
swing) and timbre (e.g. clean/acoustic vs distorted/electric) -
can be innovatively used outside their original
You'll also soon realise that style is not always a conscious decision,
and nor should it be - it's an evolving
The Evolving Player - Growing Into Your Style by Playing to Your Strengths
to your strengths is an intelligent and effective way of narrowing down
your focus and developing more specialised expertise.
As long as
you've given equal(ish) time to the fundamentals through your beginner
and intermediate stages, your strongest skills should be the result of
a "natural selection" (kind of like a Darwinian "survival of the
fittest" process for learning guitar!).
This is a prime example of growing into your style and finding your
In the beginning, when learning the fundamentals, you may gradually
progress further with one technique over another.
than unrealistically expecting to be great at everything, accept that,
given the time and practice, you'll excel with certain techniques over
others and just roll with it.
For example, some guitarists are
noted for their slurringly smooth use of slides and legato. Others make
strumming and driving rhythm guitar the climax of their technical
performance. Others simply wow listeners through their colorful and
flowing use of chords.
Of course, there are some especially well
rounded players that excel in a number of techniques and styles - you
can guarantee they were more in touch with their evolving technical
ability than picking a style and trying to "learn it" from the ground
Whatever you gravitate towards, focus on and explore raw techniques
and musical frameworks with
an open mind, rather than trying to crowbar
them into a pre-existing style.
Be open to inspiration from music in genral, rather than specific
styles of music.
The results will be far more rewarding and far more unique to you and
Don't let style dictate your progress - let your progress dictate style.
Be yourself on guitar!