I first met guitarist Ben Gowell when he played on our Worship God Live album back in 2005. As an electric guitarist he regularly plays for Paul Baloche and Sara Groves and tours with Michael W. Smith. In other words, he’s pretty good.
I’ve always been struck by Ben’s humility, his love for the church and his family, and his commitment to playing skillfully for the glory of God. So I asked him recently if he had any thoughts on how an electric guitarist might improve his skills, especially if he wanted to play in the studio. While an electric guitarist in church isn’t going to end up on professional recordings, learning to play like a studio guitarist will benefit any player. Here’s what Ben sent me about becoming a better electric guitarist.
How to Become a Better Electric Guitarist
1. Grow in your appreciation for many different styles of music.
Styles like country and R&B were not things that I naturally gravitated towards in high school and college, but in the interest of trying to make myself a more well-rounded guitarist, I sought out a country guitar teacher, purchased Country and R&B albums, and focused in on what the guitar players were doing on those albums. One of the most beneficial things you can do to grow as a player is try to emulate what guitarists are doing in different styles. Although guitar lessons were a big part of my learning as a player, equally important was the process of listening to a lot of stuff and copying it. This develops your ears and gets you thinking more like a musician/arranger than just a guitar player.
2. Play as much as you can with good musicians.
There’s something to be said for ‘woodshedding’ by yourself in your own practice space, but there’s just no substitute for playing with other people. This is where you develop a few different important things, like learning to listen to what’s going on in the rest of the band, so that what you play complements and doesn’t compete with everyone else or the vocalist. Often times in a session, I’ll just sit and listen through a song a few times before I even touch my strings. I want to know, “What is the mood/vibe of the song? What is the style of the song? What is the message of the song?” These are all important questions to ask before you just start noodling around on the guitar. Again, this gets you thinking more like a musician and less like just a guitar player.