What’s the precise line that separates intermediate guitar players from beginners?
If you play guitar for some time now, you may wonder if you could call yourself an intermediate guitar player. When someone asks you something like: Are you a good guitar player? – what would you say?
Here’s a list of things you should, as an intermediate guitar player, know to play. Techniques, scales, chords, riffs – you’ll see in a moment what it means to be an intermediate guitar player.
You can’t call yourself an intermediate guitar player if you don’t know how to bend a string properly. Guitar playing without bending sounds just weird, especially if you play some guitar solo.
You can hear strings bend in nearly all of guitar solos ever recorded. If you can bend a string easily, it’s the sign that your fingers have developed strength.
Guitar beginners don’t have strong fingers, therefore they often struggle with bending. If you want to know how to bend strings easier, check the article from this page about it:
Vibrato is related to bending technique to some extent. Both of these guitar techniques use fret hand to manipulate the tone of the string you’ve just played.
Anyway, vibrato technique is another thing you have to know and perform regularly. Vibrato is a technique that gives every tone a fine emotional touch.
If you perform any solo passage or movement on your guitar, it is crucial to do vibrato often. Playing a solo without vibrato makes the whole solo robotic and dull.
Vibrato is something that cannot be played by a machine or an algorithm. Vibrato is making playing a guitar human, and that is perhaps one of the most important things when it comes to playing.
Playing guitar without vibrato sounds like a robot is playing a guitar. Make sure you master it before you consider yourself an intermediate guitar player.
Take a look at this cool tutorial video on how to play a vibrato.
It’s just unbelievable how many guitar players neglect fingerstyle playing. If you know how to play a guitar only with your guitar pick, then that means that you know how to play only if certain preconditions are met.
That’s not what makes an intermediate guitar player!
Being an intermediate player means you know how to handle a guitar with your bare hands!
There’s this type of people that blame everything when they lose the game. For example, when someone blames a ball quality after he lose the basketball game. Loser. Of course the ball is not the problem.
Same applies to playing guitar. To be able to call yourself an intermediate guitar player, you just need to know how to express yourself without guitar pick.
Check the article from this page about fingerstyle technique:
Hammer On’s And Pull Off’s
Almost all of the famous guitar solos and riffs rely heavily on hammer on’s and pull off’s. If you don’t know how to perform those properly, that means your fingers are not strong enough.
Hammer on’s and pull off’s represent fundamental core of legato technique. If you’re a guitar beginner, you know the struggle of performing those.
When you start to practice these, you’ll notice how easily your fingers get heavy and sore. To not know how to perform this properly will almost certainly affect other guitar techniques, such as legato and tapping.
You can find some really helpful exercises in this article:
Also, I would recommend seeing this great video where you’ll find the most important practice regarding this technique. The finger gym exercise:
Palm muting of your guitar strings is very important. Playing a guitar without palm muting will result in a lot of excessive noise.
When you mute the strings with your palm, you block this noise at the same time. I realized, by watching a lot of guitar beginners playing a guitar, that this technique is not something that comes natural.
You just have to learn it. In the beginning you’ll almost certainly palm mute improperly. Usually beginners mute their guitar too much, so there’s too much blockage and too little string ringing.
Over time, you’ll develop it enough to perform it properly. Until that moment, you definitely cannot call yourself an intermediate guitar player.
Rhythmic Strumming Patterns
Every intermediate guitar player knows how to strum in many different rhythmic patterns.
Guitar beginners know to strum properly only in few of them. How to spot beginner strumming? You can tell someone is a guitar beginner by his strumming struggle.
For example, you can play a song that’s in different time signature than simple 4/4 time signatures. Let’s say you play some song that’s in 3/4 time signature.
Can you adapt to this measure easily? Can you find strumming pattern naturally, by yourself, when you try to play that kind of a song for a first time. Nothing Else Matters by Metallica is a good example of a song that’s in 3/4 time signature. Or The Times They Are A Changing by Bob Dylan.
There are many more time signatures you have to be able to play if you want to call yourself an intermediate guitar player.
Anyway, time signatures are one thing. There’s more about strumming patterns than this.
Can you play some fundamental funky rhythm strumming patterns with ease? Can you play downpicking (or downstroke) rhythms? (See: Develop Your Downstroke Technique With These Tips (+ Songs For Practice))
In other words, can you play a lot of different strumming rhythms easily?
If you can’t, then you’re not intermediate.
Intermediate guitar players knows at least two scales. Those two are perhaps the most important two scales to know.
Minor pentatonic and Major scale. Minor pentatonic scale is used in every blues, classic rock and hard rock song.
You just have to know positions and notes from this scale. Otherwise you can’t do any guitar solo improvisation. And if you don’t know anything about that, you’re not intermediate.
Major scale is a fundamental musical scale. It’s a core of music, in general. Many melodies and guitar solos derive from this scale.
To not know this scale means you’re almost certainly a guitar beginner.
Another important thing about scales is scale patterns. Every scale has its characteristic scale patterns and licks. With them you can perform any guitar improvising solo much more easily.
Also, to knowing a scale makes riff writing so much easier. If you don’t know anything about any scale, you just don’t know what to do on a guitar on your own.
Intermediate players know how to improvise in real time, but it wouldn’t be possible if they don’t know anything about scales.
Chords and scales are connected. Simple chords (major and minor) consist of three notes in the scale.
Root note, third note, and fifth note. By the way, that’s another reason why you should learn scales. You understand chords better.
Anyway, chords are not even an intermediate thing. It’s the beginner level of playing a guitar. There are probably some weirdos that play guitar without knowing any chords, but that shouldn’t be your goal.
To be an intermediate, you’ll have to know not only simple major or minor chords. There are major and minor 7th chords, sus2 and sus4 chords, add9 chords, and so on.
The bottom line is this: Know the chord types!
Variety Of Playing
Intermediate guitar players don’t play song as it’s written in the book. They always add some subtle things to spicy up their playing.
For example, you can’t be an intermediate player by just playing chords properly. You need to know how to perform some subtle rhythmic changes, sus (sus4, sus2) notes, and so on.
Also, when you perform some guitar solo, you can’t just play it from start to the end without giving any of your unique touch.
There has to be some level of variety in your playing if you want to be intermediate guitar player.
This is, hands down, the most important skill to know as a guitar player. You may be able to perform hard, challenging technicalities, such as tapping, fast legato, gallop and dowstroke rhythms, arpeggios, sweep picking, economy picking and so on.
But if you’re not able to transcribe music you hear on your guitar, then you’re not a good guitar player.
This may sound odd, but it’s true. I’ve seen so many guitar players that are able to play some really challenging things on their guitar, but are not able to play some simple three-chord song they play for the first time, without tabs.
That’s a shame. It’s such a wonderful skill to be able to play something on your guitar immediately after you hear it. By doing this, you’ll learn soooo much!
You’ll learn how melody works. You’ll learn what are the degrees of music scales. With this skill developed, you’ll be able to compose awesome guitar melodies, riffs and solos in an instant of time.
Also, it helps when you’re in the band. Nobody likes to have a band member that can’t play anything he didn’t previously study at home. That stinks!
Tabs are great when you’re a beginner, but soon as you leave them for good – the better. Take a look at the article from this page about Guitar Pro (PROs And CONs):
That leads us to another thing you have to know to be an intermediate player.
If you can’t compose any guitar riff, solo or guitar song as a whole, you can’t call yourself an intermediate player.
To know just how to produce something is not enough. You have to explore all of the possibilities guitar have. Composing is by far the best way to explore these possibilities.
Intermediate guitar player knows how to express himself. Every one of us is a unique human being, That means that every one of us have our authentic expression.
It really sucks when you want to achieve something on your guitar, whether it’s the sound or the emotion, and you don’t know how to do it.
Composing is crucial for finding your unique self, your unique sound and your unique overall expression.
When you just start to compose, you’ll see that it’s not as easy as it may appear at first. Over time, you’ll find your ways of expressing emotion and sound you want to achieve.
It would be your way only, and if you think about it, it’s true. All of those famous, great guitar players have their unique sound and emotion.
If you’re just producing songs, riffs and solos you learned, you’re not that good. Composing is a way to go!
Some Songs You Have To Be Able To Play
There are some songs that can show whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate guitar player. You may have not heard those songs before (that’s OK), but you’ll have to be able to play it soon after you hear them. Otherwise you’re not an intermediate guitar player.
By the way, that’s just my opinion, so take that into account! 🙂
Back In Black (Riff) by AC/DC
You have probably heard this hard rock classic at least thousands of time so far. Anyway, this famous opening riff uses power chords (of course, it’s AC/DC!), but what makes it interesting is usage of pull off’s (or flick off’s).
As it’s stated before in this article, every intermediate player has to be able to perform hammer on’s and flick off. Proper performing of those shows that you have good finger strength.
Also, it test your ability to palm mute the strings on your guitar.
That’s why I chose it for this purpose. You can hear the whole song on Youtube, here.
Sweet Home Alabama (Riff) by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Everybody knows this one. Opening riff is a nice way to test yourself. It uses alternate picking, and hammer on’s and pull off’s as well.
Also, you’ll have to have some level of rhythm in your playing to be able to perform this riff well.
Hear the whole song on Youtube, here.
Romance (Classical Guitar)
Romance is an old masterpiece composition for a classical guitar. Classical guitar is played with fingers.
This is the reason why I chose this composition for this purpose. You have to be able to play something meaningful on your guitar with your fingers only. Every intermediate guitar player has to know to use his fingers.
This is a beautiful tune. See if you can learn it without any problems. If you can, congratulations, you’re intermediate guitar player!
Hear it on Youtube, here.
Blackbird by The Beatles
This is another fingerstyle guitar song. It’s a lovely, short and simple tune you should be able to play on your guitar.
Check if you can perform it with ease, on Youtube, here.
More Than Words by Extreme
I can’t help myself, I just love fingerstyle songs! This one is a beautiful love ballad.
If you’re able to play it and sing it at the same time, congratulations again, you’re an intermediate player.
This song is also on the list of the songs played in E flat tuning, see the list of those songs, here.
Stranglehold by Ted Nugent
Ted Nugent has some really killer riffs in his career. This is one of his finest. In my opinion, to play this riff properly, you have to be more than a guitar beginner. Also, this song is a full of kick ass solos, that are not so hard to perform, but nonetheless a lot of string bending is done there.
Bending is important, as it’s been stated already in this article, so there’s another reason why I chose this song for this purpose.
Hear the whole song, here.
Creeping Death by Metallica
You definitely have to be intermediate guitar player to be able to play this trash metal classic properly.
It’s fast, 200 BPM. It uses donwstroke picking technique, and overall it’s one of the most famous metal songs.
It may sound easy when you listen it, but don’t let that fool you. This is very challenging to perform, mainly because of its speed.
Donwstroke is something you have to master if you want to be an intermediate hard rock or metal guitarist. That’s why I put this song on the list of famous heavy metal riffs played in standard tuning, see the list, here.
I hope this article have you some insight on what makes an intermediate guitar player. If you’re not intermediate, don’t worry, you’ll become one if you practice regularly.
Being an intermediate guitar player is a skill, and you have to put a lot of effort to master any skill.
So, let’s recap. What makes an intermediate guitar player?
Not being able to bend the string makes you a beginner. Bending is an essential guitar technique.
Vibrato gives your playing a human touch. Without it, you’ll sound like a robot without a soul. Make sure you master it.
To rely only on your guitar pick is not something an intermediate guitar player does. Being able to play your guitar with your bare hands only is what makes an intermediate player.
- variety of strumming patterns
Strumming patterns are essential. Beginners know only one or two strumming patterns. Also, you have to be able to adapt your strumming technique to different time signatures.
- hammer on’s and pull off’s
If you can’t do proper hammer on or pull off, your fingers are too weak. Weak fingers are not sign of an intermediate guitar player.
- palm muting
Palm muting blocks a lot of excessive and unnecessary noise from other strings of your guitar. Noise is a typical sign of a rookie guitar player. Palm muting done properly shows you can handle the noise.
Scales are the core of music theory and music in general. Minor pentatonic and major scales are two fundamental scales you have to know by heart.
Chords are fundamental for guitar playing. If you don’t know any chord types, you’re not even a beginner. Intermediate guitar players know how and when to use not only minor and major, but sus2, sus4, add9, major/minor 7th and many other chord types in their playing.
- variety of playing
Intermediate guitar players love to use subtle playing tricks to spicy up their playing. Being able to perform the song in just one way is not enough for an intermediate level
Transcribing is perhaps the most important skill to know. To transcribe something means to know how to play something soon as you heard it.
That’s a powerful skill that separates intermediate guitar players from beginners.
When you compose something, whether it’s a riff, solo or a song as a whole, you’re exploring the possibilities of your guitar at the same time. Composing will tremendously impact your playing skills. It will help you find your unique sound, and your unique way of expressing yourself.
That’s what intermediate players do.
OK, so this is it. I hope this helped you!
Cheers, and rock on!