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Quickly Become An Excellent Guitarist By Studying John Petrucci’s Playing
By Tom Hess - 12/16/2013 - 09:21 AM EST

Studying John Petrucci’s guitar playing will get you nowhere until you look below the surface to understand the subtle nuances in his style. Most guitarists value Petrucci just for his guitar speed and progressive songwriting, but never look any deeper to learn more. As a result, they miss out on a whole world of opportunity because there is much more that makes Petrucci a great player than just his speed and complex musical style.

Here are the top five commonly passed over areas of Petrucci’s style that will help you become a better guitar player:

1. Innovative 7 String Guitar Playing

I wrote an article about how to become a better 7 string guitarist, I pointed out a major flaw in the thinking of most 7 string guitarists: they focus too much on the lowest string, making their playing boring and repetitive. John Petrucci does not make this same mental error. Instead he uses the expanded range of the instrument much like how a piano player takes advantage of the wide range of the piano. A great pianist will not remain in just one octave range throughout an entire song. He will utilize the entire range of his instrument to give himself the potential to achieve the highest degree of creativity possible.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

Whether you play lead or rhythm guitar, you must avoid this habit of continually focusing on the extreme higher or lower pitch ranges. If you play 7 string guitar, this is even more important (because this problem is more obvious). Learn how to become a more balanced and creative guitarist using these free resources:

1. Article about writing riffs for rhythm guitar

2. Free 7 string guitar improvement resource

2. Impeccable Rhythm Guitar Playing

Although he is of course a superb lead guitarist, Petrucci’s rhythm guitar playing is nothing short of phenomenal. Unfortunately, the majority of guitarists who listen to his playing never pay close attention to his rhythm playing because they don’t think it sounds as challenging as his solos.

On the contrary, it is equally as difficult to play and record flawless rhythm guitar parts as it is to play high speed guitar solos. There exist many subtle nuances in rhythm guitar playing that most (primarily) lead guitar players have never even heard of. Here are ‘some’ of these nuances:

  • Keeping all pinch harmonics ‘in key’ while playing them with vibrato that matches the rhythm in the music
  • Getting rid of all the noise that can be created from vibrations in strings that aren’t being played
  • Keeping the intonation of each string 100% perfect (it’s very challenging to do while playing any chord larger than a basic two note power chord)
  • Using consistent muting technique at all times
  • Maintaining perfect silence (no noise) during rests between chords or notes
  • Doing all these things with perfect timing
  • Doing all of these things MANY times over while recording multiple tracks for a part in a song

Another factor that makes Petrucci such an incredible rhythm guitarist is the fact that his music is written in a way that incorporates highly complex song structures, frequently shifting time signatures and other advanced musical techniques. This makes it a HUGE challenge for most guitar players to play even the most simple of Petrucci’s rhythm guitar parts with much accuracy.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

The first thing to realize is that rhythm guitar playing is not merely about matching the beat or playing along to a metronome. Once you understand this, do the following:

1. Check out Petrucci’s music with Dream Theater while focusing primarily on his rhythm guitar playing and how it works together with the percussion. This will give you a total understanding of just how good his rhythm playing really is (while changing your view of what it means to be a great rhythm player).

2. Learn how to play professional quality rhythm guitar parts by checking out this free resource on the topic of how to record electric guitar.

3. Guitar Solo Phrasing Ability

One of the things most guitarists don’t recognize about Petrucci is how he writes highly melodic guitar solos that connect together in a very smooth manner. This gives his guitar solos a sound much like that of a spoken sentence – they have a clear beginning and ending. You can observe this all throughout his music with Dream Theater, but here are some examples to use a quick reference:

  • “Forsaken” (from “Systematic Chaos”)
  • “The Spirit Carries On” (from “Scenes From A Memory”)
  • “Ministry Of Lost Souls” (from “Systematic Chaos”)
  • “Voices” (from “Awake”)
  • “The Best Of Times” (from “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”)

As you are listening to each of the solos from the tracks above, you will notice how they all have phrases with obvious beginning and ending points. You will also hear how every solo seems to progress in a very natural manner from start to finish with each phrase building off of the phrase before it. This gives the music a sense of progression that leads you to the next section of the song.

Petrucci creates his phrases in a way that is similar to the approach used by Yngwie Malmsteen. Although both players do not have a similar ‘style’, they both create guitar solos that smoothly connect from one phrase to the next. This helps them be much more creative in their respective genres/styles. Discover the unique qualities that make Yngwie a superb player by reading this Yngwie Malmsteen instructional guitar lesson.

The soloing method used by Petrucci and Malmsteen is nothing like the one used by most guitarists. Truth is, most guitar players simply memorize several scales and ‘randomly’ play through each one while hoping that something cool will come out of their efforts. Unlike the methods described above, soloing in this manner leads to very erratic phrasing that does not give the listener a sense of forward movement.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

Starting right now, don’t think of guitar solos as just your chance to play through whatever scales you know in the right time over the right chords. Instead, think about:

1. Putting together articulate phrases that sound like clear musical statements. Learn how to do this for yourself and play killer lead guitar solos.

2. Developing a fundamental melodic idea that will be expanded upon using various guitar techniques. Learn more by watching this video about creating melodic guitar solos.

4. Knowledge Of MANY Songwriting Methods

It is well known that Dream Theater (Petrucci’s band) uses many different styles in their songwriting. This often makes listening to one album a completely different experience than listening to another (as opposed to having every album sound the same as the last). This is made possible in part because of the band’s immense talent as a whole but also because Petrucci is highly skilled at arranging songs using a wide variety of different songwriting methods (increasing his ability to write creatively).

Additionally, Petrucci (Dream Theater’s primary songwriter) may be a guitarist, but his music is not skewed toward ‘guitar’ parts only. In fact, a lot of Dream Theater’s songs are written in a way that focuses on the rhythms, melodies and motives of drums, synthesizer, piano or bass while guitar serves more of a minor role (when necessary).

On the other hand, most guitarists will write music by simply improvising on guitar until something sounds good and then try to find some makeshift way of connecting their ideas together to produce a complete song. If this is your main approach, your songs will generally sound very similar to the music everyone else writes. Certainly writing in this kind of improvised manner ‘can’ be a useful way to approach songwriting, however, it is very limiting for your creativity when it is your only option.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

To become a creative songwriter like Petrucci (while also improving in general as a guitarist) you must complete the following steps:

1. Understand how to use a wide collections of songwriting techniques so you always have creative options. Get help with this by reading this songwriting improvement article.

2. Become more creative in your guitar playing and music by learning how to develop musical expression.

5. Ability To Perform Live With Great Consistency

Most people who listen to Petrucci completely overlook his incredible performing skills. Fact is, many guitar players and music fans are totally unaware of the amount of skill it takes to perform consistently on stage (especially when it comes to playing music of a very high caliber). In most cases, guitar players who play well while sitting in their room or recording studio have great difficulty being able to play their music consistently in a live setting. Additionally, there are major challenges while playing live such as hot/cold weather conditions, playing while feeling tired from traveling, playing when you can’t hear yourself (or other band members) and many or possible issues that most guitarists have never considered. It only takes ‘one’ of these things to impair your ability to put on a great show and play with the same level of skill you play with alone in your room. To perform perfectly under these conditions like John Petrucci, you truly need to be a master guitarist.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

You must understand that performing is another thing you should be practicing in addition to regular guitar/musical skills. To become a pro, you must practice performing in a way that will imitate the different challenges you could face on stage.

Even if you don’t have dreams of touring internationally as a pro musician, you must still work on becoming a better performer in order to gain confidence in yourself while playing in front of others. Check out this article to get guitar player stage fright help.

What Should You Do Right Now?

Now that you have become familiar with the things that make Petrucci’s musical skill go above and beyond that of other guitarists, do these three things to maximize the value you get from this knowledge:

1. Listen to the music of Petrucci’s band (Dream Theater) while focusing specifically on the things that have been discussed in this article. Even if this is not your preferred style of music, you will benefit greatly from listening to it with the deeper level of understanding you have now. This will help you to identify and separate the truly magnificent guitarists from the guitarists who are merely ‘good’.

2. Observe your own guitar playing to see what needs to be improved. Understand that all the skills I’ve talked about can be applied to anyone who plays guitar and you will become a much better guitarist once you have mastered them.

3. Use the resources throughout this article to strengthen the weak areas in your playing.

By doing these steps on a consistent basis, you will become a better guitarist and musician in much less time that it would take if you viewed Petrucci’s playing in the same way as most casual fans.



About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional musician, guitar teacher and songwriter. He also teaches and trains guitarists from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. On his website, tomhess.net, you can get additional free tips about guitar playing, guitar playing resources, mini courses and surveys.

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