Guitarists tend to get tunnel vision when practicing. You get a practice tone going, you start playing through some scales, some licks, some chord changes, and everything sounds good, right?
Then you get into the practice room, or even worse the studio, and it all falls apart. Your tone sucks and you’re not able to “nail” things like you did at home.
The best thing you can do for yourself is get a good cheap interface, learn how to use it (sites like KillerGuitarRigs.com have a ton of content on cheap interfaces and basic recording technique), and start practicing with your DAW.
There are a ton of practical reasons for this, and ways to approach it, but here are some of the main benefits as well as some fun ways to enjoy your guitar with your DAW.
One of the most common reactions the first time someone hears their own voice played back to them is “wait, that’s what I sound like?”
For guitarists, the first time hearing your playing on a recording can be just as jarring. You thought you were hitting every note perfectly, but the recording shows every squeak, every buzz, every note out of time.
When you’re practicing the guitar, you’re focusing on what you’re doing, but often that means you can be missing some of the nuances in what it sounds like.
A really good way to improve your playing is to record yourself playing whatever you’re practicing, for example some new scale at 90 BPM, and then listen back. Did you hit every note? Are you on time? Is there any buzzing?
Take what you hear is wrong, and then practice it – while recording yourself – until it’s just right.
Get used to playing with a click
Everyone says to practice to a metronome, and many of us have metronome apps on our phones – but do we use them?
Better yet, we’re back to the problem above – we might be playing along to a metronome, but are we really in time?
When you’re playing into your DAW, always keep your metronome on. This way you are not only improving your timing, but you’re giving yourself an audio reference on playback to measure whether you’re actually hitting time.
It also means that when you do end up going to a studio, you’re not going to get distracted by the metronome when it comes time to record your parts.
Start Thinking About Production
Getting a useable tone out of an amp is generally pretty straight forward, but it’s a whole other thing when you’re trying to fit your sound into a band.
The guitar is a mid range instrument, but guitarists often like to load up their tone with bass.
In addition, many guitarists will load up their signal with a ton of gain that makes the actual notes they’re playing get lost in the fuzz.
When you’re practicing into your daw, either standalone or along to a track, think about how your guitar sounds and how it can be improved.
In the moment it might feel awesome, but maybe you listen back and realize there’s too much gain on there, and you can’t quite make out all of those fast runs and string skipping you’re doing.
You might also find that you’re playing along to a backing track, but your guitar is getting lost because you’re not using enough mid range, and the bass guitar is eating your tone.
Take the opportunity within the DAW to get an idea of what you need to sound like as a guitarist to bring the most to the song.
Learn Full Songs
Every guitarist I know is guilty of this. When you start out, you learn some easy songs with a few chords, and you learn them front to back. Then as you get better, you just learn the cool passages.
Then as you get even better, you only learn the solos. I could call five guitarists right now who could play all of Slash’s most famous solos, but couldn’t play the rhythm parts to save their lives. Go online, search the name of a song with “bass drums vocals only”, load it into your DAW, and then go about adding all of the guitar parts.
Not only will you improve your rhythm technique, you’ll start realizing the connections between the different instrumentation that make up the entire sound.
On top of that, honestly, it’s one of the most fun things you can do as a guitar player on their own.
One of the tricky things about learning the guitar these days is there is so much information thrown at you online, but so many guitarists use those materials without the benefit of a teacher.
If you’re going to learn entirely online, you need to find someone to make sure you’re actually playing things correctly, and not fooling yourself into thinking your buzzy noisy mess is actually some killer playing.
Your DAW is that person. Record yourself into your DAW, keep the click on, get your tone right, and then listen back to yourself with a critical ear. It’ll pay off in dividends.
And if you’re still looking for a fun project, load in the backing tracks of your favorite record, and add all of the guitars. It’ll get you out of the “learning only licks” rut, and make you a better guitarist, songwriter, and engineer.