How To Turn Your Thoughts Into Musical Emotions With Guitar

By Tom Hess

Do you want to be able to fully express yourself with your guitar? One of the most powerful aspects of music is its ability to serve as a tool for expressing our ideas and emotions. It is for this reason that musical expression should be one of your greatest goals. In order to enhance your musical expression and clearly communicate your ideas, you must understand how to think creatively when you play guitar. Once you have mastered this, you will be able to use your guitar to create very deep connections with those who listen to your music.

Most guitarists want to be able to express themselves better with their guitar playing; however, the majority of guitar players have no idea how to actually practice this skill. This leads to a lot of time being wasted on practicing guitar in a way that does not produce big results. The solution to this problem is to develop a more accurate fundamental understanding of how to develop musical creativity.

Many people play the guitar songs and melodies of great guitar players hoping that they will soak in the same musical expression abilities through time and experience. Although it is cool to play nice guitar riffs, and learn your favorite solos on guitar, doing this alone will not give you musical creativity. The reality is that copying other musicians will bring very few results on its own. There are essentially two things you need to understand in order to become highly creative and express emotions in music:

  1. You have to understand the manner in which great guitar players and musicians ‘think’. More specifically, this means determining WHY they choose the specific notes and musical ideas that they do. This is something that you cannot learn if you simply copy the “notes” of your favorite songs and guitar solos. Rather than just playing the same notes as other musicians, you must spend time thinking about the musical emotions you want to express, and what specific musical choices you need to make to achieve that goal. Once you gain this level of musical creativity, you will develop your own unique sound as it relates to the ideas and emotions that come from your mind.
  2. You must learn why certain musical elements create very predictable emotions for people, and then use this knowledge when playing music for others. The best musical artists will generally make decisions in their music based on the goal of influencing the emotions of the listeners in a specific way (whether the artist, or their audience consciously realize it themselves or not). Without this ability to intentionally express your unique emotions in music, you will be limited to merely playing the musical ideas of others.

If you want to truly master musical creativity, you will need to learn how to use music theory. Unfortunately, most guitar players have one of two misconceptions about what music theory IS. Some people stay away from theory because they believe it contains unbreakable “rules” that will limit their freedom of musical expression. Other guitar players think that the purpose of music theory is only to learn abstract ideas about all the nuts and bolts that make up music.

The truth is, music theory is neither of these things. Music theory is the idea of connecting one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions together through musical expression. It is the ability to explain WHY we feel emotions in music, and how we can continue to use musical creativity to recreate our emotions.

Change The Way You Think About Music Theory

In order to really understand music theory, you need to first get rid of any of the current misconceptions you have about it (as described above). Once you do this, you can truly unlock your greatest potential with musical expression and creativity. The main thing to understand about music theory is that it is very useful for explaining how music makes us feel various emotions.

There are many ways to demonstrate this, and here is one example of how I teach my guitar students to become more musically creative by applying music theory. First, I have them take out a piece of paper and write down all of the thoughts, ideas, and emotions they want to convey through musical expression. Once they have done this, I ask them to try to figure out the various music theory tools that can be used to express these things. The key here is to emphasize “applying” music theory in a creative way so that you integrate the music world together with everyday thoughts and situations.

Using exercises such as the one above is great for helping you to understand the connection between raw music theory concepts and their application for specific expressive uses. This helps you to learn to associate musical concepts with the ideas you have in your mind. If you would like to hear a more detailed explanation of these ideas, watch this musical creativity guitar video.

Here are the most important skills you will get from learning music theory:

  1. You will gain an understanding of exactly WHY you enjoy listening to certain kinds of music. This will allow you to create the same musical emotions that you get from the music of your favorite artists without copying/cloning their exact guitar licks and solos. This skill will greatly enhance your musical creativity.
  2. You will no longer have to waste time trying to find the “right notes” when making your own music. You will be able to quickly identify the exact musical elements needed to express your emotions in music. This will put your level of musical creativity far ahead of most guitarists and musicians who simply play around on their instrument until something sounds interesting.
  3. Music theory gives you all the equipment you need to put together new musical ideas much more quickly, without having to rely on remembering the way something sounds. Having the ability to associate specific feelings and emotions with the musical tools needed to express them allows you to compose and organize entire sections of your music on paper (or by ear) before even playing any notes.
  4. When you understand how to connect emotions in music with the musical ideas that create those feelings, you will be able to make music that puts the listener into a specific emotional state (that you get to choose!)

What Do You Need To Do Right Now?

If your goal is to become highly skillful at musical expression, then you need to follow these steps to start achieving this on guitar:

  1. First, watch this musical creativity guitar video.
  2. Remember that although music theory is extremely important for maximizing your musical creativity, you need to also develop a variety of musical skills to achieve the most freedom in your musical expression.
  3. Understand that music theory skill is not developed by merely taking a certain number of music theory lessons, but rather by your ability to use your current knowledge to accurately bring out your emotions through your music. Use the exercise mentioned earlier in this article to see how well you can use theoretical music concepts to make music that is consistent with the ideas you want to express. If you struggle with this, this either means that your music theory skills are low or (most commonly) you do not understand how to use what you know in music theory in an actual musical context. If you play guitar while integrating together music theory and musical expression, you will notice a HUGE surge in musical creativity!

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you know a lot about scales, chords, and other theoretical concepts. The most essential thing when it comes to music theory, is understanding how to consistently integrate your music knowledge with the thoughts and ideas in your mind. Once you can do this, your musical creativity will be overflowing!

About The Author: Tom Hess is a successful professional guitar player, composer and the guitarist of the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He also trains musicians to reach their guitar playing goals in his rock guitar lessons online. Visit his website, to read more articles about guitar playing, get free guitar tips and guitar playing resources.

Here Is Exactly How To Practice Guitar Scales

What is the first you do when you feel low on inspirational ideas in your guitar playing? Most guitar players attempt to solve this problem by seeking out new guitar scales to practice and play. Unfortunately, no sooner than they find the next new sale to practice, they realize that they are again feeling bored and out of creative options in their guitar playing. Ironically, rather than seeking a more effective and better way of practicing scales in general, these guitar players instead attempt to solve the problem by learning “even more” new scales. This creates a never-ending vicious cycle of frustration and disappointment.

The good news is that there is a superior way to learn scales on guitar that will enable you to make more progress in less time. The single most critical point you need to remember is that it is necessary to fully explore every creative option offered by a new scale before you move on to start learning more scales. By doing this, you will improve your guitar playing with scales much more quickly and will enjoy the process of practicing guitar a lot more.

Below I will outline for you several essential tips that will help you to get much more out of every scale you practice on guitar. Following this advice will enable you to not end up in the very common dilemma described above, and instead move forward much more quickly towards your guitar playing goals.

To see in more details how to use the advice from this article in your own guitar practicing, watch this free video on playing guitar scales.

1. Break Out Of “Box Patterns” And Master The Guitar Fretboard Fully By far the most popular mistake the vast majority of guitarists make when learning to play scales is only playing them in a single area of the guitar. The most common example of this for blues/rock guitar players involves playing the A minor pentatonic scale in the fifth position on the fretboard (only) and completely neglecting to learn it in other areas of the guitar. The result of this is similar to watching a movie on TV and switching channels at the first commercial break to start watching a different program, and without ever coming back to finish the original movie continuing to switch channels to watch something brand new as soon as another commercial comes.

In guitar playing world, doing this leads to never being able to truly use the scales you have “learned” to their full potential in your music. To overcome this VERY common problem, you must make time in your practicing to learn to play every scale you want to master all over the guitar. Fact is, you can write much more music (much more expressively) with only a single scale that you know on the guitar inside and out than you can with dozens of scales that you can only play in one area of the guitar.

To watch me demonstrate several examples of how to practice scales around the guitar neck, watch this free video about playing guitar scales.

2. Avoid The CAGED System Even though this system of playing guitar scales is quite popular among some guitar teachers, it is NEVER used by world class virtuoso guitar players because it places a huge number of restrictions on your ability to freely use scales in music.

Without writing a 100 page dissertation about all the flaws of the CAGED system, its single biggest weakness is that it is not based on “how scales ACTUALLY work in music” for all instruments and is instead intended to create a shortcut only for “guitar players” by exploiting several isolated and completely illogical visual shapes on guitar (that, by the way, only work in ‘standard tuning’ and become totally useless in drop tunings or open tunings). The result of such a crippling system is that guitarists remain forever restricted in the way they can use scales musically and cannot play scales all over the guitar on the same level as other musicians who have a real and complete understanding of how scales are supposed to work in music.

Fortunately, the complete and most efficient ways of practicing scales on guitar are not any more difficult to learn and understand than the (much flawed) CAGED system.

3. Find Out What Scales Your Favorite Guitar Players Use (And HOW They Use Them) A great training exercise you should do in addition to your regular practice sessions of learning scales on guitar involves listening carefully to your favorite music (and guitar solos in particular) and studying what scales your favorite guitar players use. If you are less advanced in terms of your ear training, you can use someone else’s transcriptions (if you trust the transcriber) or figure the solos out by ear on your own.

On top of being a tremendous training drill for developing awesome ear training, this kind of practicing will show you ideas of how you can and should use scales in your style of music to write songs, guitar solos and improvisations.

4. Get Specific About Your Scale Needs Depending on the style of music you play, there will be some scales that are much more common to your guitar playing style than others (for example: the Harmonic minor scale is much more common in Neo-classical metal guitar compared to the Blues scale, and vice versa for Blues/Classic Rock guitar players). With this in mind, you need to prioritize your guitar practice time by focusing your attention FIRST on getting the maximum creative potential out of the most important scales for your style. Only “after” doing that does it make sense to spend significant time to begin practicing exotic and unusual scales.

There is nothing wrong with knowing how to play lots of scales, but in order to truly get results from doing that, several things need to happen first: You need to have already done the work of mastering the most essential scales for your musical style (as described above), and you must have a reliable method for practicing that you can apply to quickly learn any scale on guitar.

You can use one of 2 ways (or preferably both) to achieve the goal above: you can either ask a guitar teacher to simply tell you what the most important scales for your musical style are, or you can improve your aural skills (ear training) and knowledge of how music works to hear what scales are used in your favorite music yourself.

5. Practice Playing Scales On Each Single String Of The Guitar In Addition To “Scale Shapes” Most musicians are comfortable with playing scales “vertically” (from the low E string to the high E string). Even though this is an important foundation of all playing of scales on guitar, it is equally important to learn how the scales are laid out on each of the 6 strings of the guitar from the first fret to the last fret (by playing “side to side” across the guitar neck). Training in this way will help to picture scale shapes in every position of the guitar more easily, even if you are starting to play a phrase from a string other than the 6th string.

What Is The Next Step? Obviously, there are multiple ways to proceed regarding learning scales on guitar and certainly some are more effective than others. In order for you to determine which one is the more appropriate for your needs, observe the rate of progress you are experiencing as you go through the process of practicing. If you have struggled to get great results from the way you used to learn scales on guitar up to this point, apply the tips given in this article. In addition, use the advice presented in the free video on playing guitar scales that was discussed earlier. As you do this, you will see your rate of improvement skyrocket.

About the author: Mike Philippov is a recording artist, guitar teacher and author. His articles on practicing guitar are read worldwide. Visit to find more free resources and lessons on improving your guitar playing.