How To Improve Your Guitar Skills By Learning About John Petrucci’s Style

By Tom Hess

Want to play guitar like John Petrucci? If you’re like most guitar players, you ‘only’ pay attention to his fast guitar playing and complex music writing style. However, to truly get the best value from studying this great guitarist, you will need to look much more closely to identify more subtle (yet important) areas within his style. Only then will you be able to fully utilize his style to enhance your own guitar playing.

These are the five most frequently overlooked elements in John Petrucci’s style that will benefit you most as a guitar player:

1. Very Precise Rhythm Guitar Playing

In addition to being an excellent lead guitar player, Petrucci has an uncanny ability to play tight, intricate rhythm guitar parts. In spite of this, most guitarists do not pay much attention to his rhythm playing because they do not perceive it to be as skillful as his lead guitar phrasing.

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:

  • Maintaining perfect silence (no noise) during rests between chords or notes
  • 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)
  • Getting rid of all the noise that can be created from vibrations in strings that aren’t being played
  • Using consistent palm muting for ALL chords/notes
  • Keeping all pinch harmonics ‘in key’ while playing them with vibrato that matches the rhythm in the music
  • 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

Additionally, the majority of Petrucci’s music is written for odd meter while using complex songwriting techniques, playing in between beats and making tons of unexpected changes to note values. This makes it difficult to play even the easiest of Petrucci’s rhythm guitar licks with perfect timing.

How Will This Make You A Better Guitar Player?

Understand that rhythm guitar playing is much more than simply playing along to the beat of the music or matching the ticks of a metronome. Then do these two things to become a better rhythm guitarist:

1. Take the time to listen to any of Petrucci’s music from his band Dream Theater while focusing ‘only’ on his rhythm guitar playing and how it matches up perfectly with the drum parts in the song. Once you do this, you will gain a totally different perspective on what it means to be a great rhythm guitar player.

2. Learn how to make your rhythm guitar playing tight using this guitar recording resource.

2. Excellent Performing Skills In Live Situations

Most fans of John Petrucci overlook the fact that he plays with great consistency during live shows. In addition to playing ‘highly complex’ music, Petrucci is also taking advantage of a highly developed skill set that gives him the ability to play excellent live shows. Fact is, playing live is totally different than playing at home or in the studio. Most musicians who are not used to the pressure of playing in live settings will struggle to perform well even if they are great at recording in the studio (or playing while alone in their room). Playing live presents challenges such as low lighting levels, playing when you can’t hear yourself, playing without much sleep, playing while being tired and covered in sweat plus a wide variety of other issues. It takes a real master guitarist to consistently perform his music as accurately as possible under these circumstances.

How Will This Make You A Better Guitar Player?

Know that ‘playing’ and ‘performing’ are two completely separate things and treat them as such when it comes time to practice. To play at the highest level, you must invest a great deal of time into practicing ‘performing’ while trying your best to recreate the challenges of playing in a live setting (like the ones mentioned above). Only then can you become perfectly consistent while playing live on stage.

That said, even if you aren’t interested in touring with a band as a pro musician, it is still highly important that you learn how to perform in live settings so you can be confident while playing in front of others. Learn how to overcome musician stage fright.

3. Guitar Solo Phrasing Ability

Guitar players who attempt to emulate Petrucci’s soloing style often focus on his ‘speed’ when they should be focusing on his ability to smoothly connect melodies together with excellent phrasing. This is what makes his guitar solos seamlessly transition from one melodic idea to the next with clear ‘beginning’ and ‘ending’ points. By listening to his work with Dream Theater you can hear tons of examples displaying this quality. Here are just a few:

  • “Voices”
  • “The Spirit Carries On”
  • “Forsaken”
  • “The Best Of Times”
  • “Ministry Of Lost Souls”

After listening closely to the solos above, you will clearly hear both a start and end to each phrase. Additionally, you will notice how each time a phrase is played, it sounds like a natural progression from the one that was played prior. This has the powerful effect of moving the music forward and taking the listener on a journey.

Petrucci’s phrasing approach has a lot in common with the one used by Yngwie Malmsteen. Yes, both players have an overall style that is very different, BUT both use the same approach when it comes to connecting the phrases of their solos together in a smooth, flowing manner. Learn more about Malmsteen’s specific musical style by checking out this Yngwie Malmsteen electric guitar lesson.

This soloing approach used by Petrucci is entirely different from the one used by the majority of guitar players. In most cases, guitar players simply play through the notes of the scales they have memorized without trying to build distinct phrases. This causes their guitar solos to sound ‘random’ and does not provide a smooth sense of progression for the listener.

How Will This Make You A Better Guitar Player?

You must abandon the approach of mindlessly running up and down scales during guitar solos and instead focus on:

1. Putting together articulate phrases that sound like clear musical statements. Find out how to do this by reading this guitar soloing article.

2. Create a solo based on a specific melodic theme that will be ornamented using different guitar techniques. This will be much less difficult once you can think about soloing similar to how a singer writes his/her vocal melodies. See a demonstration of these concepts by watching this video on how to create a guitar solos.

4. Innovative 7 String Guitar Playing

I have already written a 7 string guitar column where I discussed a crucial mistake made by 7 string guitar guitarists: focusing 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 Will This Make You A Better Guitar Player?

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. Free 7 string guitar player mini course

2. Resource about playing rhythm guitar riffs

5. Mastery Of Various Songwriting Approaches

In Petrucci’s band Dream Theater, he writes music using a wide variety of different styles. This is made possible by Petrucci’s ability to write not just for guitar, but also for all other instruments used in the band’s songs. Being able to do this (while writing very complex music) requires complete mastery of different songwriting approaches instead of simply writing using the same approach every time.

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).

Unlike Petrucci, the majority of guitar players write their music in a highly improvisational manner. In most cases, all of their songs are written by simply hoping that something ‘cool’ will happen while they are playing through the same licks or chords over and over. Then they will simply try to mold these disconnected, random ideas into a complete song. If you use this same approach, you have a lot to learn before you will be able to write in a highly creative and self-expressive manner. Although improvising new songwriting ideas is an approach that can produce results, you are greatly limiting yourself if this is the only approach you use. In fact, since so many people write music this way, there is a good chance that your music will sound a lot like the music of everyone else (rather than something that is ‘unique’ to you).

How Will This Make You A Better Guitar Player?

To become a more creative songwriter, you need to do these two things:

1. Use a variety of songwriting techniques so that you are never constrained to just one method for writing music. Study the information in this article to learn how to become a great songwriter.

2. Read this article to find out how to become a more creative musician.

What Is The Next Step To Take?

Now that you know what makes John Petrucci’s guitar playing style more amazing than what most give him credit for, begin consistently doing these three things:

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. Look deeply at your own guitar playing skills and identify what areas in your playing need the most improvement (within the context of the topics in this article). Understand that all the concepts I’ve talked about here are universally applicable to all guitarists. You will become a much better guitarist and musician once you have fully mastered them.

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

Once you do these three things on a consistent basis, you will make progress on guitar at an accelerated rate (much faster than any casual Petrucci fan who is unaware of the topics in this article).



About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and guitar player. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.

Boost Your Learning Automatically


A lot of learning on the guitar is done automatically without your awareness. Just start playing with a more experienced guitarist and you will find you start picking up skills and playing nuances that you didn’t have before. When you are learning with your teacher you may find you not only learning the content of the lesson but also start playing and approaching things in the same way that they do.


This is very useful because you may not be able to remember all the information given to you but through osmosis you will find that your fingers will naturally start to play the tune, mastering the skill without you having to think about it.


This can be classed as unconscious learning and in many cases is pretty unlimited in the amount of knowledge, skills and experience it will allow you to pick up. Although we need to consciously learn material from teachers, books and videos there are ways we can use this automatic learning part of ourselves when using these educational resources. This will both boost your progress and enjoyment.


Here are a few tips to enhance this learning skill:


Think less – when learning something new, when you feel you are getting it, stop thinking about how you are going to play the song or passage, relax, and just let your fingers do the work, you’ll be amazed as you’ll find that you have already have got it.


Trust your ability - As a teacher the common question I get from students is, ‘is this right’ or ‘have I got it’. Invariably as a student you probably know the answer. Even if you have just started, trust your instincts and ask yourself the question, does it sound or feel right. If no, then work with your teacher to help assess where you need to put it right. This level of self appraisal will help you develop your musical ear as well as progress your playing. This is particularly useful when developing tone.


Jam – At any opportunity jam and rehearse you newly acquired skills. Your teacher may have taught you a new set of chords or scales, so use these in every playing context possible, jam with friends, with more experienced musicians, backing tracks etc. Play these in any way possible that you get enjoyment. Be completely creative. You will reinforce these skills and also automatically acquire new ones as you can see what musical context you can use them in.


Surround yourself with others music – Listen to your favourite guitarists as much as possible, or better still see them live. You may not be able to play like them a the moment, but you will start automatically picking up the way they approach their playing and music as you continue learning. It maybe the way they structure there songs, a particular technique, a tone or feeling or set of chord voicings’. After a while you may find yourself incorporating these into your own playing whilst varying it to your own style.


Mix all these activities into your learning along with the more structured lessons and practice and enjoy the music that you make.

By Alex Brett

The Truth About Why You Struggle To Express Emotion In Your Guitar Playing

by Tom Hess

Would you like to have the ability to control what your listeners feel when they listen to your guitar playing? Do you want to know how to express your emotions perfectly with your music? Having the skills to control musical emotion in this way is the ultimate achievement for any serious musician.

Sadly, for many musicians this ability remains an unattainable dream. Even though most guitarists desire to express themselves on this level, very few are successful at reaching this goal. Here are the most common reasons why this happens:

Reason #1:

It is very rare that guitarists ‘attempt’ to develop this ability. You can see the proof by looking at the data provided by Google’s own Keyword Tool showing average searches done per month (worldwide) for the following terms:

play guitar with feeling = NO searches
expressing feeling with guitar = NO searches
play guitar with emotion = NO searches
express yourself on guitar = NOT A SINGLE search
playing guitar with teeth = 320 searches

You read it right! The majority looks up “playing guitar with teeth” instead of “expressing feeling with guitar” or other such topics. Pretty sad…

Reason #2:

When guitarists begin learning about applying theoretical musical concepts to guitar, they spend a lot of their time focusing on the wrong things. Although this info can be helpful to your guitar playing up to a certain extent, these things by themselves will do little to help you express very specific emotions when you play guitar. The same applies to songwriting, and guitar improvisation.

Here is a great illustration of my point: If I told you to find an “E” note on the guitar you would probably be able to do this very quickly. However, if I told you to quickly find a note on your guitar that creates a particular feeling, you wouldn’t be able to find it (assuming you are similar to most guitarists). Let me explain this a bit further…

Suppose that we were both in the same band, and were getting ready to play guitar for band practice. Instead of our usual practice schedule of running through our song list, I brought a new idea to the group. I get things going by playing an “A Major” chord rhythm. Next, I ask you to pick up your guitar and “instantly” generate the feeling of “joy felt by a man who just proposed to his girlfriend (and she accepted!).” What is the one note you would play on the fretboard (above my “A Major” chord) that would perfectly express the idea of “joy felt by a man who just proposed to his girlfriend (and she accepted!)?”

The greater portion of guitar players would have no idea how to express this with guitar playing. They would likely scramble around the fretboard trying to find something that works. Even if we switched to trying to express something totally different, the majority still would not understand how to quickly find the right note (…in their head, before even touching the guitar.)

The key to accurately expressing ideas with guitar is knowing exactly (in your head) which note will work in any given context, before you touch the guitar. All of the greatest guitar players who can freely express strong emotions with their music have the ability to know ahead of time which note(s) will best express a certain feeling in any context. Not to mention, that they can use this ability to make anyone who listens to them feel the same. This is the greatest ability that one could ever look to obtain in all of music.

How can you get great expressive skills on guitar?

Perhaps you think that you need a masters degree in music performance or detailed knowledge of how music works to be able to become highly expressive with music. Well, you don’t need either one.

Here are 2 things you must do to master musical expression with guitar:

1.From now on, any time you pick up your guitar, play the guitar while thinking specifically about the emotions you are feeling and what you want to express.

2.Stop seeing the fretboard as a series of notes, fret numbers, and scale patterns. Start seeing emotions that you can express on guitar.

To see and hear how this works, begin by watching the video below.

As soon as you begin watching the video, you will find out that by doing what most guitarists do to learn guitar, you will not be able to become a highly expressive guitar player.

By changing your current guitar playing mindset to fit that of a “highly expressive guitarist,” you will be able to become a masterful musical artist, and significantly affect the way others experience your music. As you practice expressing yourself on guitar, you WILL see huge results in all areas of your guitar playing.

Watch this video about music theory for guitar to become much more expressive guitarist.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is an electric guitar teacher online, recording artist and a mentor for musicians.  He trains guitar players from around the world how to reach their musical goals in his correspondence guitar lessons online.  Visit his website to receive many free guitar playing resources, mini courses, guitar practice eBooks, and to read more articles about guitar playing.

Why You Haven’t Become A Great Guitarist Yet

by Tom Hess

Are you serious about becoming a great guitarist? As a person who has invested tons of time into becoming a great guitar player, I get a lot of pleasure helping others fulfill their full potential to reach greatness. After decades of experience helping guitarists attain excellent guitar skills, I have pieced together the five main keys for guitar playing greatness. Become a great guitarist by reading through this article, learning about each one and implementing the information you learn.

The 1st key to becoming a great guitarist is the simplest one to get. Actually, it requires no effort at all. This is because you already possess it. The first key is having the ‘potential’ to achieve greatness. In fact, everyone possesses this key. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a guitar player who cannot become great because he/she was not born with ‘natural talent’. I’ve seen this misconception proven wrong every single time I’ve trained guitarists with average/little talent to transform themselves into incredible players.

The bottom line is: no matter who you are, you possess the potential for greatness. That said, you will NOT become a great guitarist until you identify and accept the fact that you ‘do’ possess this potential. If you do not believe this, you will consistently fall short of your musical goals and blame other outside factors for your lack of greatness.

Whether you think you CAN or CAN’T become great, you are right! After continually accepting certain thoughts and ideas, they become your reality. With this in mind, I have never come across a guitar player who truly aspires to be ‘merely average’ at best. Additionally, I know that YOU want to achieve much more than mediocrity… you want to achieve greatness. I know this because you are reading this article right now about becoming a great guitar player.

So this is a summary of what we know so far:

1. Everyone already has the potential to achieve greatness.

2. You become what you believe.

3. Every guitarist wants to become great.

That being said, why do so many guitar players FAIL to become great? The answer lies in their inability to attain the remaining four keys for reaching greatness. Although most people fall short in one or more of these areas, anyone (including you) can conquer them all. If any voice just popped into your head saying something similar to this: “… my scenario is different… Tom, I can’t become great”, I give you full authorization to tell that voice to shut up! Why? Because your situation is NOT different… Of course, you are your own unique person, but you are not so different from everyone else that the following principles are not applicable to you.

The 2nd key: To begin with, it is extremely likely that you have never even been subjected to an exact definition of musical greatness… First of all – before the thought even crosses your mind – No, being great has nothing to do with being able to shred on guitar, understand the theory behind how music works or develop your own musical style. Although you may have heard the opinion of many others about what makes a guitarist truly ‘great’, fact is these people are probably not qualified to put forward strong statements about greatness. To understand what true greatness is, you need to look at it from a foundational and base level.

You need someone to take you aside and say, “This is what greatness looks like while implementing the things you learn about playing guitar, making music or improvising.” “This is what it looks like to be great in the way you learn things, how you learn them, the specific things you learn and the exact order that you learn the things you want to master.” “Here is what greatness looks like in the context of total self-expression as a guitarist and musician.” “Here is what true greatness looks like while organizing your practice time to effectively reach your guitar playing goals.” “This is what it means to be great in the context of staying mentally focused while training and how this approach differs from regular practice.” “This is what it looks like to achieve greatness when you are doing everything in the right order, at the right time and becoming highly-proficient in all areas.” The point is that ‘musical greatness’ isn’t just a single thing – it is the result of having greatness in every step you take through the process of becoming a great musician. You must learn what it looks/feels like as you go through the process of reaching greatness within yourself.

The 3rd key: You must totally understand (with 100% clarity) the things you want to achieve as a guitar player and musician. If you do not understand these things in ‘great detail’, how will you ever accomplish them? It would be like thinking to yourself, “I want to get my mom a present for her birthday, but I have no idea what she wants or what to get for her. I’m not sure if she wants candles, pictures, a card, a nice blouse, a fishing pole or… a power drill.” So the day before her birthday you go up to the mall and walk around for hours until finally you settle for some lame present. Then her birthday arrives and the whole family is there at the dinner table when your mom opens your present… a 15 dollar gift card to a fast food restaurant (that she doesn’t even like).

Now, returning to music – If you are unsure about what you want from your guitar playing, how will you know the correct road to take, the best things to study and the most effective strategies to use? You must know EXACTLY what you want to achieve first because this is what determines every decision you make and action you take.

The 4th key: For the small percentage of guitarists who truly understand what greatness looks like as described above, and have determined what they seek to accomplish as well as the road that will get them there, there exists another challenge to overcome.

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of guitar players out there do not believe in themselves, lack confidence, and don’t think they have the capacity to dedicate themselves to truly achieving greatness.

So instead of achieving greatness, they give up and return to the habit of always taking the path of least resistance. As a result, they only are able to achieve mediocre results and end up feeling disappointed in themselves because they know deep down that they are not reaching their fullest potential. This makes it even harder for them to do what it takes to become a great guitarist.

The 5th key: If you…

1. Know what true greatness really looks like in all different scenarios…

2. Understand the strategies you must to implement in order to achieve it…

3. Have confidence in your own ability to reach your full potential and make forward progress…

… then you will take action to become the great guitar player you desire to be, can be and ‘ought’ to be. However, be aware that you can still lose your way, become confused, upset, impatient, or distracted… leaving you back where you started in a mindset of mediocrity. Fact is, it is way easier to give up and accept a life of ‘being average’ than it is to stay on course and do anything it takes to become great. So why does this happen exactly? Why do so many people give up in their pursuit of greatness and return to their comfort zone (never to accomplish anything truly great)? It is my belief that this occurs when you are lacking someone who is there to inspire you, believe in your capacity to succeed, support you, hold you accountable and help you up in times when you fall flat on your face. You don’t have someone there who can empathize with your situation because that person has experienced it many times as well. You must have all five keys to become a great guitarist. You must have someone on your side with tons of experience, who will support you, train you and give you massive amounts of inspiration… a person who will guide you along the correct path and make sure that you remain on that path until achieve the greatness you were destined to achieve.

This article is not a sales message or anything like that. There is nothing being sold here. I simply want to give you insight to help you understand why you have not yet reached the level you want to be at as a guitarist, and what you must do to finally accomplish what you have been destined to achieve since birth – Unstoppable Greatness!

About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional touring musician and electric guitar instructor. After teaching thousands of guitar students internationally through his online guitar instruction website, he has become the leader in online guitar instruction. Check out his lead guitar tips, free video lessons on guitar, and guitar practice videos to make fast progress in your guitar playing.