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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>