Session pro Tim Pierce's tips for becoming a better guitarist could make great new year's resolutions – and they don't require any virtuoso aspirations

Tim Pierce and Brett Papa
(Image credit: Brett Papa / YouTube)

Brett Papa's YouTube channel is becoming the place for guitar wisdom lately. Following on from great lessons with Tom Bukovac, we have another session guitar icon in residence; Tim Pierce. A guitarist who has already carved out a successful channel on YouTube and is no stranger to sharing his wisdom. And he's got some good tips here that any guitarist can benefit from.

They're not technical pointers as much as broader advice; and they work. As we go into 2024 they're especially pertinent. Tim's a song guy; he never loses sight of that. He was inspired by top 40 radio in the '60s and his ear for guitar parts that enhance and serve songs has never left him. He became the player delivering those parts – the mandolin and slide solo on radio staple Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls? That's Tim.

"Get in a situation where you can develop a pocket," is Tim's number one piece of advice on improving as a player. It all comes back to rhythm – how you interact and syncopate with the rhythm section.

"You can do that by playing over your favourite songs," advises Tim. "Pull up any Motown song on Spotify and start playing along, you're gonna start getting there."

But that's no substitute for the ultimate learning scenario.

"On the weekend, wherever you can, get in a room with musicians and play. Play with a drummer and then get a taste of what it's like to play in front of an audience with that configuration; with that band. Then you can see what people respond to."

This is vital – because it's not about flash solos and technical licks. And this is something pro musicians Brett and Tim both agree on. 

"So get out there and see what they respond to and then at a certain point you realise you don't have to be the virtuoso anymore – you can play cool stuff, fun stuff – simple stuff and people respond

"We always imagined our music actually being popular with lots of women, wives and girlfriends – the general public," explains Tim. "So it's very different what a person in the audience responds to than what a musician in the audience responds to. A lot of times musicians are just playing for other musicians. That had nothing to do with why I wanted to get onstage.

"So get out there and see what they respond to and then at a certain point you realise you don't have to be the virtuoso anymore – you can play cool stuff, fun stuff – simple stuff and people respond. So that's what I would do – experiment with that, because maybe none of us are going to get to the [level] of our heroes that we love and our virtuosos. We love these guys… but you don't have to be that to have a lot of fun with music and your whole life."

This is such a crucial perspective – the things that matter to people don't require us to reach an unobtainable level. So we can stop beating ourselves up and focus on what people enjoy. And that doesn't usually mean the 'hardest' thing to play.  

Tim goes on to illustrate some hugely effective rhythm guitar parts from famous Deep Purple and Steppenwolf to illustrate the point in the video above. The kind of things that can really get a crowd moving. 

Check out more from Brett Papa's YouTube channel and Tim Pierce's.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.