What are the skills of a session guitarist? Guide on how to become a session guitarist

online session guitarist

The skills of a session guitarists are highly discussed but rarely given an appropriate description. That is because it’s a very relative subject and a vast topic to cover in one answer.

To become a session guitar player, you need to develop an advanced level of skill in

  • Ear accuracy
  • Music memorization
  • Instrument proficient
  • Vast repertoire of genres
  • Gear and tone understanding
  • Good Communicating level
  • Entrepreneurial & Self-management Skill

 

How to become a session guitarist?

 

It take time to learn the skills of a session guitarist and gradually develop by experience and practice.

Basically you have to be a very good guitar player, who is also a musician and a cool dude who I known by a lot of producers/artists/engineers as a guy who can quickly come up and record great guitar parts. Being funny helps a bit to!

For a study purpose I will divide the skill in 3 main categories.

  1. Music Skills
  2. Instrument Skill
  3. Business Skills
 

Music Skills – how much music knowledge do you need to become a session guitar player?

Musical skills include all the skills related to musical understanding, ear training and theory needed to work and on recording session with other professional musicians.  

The main point here is not to be a theory freak or to be sight reader – the point is to be able to figure out the chords of a song by ear, know that note to hit, know what scale you are when you are told the scale and know how to communicate with other musician on time signatures and chord tones/intervals.

 

1- If for example you are told to play I IV VI II in the key G you should know what the chords are. If you are told to play a solo an an A major scale but use a minor 7th then you should know what this is.  If there is a tricky time signature you should know how to count it.

 

2- Playing on time is also essential. On the highest level of the job there are times when session players are asked to play a bit behind and ahead of the beat.

That is a skill that takes A LOT of effort to master but then takes the performance further that perfect! Best lesson I can think of to help you out with these skills is from the funky duck Cory Wong in this video

 

3- Ear accuracy also is very important. Practicing regularly to improve relative pitch is essential if you (like me) are not lucky to have been born with a perfect pitch. There are tons of way to do that – I would suggest to check out Rick Beato and his many useful tutorial on this.

 

4- Music memory refers to the fact that you can memorize tracks and reproduce them on spot. This is VERY Important for you to be able to play along on Song. Normally guitar players jam on songs and then forget what they played.

 In a studio situation the producer might say “hey I liked what you did there, can you do it again?”  – and you should be able to memorize and play it again.

 

5- Music theory is always a controversy topic – in my opinion the more you know about it the better, if you can apply it and help other musicians in the session or figure out faster your guitar lines. Other than that I have seen top session players like Tom Bukovac and Tim Pierce who suggest knowing a lot of practical Guitar Music Theory that is built through a mixture of experience and formal musical training.

Check out this video from Rick Beato for some basic music theory every session guitar players should know

 

I would personally say that the minimal skills of a session guitarist are:

Your basic scales and the “color” of the modes (not memorizing all!) – chord structure and inversions – circle of 5th and chord on different scales – time signature understanding and Intervals are enough music theory knowledge to get your through most of the sessions.

 

Instrument skills – Essential guitar skills of a session player

 

Talking about guitar skills now I want to list out some must know and Apply skills every session guitar player needs. The topic is mostly directed to intermediate and advanced players who normally are somehow self-aware in some way of their skill level.

  • Playing clean

By playing clean this I mean no finger noise (if not asked!), no hand sliding on strings noise, no sloppy chords changes and no missed string hits. This is must know skills to becoming a session guitar player.
The secret to achieving  this Is applying a routine of exercises  and train a lot on muting with both left and right hand,

Check out the incredibly helpful mister Tomo Fujita lesson giving you some awesome exercises:

  • Excellent fretboard knowledge

You must know all the notes on the neck on the back of your mind.  Fretboard mastery related to different way to approach chords and solos. The caged system is a good way to learn different chords shapers and beyond that chord inversions and spread triads help out a lot

This lesson from Tom Quale on Intervals and learning the fretboard is a very cool way to approach your session playing.

  •  Style dependent techniques

In this category falls all skills that are required by different styles, for example, you have to be a great alternate and sweep picker if you want to shred on a metal session. If you are an acoustic player perfect strumming is a must etc.

Myself I’m more of Chameleon spread out in many styles – Check out my playing here.

You can be a specialized guitar player if that’s your way to do it!

  • Improvisation skills

When the click hits you don’t think anymore – You just play! That is the level of improvisation required that is achieved by practice and getting “in the zone” while performing.

Best way to approach improvising as session player is to be a story teller – one that builds up melodies in his hear and transmits them on guitar.

This lesson from David Wallimann is awesome in finding out what type of lead player re you and how to improve your lead and improvising skills.

  • Knowledge on tone and gear

” A song is a spectrum of frequencies – the job of a session player Is to fill that spectrums.” – Tim Pierce

 

You have to have an idea that goes beyond your cool lead or rhythm tone – you should know what sound and frequencies fit on the mix. The Edge from U2 Is the best example of a guitarist being a sonic architect – term used by Jimi Page to describe him on the documentary “It gets louder”.

You should know how a guitar rig works, what to bring in a session and how to use all your pedals and amps instantly. By that I mean that ear training is not only on figuring out notes, but also figuring out tones that fit the song.  It’s good to have you own almost signature tones that you can later adapt to what song needs

Check out my Article on HOW TO LAYER GUITAR TRACKS

 

Business Skills- Be a musician that thinks like an Entrepreneur

 

This is probably the most underrated aspect of musicianship and probably the one that separates the greats and the what could have been greats.

Beading a business minded musicians doesn’t mean becoming a commercial musician, or selling out – being an entrepreneur musician means knowing what value you bring to your listener, who they are and to approach them,|

I will be writing a whole article on this topic – but for now I will give some tips on how to be a session musician that thinks like entrepreneur

 

  • Treat producers and artists like clients and friends

The goal is to make them happy with the value you bring!

  • Offer also a bit more than asked

Give out an extra dry track or an alternate solo if you are doing a remote session along with a suggestion of what you think the mix should be.

  • Reviews are gold, both online and word of mouth

You will know the value of this from the first moment you set up you DAW and hit record!

  • Brand yourself online

 Build you YouTube online and your social media presence – more on this in another article

  • Create high value content  

Things that matter last, important is to create frequently and allow yourself to make mistakes.

  • Write your own music

That shows a lot in your commitment and also keeps the fun going –Check out my band’s music here!

  • Create an outstanding website

 I can help you with that since I’m both a session man & own my small digital agency

  • Social media is your day to day presentation – keep it constant and daily!

  • Learn marketing skills and bits of design and video editing.

Copywriting helps a lot and also some basic WordPress can help to.

  • Keep all your contents and regularly contact them

  • Learn how the music industry words

How a song is made who decides who to hire is the most important.

  • Expand your session work services

Start offering up paramagnet or for example acoustic song production & arrangement as I do!

  • Learn the whole music production process bit by bit

  • Being a nice guy helps a lot!

This is a lot to take in – But once you get your hand on the process it’s just an everyday things that happens spontaneously like replaying to an email.
.

Check out my website content and structure to learn how I do my marketing.

 

In the case of a session guitar player being a Been a musician that thinks like an Entrepreneur means branding yourself as an authority on your field by approaching session work as if you are running a session business – and not just another gig from studio to studio

Sharing with you also a very interesting interview f Tim Pierce with Rick Beato where talk about this subject intensively.

 

 

Final Words on skill needed to become a session guitar player.

 

The main ingredient in becoming a session guitar player is enjoying the process of becoming a session guitarist!

I can’t stress this enough. The most important of all is to have fun while playing and learning to become a session player, if you are not having fun – than what’s the point? You could be a great architect or engineer or anything else.

So as the great Tom Bukovac Says in this mighty video of Homeskoolin “Shut up and play your guitar”

 

 

Check out my story if you wish to learn HOW I DID IT – that might help you out. And also for all of the above written tips you can find a form of them being in applied on my Instagram account below and also on My Work & Music