How To Enhance Your Guitar Playing By Studying John Petrucci’s Style

Author: Tom Hess

Author: Tom Hess

John Petrucci is well known for his fast guitar playing and complex, innovative music writing ability. However, if you are looking to become a better guitarist by studying him, you must look beyond his most obvious skills to find elements in his style that are generally unnoticed by most people. When you look deep enough, you will see that there is A LOT of hidden value in Petrucci’s playing style that will benefit you greatly as a guitar player.

Here are the top five commonly passed over areas of Petrucci’s style that will help you become a better guitar player:

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1. Impeccable Rhythm Guitar Playing

Although he is of course a superb lead guitarist, Petrucci’s rhythm guitar playing is nothing short of phenomenal. Unfortunately, the majority of guitarists who listen to his playing never pay close attention to his rhythm playing because they don’t think it sounds as challenging as his solos.

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:

  • 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
  • Maintaining perfect silence (no noise) during rests between chords or notes
  • Using consistent muting technique at all times
  • Playing artificial harmonics within the key of the music while applying vibrato that ties into the rhythm of the other parts in the song
  • Doing everything I just mentioned with flawless timing
  • Doing everything I just mentioned several times in a row while recording multiple tracks for a song

Another factor that makes Petrucci such an incredible rhythm guitarist is the fact that his music is written in a way that incorporates highly complex song structures, frequently shifting time signatures and other advanced musical techniques. This makes it a HUGE challenge for most guitar players to play even the most simple of Petrucci’s rhythm guitar parts with much accuracy.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

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. Become a better rhythm guitarist by learning how to record guitar in the studio.

2. Ability To Perform Live With Great Consistency

Most people who listen to Petrucci completely overlook his incredible performing skills. Fact is, many guitar players and music fans are totally unaware of the amount of skill it takes to perform consistently on stage (especially when it comes to playing music of a very high caliber). In most cases, guitar players who play well while sitting in their room or recording studio have great difficulty being able to play their music consistently in a live setting. Additionally, there are major challenges while playing live such as hot/cold weather conditions, playing while feeling tired from traveling, playing when you can’t hear yourself (or other band members) and many or possible issues that most guitarists have never considered. It only takes ‘one’ of these things to impair your ability to put on a great show and play with the same level of skill you play with alone in your room. To perform perfectly under these conditions like John Petrucci, you truly need to be a master guitarist.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

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. Read this article to learn more about overcoming stage fright as a guitarist.

3. Ability To Play Highly ‘Melodic’ Solo Phrases

One of the things most guitarists don’t recognize about Petrucci is how he writes highly melodic guitar solos that connect together in a very smooth manner. This gives his guitar solos a sound much like that of a spoken sentence – they have a clear beginning and ending. You can observe this all throughout his music with Dream Theater, but here are some examples to use a quick reference:

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

As you are listening to each of the solos from the tracks above, you will notice how they all have phrases with obvious beginning and ending points. You will also hear how every solo seems to progress in a very natural manner from start to finish with each phrase building off of the phrase before it. This gives the music a sense of progression that leads you to the next section of the song.

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. Read this Yngwie Malmsteen guitar article to learn more about his playing.

The soloing method used by Petrucci and Malmsteen is nothing like the one used by most guitarists. Truth is, most guitar players simply memorize several scales and ‘randomly’ play through each one while hoping that something cool will come out of their efforts. Unlike the methods described above, soloing in this manner leads to very erratic phrasing that does not give the listener a sense of forward movement.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

Starting right now, don’t think of guitar solos as just your chance to play through whatever scales you know in the right time over the right chords. Instead, think about:

1. Putting together articulate phrases that sound like clear musical statements. Learn how by reading this article about guitar soloing.

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 how this is done by checking out this video about creating a guitar solo.

4. Creative 7 String Guitar Playing

In an article I wrote about 7 string guitar playing improvement, I discussed one of the biggest mistakes that most 7 string players make: focusing too much of their playing in the lowest octave register, making their music extremely predictable. This is not a mistake that John Petrucci makes. Petrucci utilizes the entire pitch range of 7 string guitar just like how a pianist takes advantage of the natural range of the piano. The main thing that sets Petrucci apart from other 7 string players is that he uses the added range of the instrument to achieve great creativity in his playing rather than as a default starting point to go to when he has run out of ideas.

How Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

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 mini course for 7 string guitar

2. Article about writing rhythm guitar riffs

5. Knowledge Of MANY Songwriting Methods

It is well known that Dream Theater (Petrucci’s band) uses many different styles in their songwriting. This often makes listening to one album a completely different experience than listening to another (as opposed to having every album sound the same as the last). This is made possible in part because of the band’s immense talent as a whole but also because Petrucci is highly skilled at arranging songs using a wide variety of different songwriting methods (increasing his ability to write creatively).

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 Can This Make You A Better Guitarist?

To become a creative songwriter like Petrucci (while also improving in general as a guitarist) you must complete the following steps:

1. Understand how to use a wide collections of songwriting techniques so you always have creative options. Discover new techniques by reading this article about becoming a great songwriter.

2. Make your music more creative by reading this article on musician creativity.

What Should You Do Right Now?

Now that you have become familiar with the things that make Petrucci’s musical skill go above and beyond that of other guitarists, do these three things to maximize the value you get from this knowledge:

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. Look through and study the resources mentioned in this article to greatly improve in the areas where your playing is weak. This will prevent your weaknesses from holding you back from achieving your musical and guitar playing goals.

By doing these steps on a consistent basis, you will become a better guitarist and musician in much less time that it would take if you viewed Petrucci’s playing in the same way as most casual fans.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional guitarist, composer, and successful guitar teacher. He is also a trainer and mentor to guitar players from many countries worldwide in his guitar lessons online. Check out his guitar website and get access to a free guitar speed mini course, free guitar improvement resources, guitar articles and online guitar videos.

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Tom Hess is a professional guitarist, composer, and successful guitar teacher.
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