Isaac Delahaye is a Belgian guitarist and composer, best known as the lead guitarist of Dutch symphonic metal band Epica, formed in 2003. Delahaye incorporates legato, alternate picking, fingerpicking and tapping in his solos.
Golden rule #1: Find a teacher or mentor
If you decide to pick up an instrument, find yourself a teacher and/or a mentor. This might seem obvious, but it's just a good idea to connect with someone who has already walked the path you want to follow yourself. This person can point out any mistakes they've made, making sure you learn faster and more effective. If you’re in a band, your mentor can simply be the other guitar player who is ahead of you.
You can have multiple mentors; it doesn't even need to be a person. There are educational books, tutorials, guitar tabs, and much more to your disposal. It doesn’t really matter who or what it is, just make sure to learn from the best.
— Over the years, I've had more than 10 guitar teachers and countless mentors. Mentors would include certain albums, guitarists, books, YouTube series, etc.
Golden rule #2: Practise a lot
Some people play guitar all day long, but there are not many people who really practise. There's a huge difference between the two. The majority of guitarists just repeat what they’re already able to play. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. You need that kind of repetition as well. But if you really wanna get better fast, then you need to watch out for new things all the time and incorporate them into your practice routine.
— As a teenager, I'd get up early to be able to practise before going to school, muffling the strings with a pair of socks so I wouldn't wake up anyone in the house. At college of music, I'd practise around 12 hours a day. This could include technique, improvisation, transcription, composing, etc.
Golden rule #3: Watch out for your right hand
This is a piece of advice you’ll rarely find in any tutorial or book. A regular right-handed guitarist mostly keeps his eyes on the left hand because there’s a lot of shifting when changing chords or running up and down the fretboard. Consequently, a lot of people ignore their right hand, which is where 90% of mistakes occur. If you focus on this, your playing will improve dramatically.
— Whenever I'm learning something new, I still look at the patterns in the right hand first. Back in the days, I spent hours on end practicing right hand stuff without even playing something in the left hand, or even away from the guitar altogether. I'd use the seam of my jeans, or a ruler at school.
Golden rule #4: Know your goal
I always practise skills within a context. If there’s no album to be recorded, or no new songs to be written, I won’t practise. If there’s no day of recording solos ahead, I might not even pick up the guitar at all. I start practicing 2-3 months before we start recording or go on tour. This is an ideal time frame to improve technique and be in the best shape you can be as a musician.
However, the goal can also be to learn a certain song. In this case, I just try to find as much info on the artist, the techniques involved, the theory behind it, the reasons the artist came up with this specific song/part/technique. This makes it a lot more interesting, and I can incorporate the ideas more easily into my own playing. Knowing why something is done a certain way, is just smarter.
Golden rule #5: Always use a metronome
This isn’t a real hack, it’s something everyone will tell you. However, it’s often neglected. Some sort of backing track as a reference can also come in handy, helping you keep track of your progress.
— For years I've kept track of my improvement by keeping a log book, more specifically indicating my bpm progress. My trusty old metronome is still my best friend whenever I'm practising.
Golden Rule #6: Don't try to run before you can walk
I still make this mistake from time to time. However, before moving on to something else, I push myself to be able to repeat whatever I'm learning 8 times without any mistakes. If there is a persistent mistake, I slow down and look for whatever it is that I keep tripping up on. This will again make me focus on the right hand, or it will make me look for ways to adopt a certain fingering in the left hand in order to be able to play it properly. Don't think the mistakes will suddenly disappear ;)
Golden rule #7: Don’t try to copy someone else
If you’re trying to mimic someone else, your mind and body may not lend itself to their style, and you’ll always be a poorer imitation. If you want to play like Steve Vai, everyone will call you a copycat. Don't get me wrong; it's good to be influenced by others and work hard to play every single note they've played. But don't stop there. Find your own voice. Again, try to find out why and how a certain artist came up with a unique technique. It'll set you on a mission to give it your own twist. That's when you'll get noticed by others.
Golden rule #8: Your limitations are the key
Looking back, and talking to other professional musicians, the real key to success is your own flaws, your limitations. Paul Gilbert has a unique style because he thought you had to start with an upstroke instead of a downstroke. Steve Morse adapted sweep picking licks for alternate picking and created his own style. Eric Johnson is playing odd rhythm patterns because he wanted to use economy picking consistently.
— I work my way around certain techniques I'm not familiar with, thus creating my own way of playing. Often, I'm playing the same notes with a different fingering pattern, making it a lot easier for myself. What works good for you, might not work at all for somebody else.
I would start with Slash. Guns’n’Roses was the first heavy band that I got to know. I also need to mention David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s guitarist - I really like him because he plays the right note at the right time. And other than that, the usual suspects: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Dimebag Darrell, etc. Outside the rock/metal scene I've practiced a lot of Andy Timmons, Tommy Emmanuel, Mike Stern, Eric Johnson, etc.
- “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Murphy. This book says that you can achieve anything in life if you endure, have faith, and are confident. This is pretty much the message running through the Epica albums. Design your universe, shape your own world and just go for it.
- There’s another great book called “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch, which basically says that 80% of all results stem from only 20% of your actions. It’s a really interesting read since this again lets you realize you need to focus on what really matters instead of just putting in a lot of wasted time noodling useless stuff.
Isaac recently launched College of Metal, an online platform where you can find practical and in-depth instructional lessons from professional metal artists. The first series of guitar courses is featuring Epica. Get your hands on these courses at store.collegeofmetal.com.
Useful tips above on how to play the guitar are provided to Show4me by Isaac Delahaye, the lead guitarist of Dutch symphonic metal band ‘Epica’
Follow Isaac Delahaye online