Becoming a better guitarist isn’t just about being able to truthfully replicate what you hear on CD, nor is it purely about knowing your scales. A technique, I feel, that is often overlooked is feeling. That is, playing with emotion.
Adding a little emotion into your playing can really go a long way. It helps you develop your own voice and style as a player.
A good exercise to try is to play a song you already know but play it differently to how you hear it on CD. Change the strumming pattern, adjust the tempo, pick the chords, try different chord voicings. The aim is not for the result to sound perfect (nor, is it to sound bad), just…different.
A song I’ve been tinkering with is John Mayer’s “Gravity” (Tabs). Guitar parts in the song are actually quite sparse but very pronounced when present, leaving plenty of room for personal touches. I like to hit some chords harder than others, pick the pre-chorus chords and even throw in a few vibrato notes during the solo.
The way you choose to play a song can really add new exciting colours to it, even to a point where you can call it your own.