10 Guitar-Playing Mistakes to Avoid


Are you one of those guitar-players who put in solid practice hours every day, work their ass off during the week with the aim of getting better at it, with the aim of constantly improving, but are still struggling to play the guitar the way you want to, it might be time to take a step back and look at the things that might be holding you back from becoming the kind of guitar player you want to.

Here is a list of mistakes (in no particular order) many guitar-players make – wittingly and at times, unwittingly – that you might want to look into correcting. If you’re having problem with a certain aspect of your guitar-playing, practicing, or if something doesn’t feel right, it might just be one of these things. Remember that identifying a problem is the first step towards correcting it.

Mistake 1. Taking the self-taught route: I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: there’s nothing wrong with teaching yourself to play the guitar. In fact, some of the biggest musicians and guitar players out there are self-taught. However the simple fact of the matter is that learning to play the instrument with an instructor is more efficient, easier, less time-consuming, less stressful and much less frustrating. Above all, learning from an experienced, professional guitar instructor will develop you into a better, more well-rounded and technically-sound guitar player.

Mistake 2: Attempting to play too fast: A large group of young guitar players, especially those inspired by the likes of Malmsteen, Vai or Satriani (and other similar artists) seem to be under the false illusion that when it comes to playing the guitar, faster = better. Which is why playing fast, and speed alone seems to be their priority. This is the wrong approach to take. Yes, speed and the ability to play quick is an important skill, but that’s the thing – it is just another skill. It is important to remember that playing the guitar is not only about speed. Focus on developing and honing a wide set of skills related to the genre of music you’re interested in.

Mistake 3: Not working on ear/aural-training: Most guitar players might not know this, but aural training or ear training is arguably one of the most important skills to have as a musician. The ability to learn and play a song simply by listening to it, without looking at any notes or literature, and as many professional guitar players and instructors would tell you, a ‘skilled ear’ actually enhances your creativity as a guitarist, musician and particularly as a song-writer.

Mistake 4: Buying a guitar without actually playing it: Rookie mistake. Never ever buy a guitar without having at least held it yourself and played it for a bit. Yes, buying online is a convenient and a tempting prospect, no matter which way you look at it. But the risk you take when buying online – or buying a guitar that you’ve never played in your life before – is that you could end up with an instrument that’s uncomfortable, or worse, produces a tone or a sound that is nothing like what you wanted. Always buy a guitar that you’ve used, or at the very least, seen someone play before. Make an informed decision.

Mistake 5: Not learning guitar notation: Think of guitar notation like a language. In order to communicate with it, and to communicate it to others, you need to learn it first. Learning notes, tabs and chords is essential, and one of the very basics of learning to play the guitar.

Mistake 6: Learning the guitar from someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing: This is in a way related to point # 1; while I personally recommend taking some form of guitar instruction/tuition, it is better to get this from someone who is qualified to provide it. Unfortunately, many guitar instructors out there have received little or no formal instruction themselves, especially about how to teach the guitar. Make sure you choose someone who’s experienced has the necessary qualification to be a good teachers, and above all, a proven track record of developing good musicians.

Mistake 7: Not having any guitar-playing goals: To succeed in just about any field in life, you need to have real, tangible short-term and long-term goals. This especially applies if you’re someone who’s learning the instrument. Ask yourself this: what kind of a guitar player do you see yourself become? What music interests you, and what are the names inspire you? What are the particular set of skills that you will need to acquire in order to become proficient in the genre of music you want to play? Most importantly, what it is specifically that you want to be able to play? Split your goals down into short-term and long-term ones. These goals will provide you with achievable milestones, and keep you on track during the process of learning the guitar.

Mistake 8: Having too many sources of learning the guitar: Yes, when it comes to guitar, too many cooks most certainly do spoil the broth! Today, any guitar player has easy access to many different sources of information – online lessons, DVDs, instructional videos, Youtube, advice from the people that you come across, guitar instructors and so on. And while having multiple learning opportunities is great, they might not be of as much benefit to you as you think. In fact doing so will only have you running around in circles; therefore my advice is to have a single good source of information.

Mistake 9: Not warming up before a session: This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that guitar players make, and it makes me cringe when I see experienced, professional players do this: not warming up before a session. Whether it’s a quick 20 minute session, or a 2-hour live gig, make sure you develop and follow a proper warm-up regime each time before picking up the axe. The human body is a complicated mess or bones and joints, and believe it or not, playing the guitar put a tremendous amount of pressure and strain on some of these bones and joints. Sustained pressure on your body over a long period of time is unhealthy, and can manifest itself in the form of stress-related injuries. In order to avoid this, make sure you loosen-up, stretch, keep your wrists straight (especially on the fretboard), and take regular breaks.

Mistake 10: Not practicing with a metronome: A metronome is the perfect alternative to a drum-beat. Professional guitarists use dream beats to keep their speed and rhythm in check, and that is where a metronome will come in very handy, especially during your practice sessions. Yes, practicing the guitar with a ticking noise in the background can be downright painful, but it’s long-term benefits include helping the player develop a steady tempo, a sense of rhythm and timing, and improving coordination, resulting in a technically-proficient musician.

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