7 common mistakes when learning guitar
Welcome to this guitar lesson about 7 common mistakes when learning guitar, and how to avoid them.
I believe that learning how to practice properly is a skill that is acquired over time, just like learning how to play the guitar. The more effective you are in your practice, the faster you will learn.
This article mentions some of the most important factors of what I call ‘Practice with Purpose’. Put these ideas to work in your training routine and see if you improve at a faster rate than before.
These insights have been gathered from my own experience and through my discussions with several top-notch guitarists and colleagues. Gathering this information, I was amazed at the number of common mistakes when learning the guitar that was constantly present.
I hope you find real value in this article and that it helps you reach your guitar-playing goals in the shortest amount of time possible.
#1 Lack of purpose – common mistakes when learning guitar
Or should I say no goals? It has been proven time and time again that people who set goals are the most successful people in society. I’m talking about written goals. There’s just something about writing a goal that gives it more life and power of its own.
Why should it be any different when it comes to learning a musical instrument?
Decide some goals you want to achieve as a student and write them down. You should also have long-term goals of 5, 10, 20, or more years. Intermediate goals for a year or two. Short-term goals such as weekly, monthly, and a goal for each training session.
Don’t set vague goals like ‘I want to be better’. You must have specific goals. If it’s not specific enough, how will you know when you’ve achieved it?
Set a goal for your next guitar practice session
To prove that this makes a difference, try it in one training session. Next time you sit down to practice the guitar, set a goal for that practice session. Be clear about what you want to achieve in the next 45 minutes to an hour.
For example, if you are learning a new scale, your goals for the practice session could be:
- Memorize the scale (e.g. E minor Pentatonic)
- After memorizing, play it 10 times with a metronome set at 60 bpm
- Learn a new guitar solo with this scale
Experience the power of goal setting in your next training session and see what it can do for you! You’ll realize that reaching short-term goals keeps you motivated.
#2 No Practice strategy
The goal is what you want to achieve. On the other hand, strategy is a series of steps to help you reach your goal. Having a good strategy is just as important as having a goal. An ineffective strategy will result in you spending unnecessary time and energy in reaching your goals.
Now, I have outlined several strategies used by top guitarists and would like to share with you the most effective strategy. Look at the following list of numbers and try to memorize them.
Did you manage to do it? Have you tried dividing them into threes? You may have tried to organize them in a pattern like a phone number, like this:
1 4 9 16 25 36 49 64 81
Do you now realize that they are the numbers one through nine squared? We can rewrite it again like this.
1² 2² 3² 4² 5² 6² 7² 8² 9²
When you put them that way they are easier to remember. In fact, you can probably remember it for the rest of your life and never forget it. This idea is called segmentation. This concept is very powerful and all the great players I know use it, and I use it myself to split long or difficult pieces like Asturias.
You can apply this concept to memorizing complex patterns such as scales and musical theories to simplify the process. For example, the octave scale on a guitar can hold up to 18 notes in one position. If you try to memorize all 18 tones at once, it will be quite a challenge.
Segmentation helps break down complex information
Using the division idea, you can start with just the first 4 tones. When those notes are memorized, add two more and then play all six notes in the scale. When you’re done, add two more notes and continue until the entire scale is memorized.
The division is very strong. It’s like the old joke, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Apply chunking as a strategy to your guitar practice routine and watch your efficiency improve incredibly fast.
#3 Practicing the wrong reasons – common mistakes when learning guitar
This reason really surprised me. When I started asking the senior players what was important to them about training, I expected to hear them say things like ‘I’m practicing to get better’.
Before I tell you what I found, I will say that improvement is definitely part of the equation. The difference between good players and mediocre players is that they let the improvement part take care of itself. It is a by-product of their belief structure.
While I didn’t get the same answer from everyone (every player had their own words to describe basically the same thing), this small shift in thinking can make a huge difference in your results.
What is the reason the pros say for guitar Practicing?
Ready? discovery. What comes to mind when you think of discovery as a reason to exercise? I want you to take a second and imagine what that would be like.
Imagine you are sitting with your guitar, about to practice and your mindset is discovery. What can I discover in this practice session about playing guitar that I didn’t know before? Even if it’s something you’ve played hundreds of times before, there’s still something for you to discover.
This is probably how you handle the dynamics, from soft to high, and high to low bass. How about really exploring the way you use your fingers? Are you using an economy of motion or are you wasting energy on the unnecessary movement of your fingers? Do you really care about the sound of your playing?
Next time you sit down to practice, think about what you can discover and see what a difference it makes. I think you’ll be surprised at what you might find.
#4 Playing too fast – common mistakes when learning guitar
This is probably the biggest reason for failure that I see in my students. Play very fast. It is understandable though. We all want to be faster. Come to think of it, this is one of the biggest hurdles for experienced players too.
Let’s explore some of the pitfalls of playing too fast when practicing.
When learning a new piece of music, it’s important to take it slow and easy. What we’re trying to do is train the fingers to learn something new. With repetition, we train the fingers to respond the same way each time. Some people call this muscle memory.
When you play too fast, you don’t allow this process to happen the way it should. As a result, you will acquire and reinforce bad habits instead of what you want.
Think about this. How often have you been working on something new and you get to a certain point and make a mistake? You start over, you get to the same place and you make the same mistake again. This happens over and over again.
What is really going on here?
You have trained your finger (muscle memory) to play wrong!
The only way to correct this is to slow it down and train your fingers to do it the right way. Let the speed happen naturally. Remember that speed is a byproduct of accuracy.
Another consequence of trying to play too fast, too soon, is unwanted jitters. Playing the guitar well requires one to be relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the better your fingers will perform.
Slowing down allows you to become aware of the tension in your body so you can relax. When you are relaxed, everything works better. You can also train for longer periods of time without all the tension in your body.
Next time you sit down for training, remember the speed limit. Just be relaxed and practice slowly.
#5 Reinforcing Bad Habits – Common Mistakes When Learning Guitar
Habits are formed quickly and habits don’t know if they are good or bad, they are just habits. That’s why it’s so important to do things the right way from the start. How do you do things the right way? Practice at slow speeds.
If you want to progress quickly and not get bogged down in later stages, it is important for you to build good technical habits; For example the placement of your left hand, how to move from one chord to another, the placement of your right hand, etc…
Imagine that you are trying to build a new home and get it the way you want it. The house has all suitable furnishings, Stereo Surround sound with a big screen TV. You have your own music room complete with the latest home recording studio. One day, she goes out to dinner and comes home only to find the roof has collapsed and everything is destroyed.
What happened? The house is built on a poor foundation. The same thing can happen with your guitar playing. You might get over some bad habits for a while, but when you want to play something more technically challenging. What happens? The roof has fallen off and you have to start over.
That’s why it’s always worth the time and effort to learn things the right way from the start. I know this from experience. I was mainly self-taught and when I entered the Royal School of Music ABRSM I practiced for two years on classical guitar as part of the curriculum.
I was lucky to have a great coach but he tore my technique to shreds. It was like starting over but in the long run, it was worth it. I could have saved a lot of time and energy by learning to do it right from scratch.
So do yourself a favor, use good habits and techniques from the start, and you’ll be glad you did!
#6 Not Using a Metronome – Common Mistakes When Learning Guitar
Well, this again relates to the other two factors. Proper use of the metronome provides many important functions, not to mention that it prevents you from playing too fast.
Using the metronome can help you develop a good sense of time. After all, music is made up of two important components, tones, and rhythm. Rhythm can also be thought of as time. If you can’t put what you’re playing into music so that it’s rhythmically correct, the prettier notes will sound terrible.
A good sense of rhythm also allows musicians to play together. Can you imagine what it would be like if the group playing together had no sense of rhythm?
Use the metronome to increase your speed
Another effective way to use the metronome in guitar practice is to develop speed. Let’s use stairs as an example. Play the metronome and start playing the scale at the right time. Start at a slow pace and work your way up.
At some point, you will get to a speed where things start to fall apart. This means that you have reached your threshold and the point where you go from being able to play to be on the brink of not being successful.
At this point, you need to back off a bit, maybe three or four spots on the metronome. Practice at this pace just below the threshold for a while. Now start gaining speed again. You will find that your threshold has just increased by 2 points. Repeat this process and over time you will see your ability to play increase faster.
This also allows you to reduce tension to a minimum, which is another advantage of using a metronome. By tracking your progress with the metronome markers, you will also have visual evidence that your speed is increasing and this certainly helps to motivate you as well.
If you don’t have a metronome, I encourage you to go and get one right away.
#7 Not using a music stand
Another vital piece of equipment for any musician, is the Music Stand. I personally can’t do without one. Every time I try to practice I end up in disaster. This may not seem like a big deal but please don’t underestimate the power of this.
I’d recommend one of the sturdy stands too, not the cheap wire type that folds up. They break down quickly and don’t quite catch up on big books. The sturdy stands can hold two or three books, pencils, and everything else you need for an effective training session.
I think the biggest benefit of a music stand is that it allows you to practice for longer. How do you do this? It allows you to maintain better posture and reduces stress to a minimum.
Occasionally, I try to practice without the stand. What I do is I simply throw some sheet music on a table or chair and start playing. Within a few minutes, I started having neck, back, and shoulder pain. This happens because playing without a stand creates poor posture.
With the sheet music on a stand and good posture from sitting in a proper chair, I can keep my head level and my eyes forward. I can also keep my back straight and this allows for the most comfortable position when playing the guitar.
This leads to greater productivity and faster optimization. After all, isn’t that what we all want?
In this article, I wanted to shed light on the most common mistakes when learning the guitar and how to avoid them in order to get the most benefit and avoid many of the frustrations that afflict beginners who do not know how to overcome them.
As you’ve read, most of the common mistakes are related to rehearsing or practicing the guitar, and rightly so. Most of your time should be spent practicing the guitar. If you take a lesson with a guitar teacher, or an online course, the lesson time will not exceed one hour per week. The rest of the time you are with your guitar in your room practicing, so you focused on avoiding common mistakes in practicing.
I hope that you have benefited from this article. If you want, you can leave a comment or a question, and I will respond to you as soon as possible.