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7 Common beginner guitar playing mistakes to avoid

Are you a beginner at playing guitar? Do you have no clue what to learn and fear making mistakes that will lead to bad habits, or even worse, that you end up quitting?

You’re in good company! The majority of people who ever picked up the guitar never made it over this stage.

And no, it’s not because they lacked natural talent, were stupid or were too busy.

In most cases it wasn’t even because they didn’t practice regularly.

It’s because bad habits regarding various factors ranging from the way they plan their practice session (if they even do) to the way they fret the notes, came in the way between them and their musical goals.

These mistakes didn’t just make it harder and longer for people to learn the guitar but has led many others to abandon the dream and quit.

The following is a list of mistakes you should avoid when learning the guitar.

If you eliminate all these mistakes and bad habits, I promise you that if you put in the hours, reaching an intermediate level of guitar playing can be done in less than a year, and reaching advanced levels of guitar playing is something you can do in a few years.

Apart from mistakes to avoid, I will also be giving you tips to make your practicing more efficient, and fun.

Mistake 1: You’re not working towards a goal.

Goal setting and planning is usually the last thing in the mind of a beginner guitar player.

Yet, it is crucial for the same reason that for a football player, knowing where the goalpost is, is more important than his dribbling technique or how fast he runs.

You simply can’t score if you have no clue where you need to shoot.

Let me get more specific on guitar playing.

When I started learning the guitar at the age of 15, I did have a goal, and it was very specific.

I wanted to be in a band and become a Rock Star.

My goals have evolved since then, and I’ve come to love the music itself more than the dreams of stardom but what lit my fire back then, was my intense desire to become a Rock Star.

And learning how to read standard music notation, and barely anything else as I was doing wasn’t going to get me one iota closer to my goal.

I was practicing hard, but since my focus was on reading the notes from standard music notation, (something it’s unlikely you’ll use in a Rock band scenario) instead of learning chords, songs and guitar techniques, among other things, made reaching my main goal of joining a band look like light years away (and so it would have been hadn’t I found a teacher who was a Rock musician himself and showed me I was doing it all wrong).

Always make sure everything you do (including the teacher you choose to study with) is in line with your musical goals.

If not, you’re very likely to quit before you reach them.

Mistake 2: Quitting

If you were considering quitting the guitar you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.

I’m mentioning it here anyway, because it is very likely that at times of struggle and plateaus, the thought of quitting will crop up.

And when it does, I want you to keep these 2 things in mind:

  1. Many, many, people quit just before a breakthrough. If they just pushed it a little more, they would have harvested the results of the hours of practice they had put in, but since they quit, they lost it all.
  2. If you’re considering quitting, it’s time to ask quality questions such as “What is the specific thing that’s stopping me from seeing the results?” or “What do I need to change to improve on guitar faster?”

The answers to these questions, whatever they, will steer you towards your goals much more than brooding over whether you should quit learning the guitar or not.

Mistake 3: Taking big chunks of music at once

Now that we’ve dealt with two important practicing mindset issues, let’s start getting into the nitty gritty of guitar practicing.

A very common mistake I see beginner guitar students do is to try to learn a number of bars of music at one go.

This is Ok if the piece of music is very easy for you, but if you’re learning anything challenging it’s very important that you isolate the part that you’re finding hard and learning it at a very slow speed.

A common and related mistake is to start learning a song from the beginning every single time, when in reality, the section that’s giving you trouble is say, at bars 12 – 14. By playing the first 11 bars each time, instead of focusing on those 3 bars (or less, down to as little as two notes or chords) you will be spending a lot more time than you need to learn that song.

Mistake 4: Always/never practicing with a metronome

Using a metronome or a drum machine is very important when practicing guitar.

Some students think they can do without a metronome and as a result they develop a bad sense of rhythm.

Others, on the other hand, practice their piece of music with a metronome before they have even figured where the notes are and what the rhythm is.

This is very time consuming and above all will make the process of isolating notes and learning them at a very slow speed impossible.

Learn your music, especially the hard parts, without a metronome. Use the metronome later to confirm your timing is right and if not, adjust accordingly.

Mistake 5: Not pressing the notes with the tip of your fingers

You’ve probably heard that you will grow calluses on your fingers as you learn to play guitar.

Many students think this a big deal, but really it’s not. They just grow by themselves and require no particular effort (or pain) from your side.

What is more important is that you hit the notes with the tip of your finger, not the flat part of it.

This bad habit significantly limits your progress and makes learning many things impossible. A case in point is if you’re learning most chords since if you’re not hitting the notes with the tip, the flat of your finger will mute the string below it.

Mistake 6: Pressing the note far from the fret/over the fret

The correct place to press your finger to get a note, is just above the relevant fret.

If you put your finger on the fret itself, the note will sound bad, but if you press far away from the fret, it would be harder to press the note and it may not sound right either.

When playing chords and you need to use more than one finger on the same fret, some of your fingertips can’t be close to the fret and that’s OK since it cannot be avoided.

Just make sure it doesn’t become your default position.

Mistake 7: Not learning any music theory

When you see your favorite guitarists play, you get the impression that their hands and fingers are doing most of the work.

In reality, most of the activity is being done by the brain and what makes them perform things that look complex with ease is that they’ve done those movements and similar ones so many times over and over again that they developed the right muscle memory for it.

And though we use the term “muscle memory”, the part of our body that is remembering and replicating those finger movements is our brain.

Does this mean we can study the guitar and music theory instead of practicing?

Surely not. Those moves are memorized thanks to a lot of repetition.

However, music theory makes sense of what you’re learning on the guitar and makes it easier for the brain to understand and memorize the music you’re learning as well as replicating it in improvisations and songs.

Conclusion: The biggest guitar practicing mistake

You may have noticed that the guitar practicing mistakes to avoid mentioned in this lesson are things that can lead to bad habits, inefficient practicing or quitting.

They don’t include things such as “hitting the wrong note” or “being out of time”

You will be making these kinds of mistakes whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced guitar player.

And you should not fear them but accept the fact that your favorite guitar players made tons of mistakes to reach the level they are.

Making mistakes during guitar practice is part of the learning process. Rather than feeling frustrated you should view the mistakes as an opportunity to find their cause, correct it, and grow as a guitar player.


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