Playing the guitar is fun but learning to play to a new instrument requires time and effort. Many people wish to be able to skip the learning part and just be able to rock the party without any hard work. Unfortunately, this is not possible.
Thomas Edison famously said “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” Following his example, we have decided to reach out to 40 professional musicians and ask them:
What mistakes should a beginner avoid when learning to play the guitar?
We have received a variety of answers that you can read below. By being aware of the mistakes they did you can avoid making them yourself and enjoy learning to play the guitar.
The top mistake to avoid when learning the guitar is buying a cheap guitar. You must start your study on a good quality instrument. This doesn’t mean you need a Taylor as your first guitar. What you need is a guitar that has action low enough for a beginner to navigate that you can tune.
Entry-level guitars from Costco and Toys R Us are just not good enough for beginners. They tend to have high action, are hard to tune, and have thinner necks. They generally don’t have enough basic quality to be easy to play. One of my students had a pink Costco guitar. Sure, the 8-yr loved that it was pink. But it could simply not hold tune. It sounded terrible every time she played it. How could she possibly develop a love of the sound and the practice?
Another student had the Costco Christmas special. Not only was the action super high, making it really hard to form a chord without mutes, but the head snapped off within 3 months, meaning the wood of the neck wasn’t seasoned and managed properly to withstand the tension of the steel strings.
It’s cheaper, in the long run, to start with a bottom end instrument of a solid brand like Fender or Yamaha. For $300, you get a guitar you will never need to replace, that holds tune, and can be played by a beginner. It’s well worth the investment, and they hold their value for resale.
The biggest mistake I’ve seen from my decades of playing and teaching guitar is the very first decision made by aspiring guitarists or parents wishing to give their children a guitar to learn on.
Many people are afraid to commit money to learn to play in case they “can’t” do it. But this sets them up to fail immediately.
They buy the cheapest instrument they can find without knowing anything about guitar and what usually happens is they get a sub-par instrument with a really bad action. The action is the tension of the strings and how hard it is to press them down on to the fretboard.
When you just start out your hands are completely undeveloped for playing and it will be awkward and frustrating as you attempt to do your first chords and scales. But if you have an instrument that is set up badly from the start and you being a novice don’t realize the difference many people give up after a period of trying and getting bad sounds from their instrument. They feel it must be them that’s not any good rather than the instrument.
I recommend if just starting or if you are trying to get a child started you go to a reputable guitar shop and ask the salesman for as easy action as possible on the guitar. In fact, you can purchase a decent guitar for around $200 and have them put 8 gauge strings on it to reduce the tension. This will give the student the best chance of succeeding during the awkward first month of playing guitar.
Tyler Tullock – 4/4 School of Music
After teaching more than 3,000 students, I have found one of the most common mistakes to avoid when learning how to play guitar is related to rhythm guitar/strumming. Most new students move their hands like a machine – stopping and starting only when they want sound. Don’t do this!
All good rhythm guitarists will keep their strumming hand moving down and up to the beat, always! You let your pick or fingers touch the strings to make sound when you want the sound, but the rest of the time the pick or fingers are moving to the beat: down / up, down / up, etc. while hovering just slightly above the strings.
You will also use this motion to create additional rhythmic sounds by lightly touching the strings with your fretting hand (usually the left hand unless you are a right-handed guitarist) and allowing the pick or fingers to come in contact with the strings to make what we commonly refer to as the yuka-chucka sounds 🙂
Always keep your strumming hand moving up and down in a smooth rhythm even if you only want to hear one chord or note occasionally. That is the key to becoming a good/great rhythm guitarist.
Memorizing chord shapes on the fingerboard without knowing what the notes are. A chord is made up of three notes (root, third, fifth). The different ways you combine those notes are called ‘inversions’ or ‘voicings’. The shape that beginners often memorize is merely one inversion and usually a redundant one with two or more roots and two fifths as in the case of barre chords.
A beginner should learn the notes in the chord and then look for different inversions up and down the neck.
Since I play trio and the bassist is usually holding down the root one of my favorite voicings is to put the fifth on the bottom, which both T-Bone Walker and Eddie Van Halen did. Gives a punchier sound. When you go to the next stage of extended chords (6ths, 7ths, 9ths, etc.) you can easily figure those out and find cool voicings for them.
Jazz organists often use tightly voiced chord snippets, tow or three notes featuring the extensions, to minimize movement across chord changes; guitarists can easily employ this trick if they understand the chords they’re playing.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when learning to play the guitar is only learning to read tab or learning from a YouTube video. Don’t get me wrong, you can become a good guitar player by learning other musicians’ songs.
But when you learn how to read music it opens up so much more. You can get a better sense of the progression of chords and why they fit where they end up.
Another thing that seems to happen is you can have a tendency to shortcut the notes when playing the song. For instance, you may see someone on YouTube playing a song a certain way but sometimes they are not playing the song correctly and you miss out on playing and hearing the song the way it was written. I’ve seen an “A7sus4” played completely wrong on YouTube.
If I were starting out today, I would learn how to site read in addition to utilizing YouTube to get me over the hump on something I’m having trouble with, timing-wise. Whatever the route, the most important thing is to play!
Erik Findling – High Street Official
There are no mistakes to be made when someone is physically learning to play the guitar. Mistakes are a good thing and are a part of the learning process. However, many people can make mistakes that have to do with the guitar externally.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not practicing. The saying “practice makes perfect” is a cliché for a reason. Practicing your instrument is one of the only things that will keep you engaged and enthusiastic during the beginning stages of learning the guitar, and it will ultimately develop your playing to the level of technical ability that you wish to achieve.
Many people get discouraged during the learning process because they don’t want to sit down and work out the difficulties when playing their instruments.
However, if you have a steady practice routine, you’ll start to become much more comfortable with the guitar to the point where it’s enjoyable to play. The most important thing to keep in mind is – don’t give up!
Tom Kunzman – 18th & Addison
For some, if not most, learning guitar is no easy task. For many people, the beginning is fairly intimidating which leads to a majority of people giving up before they’ve even begun. It always upsets me to witness this because the earliest mistakes become hilarious as you progress.
One of the simplest mistakes I see that can seriously hinder one’s progress is poor body posture. This advice could easily be applied to drumming and singing as well. Sit up straight and comfortably, hold the body of the guitar straight, and do not let it lay down horizontally to see the frets better. It’s not necessary and it’s such a bad habit form!
Another very simple mistake is underestimating the importance of basic practices such as string and fret association for the right and left hand.
The most important thing when you’re starting out is to focus on how the two work together before diving in and getting frustrated. Go slow. Play with a metronome and get those fingers loose on the fretboard and that rhythm hand strong.
Some of these techniques may seem funny or as if you’re not really doing much but you are doing more than you realize.
The biggest initial mistake many make is the amount they spend on their first guitar. There is no such thing as a good or bad guitar. If you like the way it plays & sounds – it’s good. And people spend too much. You can pick up a perfectly good new beginner guitar for about $100 or less from legitimate places like Musician’s Friend or used from Craig’s list. If you want to try it out first, go to a big guitar store and they’ll let you test out plenty of them.
Don’t start with steel-string guitar. It’s hard to play for a beginner, and you may get frustrated and give up. Nylon string (AKA classical) guitars are far easier to play from the get-go, and you won’t need calluses required for steel strings.
Don’t worry about technique, scales, and music theory. Most professionals never learned this stuff and they’re doing just fine. Learn the three basic chords of a few keys, and you’re probably set for life.
If you think you need a teacher, find a working guitar player, not a professional teacher. The gigging musician will only teach you what you need and will teach you fast.
The biggest mistake is not practicing enough. There’s no secret to playing music. It’s muscle memory, like sports. You’re training your hands & fingers to learn & then repeat something without thinking. If you don’t do it for about an hour a day, you’ll never improve.
Steve Flack – Steve Flack Guitar Academy
Signing up for a quick fix guitar course. These claim to transform a beginner into a pro in a matter of days or weeks. Truth is, these don’t work.
All you learn is a few chords and the ability to be able to play some famous tunes by rote. They don’t give you the technical foundation, structure, theoretical knowledge, and supporting material you need to develop into a skilled, confident, well-rounded musician who can read and play music and master several guitar playing genres.
Learning a new piece at its prescribed tempo. Ease into a new song by slowing right downplay as slowly as you need to and focus on hitting every note perfectly. A metronome can be a useful tool here. Start slow, play in time, and then speed the metronome up slightly. Repeat the process until you’re playing at the intended tempo. Ignoring little mistakes.
It can be tempting to ignore little mistakes here and there, but over time and with repetition, these mistakes can turn into tough-to-beat habits. Do everything you can to nip it in the bud now, so that you can develop a flawless playing technique.
Evan Oxhorn – Stock Music Musician
Don’t neglect practicing your scales. Even though scales may seem boring and repetitive, practicing scales builds the muscle memory you need to grow as a player. As you play more, you’ll realize that these scales are what you’ll fall back on time and time again.
Whether you’re writing a song, soloing, or sitting in on an open mic night, scales are the alphabet of music. They’re essential to building your vocabulary and communicating with other musicians. For example, if you’re sit in with a band, they might tell you to play E Blues. If you know your scales, you’ll know exactly what to do.
To integrate scales in your routine, start every practice with a quick 5-minute scale warm-up. You can find scale exercises on YouTube. Then, to keep things fresh, you can mix up the scale you’re playing, or come up with variations on how to play it. One popular variation is to play the scale in ascending and descending groups of three: 1st note – 2nd note – 3rd note; 2nd note – 3rd note – 4th note, etc.
Within months, you’ll find that your dexterity will improve immensely. You’ll become more confident in your playing and express yourself better.
James Bullard – Sound Fro
Here are three mistakes to avoid when you want to learn (and be good) at playing the guitar.
The first is not holding the guitar properly. When you don’t hold an instrument the right way, it will prevent you from executing the techniques necessary to play it. So, learn how to use the curves of the guitar to hug your body.
If seated, you can use the curve on your knee and your rib cage. If you’re standing, you can use the curves to hug your rib cage. By holding the guitar properly, you free your arms up to use the frets and use proper strumming techniques when you’re playing.
The second is failing to tune each time you play. Every time you set your guitar down, it can alter the tuning. Prevent this by doing some minor tuning adjustments each time you pick it up to give it a strum. If you can buy an electric tuner, all the better.
And the third is not learning the proper techniques. Many learn to play the guitar on their own using YouTube videos. However, it can be challenging to learn proper picking and strumming techniques without the help of a professional teacher and guitar lessons.
So, take a few lessons from a professional teacher and learn proper strumming and picking techniques as well as chord changes. Even just a few lessons will make you feel much more confident in your playing.
Celeste O’Connor – Musician’s HQ
1. Trying to play guitar scales without proper finger placement makes traversing the neck of the guitar much more difficult and painful, and causes unideal sound. Not to mention it trains you to have wrong muscle memory!
2. Secondly, I wish I had paid more attention to where I anchored my thumb on the back of the guitar. Placing your thumb as far away from you as possible allows you to stretch your hand wider across the fretboard, opening up more opportunity for you to make spread-voicings of chords and extended scales.
3. Lastly, my practice routine when I was learning guitar was not ideal. It was rather unorganized and unfocused. Instead of picking up my guitar randomly and noodling around, however, I felt like, I wish I would have set aside specific times in the day to play for 30 minutes or an hour, as well as having a solid set of concepts to practice and realistic goals to achieve.
Mark Castellano – Castellano Music1
I can write a book on this question, but I have narrowed it down to one critical mistake most students make: how to hold the guitar.
Every instrument has balance points. Guitar has three balance points. Where they are located is determined by what style of music is being learned.
In non-classical (i.e. rock, ska, metal) the curve at the bottom of the guitar should be placed on the right leg if your picking hand is right, the top should lean against your chest, and the forearm should grip the upper back part of the guitar. I think of it as a triangle balance.
When correctly balanced, you do not need the left hand to hold the guitar but do have it there when first attempting so the guitar does not fall. The left hand should be free to move about without the weight of the guitar being placed on the palm.
If the student is playing a classical style, the guitar curve on the bottom should be placed on the left leg. The left foot should be elevated with a guitar footstool due to some of the chords and left-hand movement further down the road. The price range for a footstool is $11-130.
Starting with good habits such as holding the guitar properly will ensure success on every level. Hopefully, this is a helpful tidbit of information. Feel free to contact me with any questions on this topic or other guitar problems. Good luck with your musical endeavors!
In one opinion, there are no mistakes. Many amazing musicians learned to play by ear and never learned to read music or any basic music theory whatsoever.
In another opinion, some feel It’s important to possess knowledge of advanced music theory through learning to read complex music compositions.
I tend to subscribe to both. I strongly suggest some rudimentary skills in order to communicate more easily with other musicians. This begins with memorizing where all the notes are located. It helps to have someone teach you the basics like fingering shortcuts so you can easily navigate the fretboard. Knowing the Major and Minor scales in all 12 Keys and their relation to each other are useful tools on the path to becoming the musician you desire to be.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes can become happy accidents. “I would have never come up with that great line if it wasn’t for that mistake I made”
Don’t worry if your fingers don’t work well. The more time you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.
Don’t forget this all needs to be fun. You can be frustrated and still have fun at the same time. Just breathe and start again.
EMBRACE THE INNOCENCE:
Remember, there is an advantage to being a beginner. Knowing nothing has a childlike innocence that knows no boundaries. This innocence can create something wonderful that may not have come to pass due to the barriers that too much-disciplined knowledge often brings.
Jorge Otero – Stormy Mondays
I’ve been playing guitar for 30 years and in the past couple of years, I’ve taken a renewed interest in refining my technique. I’ve found quite a few things that I wish I had known when I was starting out!
I think it’s very important to establish a solid foundation that’s not based on outdated principles. If you want to play electric guitar, there are many tenets from classical guitar teaching that really don’t apply.
If you use the classical left-hand posture on an electric guitar that’s hanging from a strap, you will force your hand into a very unnatural position that will hinder your playing and possibly cause physical damage.
If you keep the thumb in the classical position you won’t be able to bend strings properly. The right hand and playing with a pick comes with its own set of challenges.
Recent developments have proven that the old mantra of practicing very slow in order to get fast is akin to trying to learn how to run by carefully walking. Slow and fast are two different movements – you can’t learn how to do one by practicing the other.
And there are a lot of correct right-hand playing techniques: the highest level professional players use all kinds of grip and right-hand position and technique that takes them where they need to go.
If something feels right to your hands, it’s easy to do and it allows you to play what you want to play, then it’s right!
While learning to play the guitar, it is very common for beginners to have bad posture, it is very important to keep your focus on your left hand and how it is positioned, most beginners tend to crunch their fingers in a position that can lead to future nerve damage, so again it is very important to keep a round ball-shaped fist and keep an overall round curve to the arm while keeping your elbow outward.
It is very important for beginners to understand as well that, your fingertips will suffer in the beginning but it will eventually create calluses and they will maintain themselves if you continue to play daily.
And for the right hand, it is not necessary to have long nails as many classical guitar players do to play without a pic, but if you are using a pic it is very important to learn the “up & down” technique so you can more fluently go through the notes and strums.
One very helpful technique that I used when I was starting to play while reading the chords was, always reading the next chord you are about to play in order to keep the flow of the tempo, and in that matter, it is always important to practice with a metronome and always have in mind what is coming next.
It is important for the beginner to keep in mind that he will have to know most of the chords by heart and in doing so also know the structure of scales, and with chords and scales, a beginner will be able to go very far.
Liam Flynn – Music Grotto
Tuning a guitar might not be the easiest thing to do straight away, and it can be time-consuming -especially in the beginning. However, it is definitely worth spending a little time learning(there are plenty of apps out there to help!), it will help you grow as a guitar player, and will develop your ear.
Without a developed ear, you may find you have issues down the road distinguishing between a good sound and one that is perhaps less pleasing to your potential audience…
Posture – a lot of people don’t understand how the way they sit can affect the quality of their playing. Slouching can completely throw off your performance, and even end up hurting your back! You just need to find the most comfortable position for you, try starting off on an armless chair, and use the curves of your guitar to guide you.
A lot of new guitar players try to self-teach using videos or learning from their friends who play a little, and for some, it does work out! But without learning the proper picking and strumming techniques, I’ve found that a lot of these self-taught players eventually reach a point where they are limited in what they can do with their instrument.
Just a few lessons can make all the difference. Of course, face-to-face lessons with a professional teacher are great, but online lessons from a good teacher will work just as well.
Most importantly of all, don’t put too much pressure on yourself! All you really need is the desire and the time to practice, even a few minutes every day – try charting your progress and you will soon see how far you’ve come.
Rob Roy – Power Station Studios
As a former guitar instructor as well as my experience as a producer, the biggest common mistake I see is trying to go too fast from the get-go. Regardless if the player is new to the instrument and trying to learn the fundamentals or even an experienced player trying to learn a new lick, going too fast is the kryptonite of progress.
Playing the guitar is a function of muscle movements paralleled with hand, eye/ear, and brain coordination. If the player goes too fast and makes a mistake, the player experiences what I refer to as “muscle memory”. Have you ever made a mistake when learning something new only to inadvertently continue making the same mistake over and over again? The brain interprets the first try as the example we want to learn and wants to repeat the part with consistency. The problem is it wants to repeat the mistake.
Therefore, when learning something new, go slow, and exercise precision in executing the correct sequence of notes the first time. Let the brain memorize the correct part and your progress will grow so much faster!
Josh Berry – The Rivers
1. I started out on Gospel music when I was 8 years old because it’s what my guitar teacher taught me. All I knew at that age is that I just wanted to play guitar, and I was happy doing so.
Primarily being a Rock guy, I had exterior influence to hate country music growing up, but my friends were getting 3 sets a night playing bar gigs and getting paid for it.
I took singing lessons from the singer, Josh Stevens, and he later brought me on to play guitar for the band. There is so much talent in every genre of music that we can all learn and benefit from. Expand your comfort zone and keep rocking!!
2. Don’t pretend to be anybody on guitar, it’s okay to have idols but nobody is going to play like you better than yourself. There’s no sense in redoing a job that’s already been done! Write music from your heart and practice being yourself.
3. Learn music theory! It WON’T diminish creativity or stop you from achieving goals on guitar or as an artist! It will help you understand what you’re doing and give you new ideas. Allow them to shine!!
Teemu Suomala – Guitarist Next Door
Don’t force yourself to just learn the theory. Learn your favorite songs too. You get that wonderful ”I can really play something” feeling from doing so. This motivates you to play and practice every single day. And that’s how you master the guitar. By practicing consistently.
2. Of course, don’t skip the basic theory either. Learning some chords and scales at the start gives you a solid foundation on your guitar journey, and help you in the long run.
3. Don’t quit easily. Sometimes practicing can be frustrating and overwhelming. That sucks. But every guitar player goes through that phase. Remember that learning the guitar is not one huge step. It consists of many small steps. And by not giving up and practicing often, you take those small steps.
4. If it feels too hard, don’t try to do it alone. Get help. Someone can teach you online or offline. Someone can lead you to the right direction and make learning easier, faster, and more fun for you. Be ready to invest a little bit when you are developing this real skill of playing the guitar.
5. Don’t learn with hard to play guitar. You can learn to play with any guitar. Absolutely. But it’s true that some guitars are easier to play than others. Comfortable and easy the play guitar can make playing more enjoyable and learning faster.
I’ve been playing keyboards, guitar, and singing professionally for over 35 years. Guitar has always been my first love and passion.
Budding guitarists…don’t be pressured into purchasing the latest, greatest (usually expensive) hi-end model from a big brand. If you’re just starting off, find a decent instrument, and here’s the key… ask around and have it tweaked and set up by a knowledgeable local guitar tech or luthier. It’ll be money well spent.
An experienced guitar tech can take just about any instrument, even entry models, and make them sound like heaven and play like butter. Embrace your influences and mentors, but develop your own tone. Your own individual voice.
With time, your uniqueness of tone will be one of the things that will set you apart. Some obvious, but essential advice…really cement the basics first… scales, technique, posture, time, and groove. It can be tedious and somewhat boring. The cool chords and impressive, speedy riffs will come once you master the basics.
This leads to my final suggestion…three words… practice, practice, practice. The time you put into practice correlates directly with your growth and maturity on the instrument. Challenge yourself with practice. You know why the pros practice? Because they seek the continued challenge of improvement and control of their instrument.
Quinn Lukas – Icarus Witch
Learning how to play guitar can be something that seems like a far-fetched dream or an endless mountain that looks too steep to conquer. However, it can be an extremely fun and enjoyable challenge if approached the correct way. Here are a few mistakes to avoid and some tips to help along the journey:
- “Aim small, miss small.” Never make the mistake of skipping the beginner stuff.
- Set goals for yourself to maximize the results of your practice time.
- Take your time. A lot of students will try to play at speeds above their capabilities. This leads to excess noise and incorrectly fretted chords or single notes (slop).
- Practice doesn’t make perfect… perfect practice makes perfect. If your goal is to learn how to play your favorite song then start by learning small chunks of it and put those small chunks together. It will reduce the overall time it takes to reach your goal.
- Learn some music theory. You don’t have to become a jazz professor in order to learn how to play guitar well. But learning how key signatures, chords, and scales work will again not only flatten the learning curve it will make you a smarter player as well.
- Listen to what you’re playing. If it doesn’t sound good to you then chances are it’s not going to sound good to others. If you notice something doesn’t sound quite right slow it back down to see what you can do to fix it.
- HAVE FUN… Remember that even though it takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to play guitar you should enjoy the whole process. (Yes, even the frustrating moments.)
Rodrigo Suarez – Tara Simon Studios
Learning any craft can be intimidating, but under proper guidance we can save ourselves from a heap of frustration. Before studying guitar at Kennesaw State University I was completely self-taught. This gave me a unique perspective as I accidentally developed a few bad habits that will come to haunt me later on in my career.
The biggest mistake I made was not practicing with a metronome enough. A metronome is a device that keeps a steady pulse at different speeds or “beats-per-minute”. Practicing with this will help develop the skills necessary to learn different beat subdivisions, more interesting rhythms and grooves, as well as develop control and speed.
Another habit I had to override was not having control of my down picking versus alternate picking. As you play at higher speeds playing only downstrokes with your pick is going to naturally become frantic and messy.
A good remedy is an alternate between down and upstrokes as you play faster 8th or 16th note lines. Having control over this will make you sound more relaxed and help you develop a better feel.
My last suggestion is to learn as much music as you can. Music is like a language, and in order to be proficient at it we need to take in as much as we can.
Isaiah Ram – Lesson In Your Home
If you’re practicing a scale with the wrong fingering, or you’re playing a chord the wrong way, you’re messing up your muscle memory. The same thing goes for playing on time. Practice with a click so you’re not a deer in headlights when you play your first time with a group!
We live in a world where everyone puts on their best image for Instagram and Facebook. Don’t sweat it if your skill isn’t as good as some people you’re following! Stay true to yourself, and realize that everyone has their own things to improve on.
Yes, they’re incredible tools. BUT, if you rely on them too often early out, you’ll find yourself only playing in G for the rest of your career. That’s very much so like learning to play only white keys on piano and hitting the transpose button for the rest of your life. It’s helpful in situations, but not sustainable to developing your craft!
Start practicing with a metronome so tempo can be ingrained. You don’t want to practice without one.
Make sure you’re learning from a teacher that’s fun, and make sure what you’re learning is fun! Too often I see people give up because they don’t connect with their teacher, or they don’t like the songs or scales they’re learning. If you want to play Taylor Swift songs, start learning one of those!
Make sure you’re in tune, practicing often, and holding the guitar properly. These are simple things…but when you fail to meet one of these needs, the others go with it and it makes you a really poor player.
Samori Coles – Lil’ Drummaboy Recordings
1. Avoid bad habits – we all get stuck in little bad habits we pick up while learning a new instrument. When learning to play the guitar, you must be very strict with yourself. If you catch yourself cutting corners, force yourself to go back and fix the mistakes. Playing instruments is all about muscle memory so break the bad habits before you really get stuck in them!
2. Don’t skip the basics!
We all want to be expert guitar players on the first day, but it takes time and practice to really become talents. Don’t skip the basics. Chords, fingering, and timing are everything!
3. Don’t forget to practice!
Practice, practice, practice. Although it might be frustrating at first, practicing every day will improve your skills immensely!
I think the most important thing to avoid when spending hours learning to play the guitar is forming bad habits. It is so important to do things right when practicing, to pay attention to as many little subtleties as you can find, and to go through the motions as slowly as you can to build a solid foundation of technique and musicality.
Keep in mind that when you are practicing, your conscious mind is training your subconscious brain. So if you are feeding your subconscious brain poor quality info, that’s exactly what it will give back to you when you play. I like to think of it as uploading code to a supercomputer, your conscious practicing is the writing of the code that your subconscious supercomputer will process later.
So make certain that you are uploading the highest quality information you possibly can.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what is the best way to do something, be it a technique or how to play a particular phrase. So it’s also really important to experiment, observe, and experiment again. There is never one right way to do something but you always want the best tone you can get while also being the most relaxed and natural as you can be with the hands you’ve been given.
When it comes to practicing, it’s definitely quality over quantity.
Also, listen to as many teachers as you can, then make your own conclusions. Never let anyone tell you their way is the only way.
Dusty Hughes – Tunedly
First, avoid trying to learn too much too fast! Take time to fully comprehend the building blocks. Make sure you’re not only learning but truly comprehending and mentally digesting what you’re learning, not just repeating something you were taught.
Second, when learning a song, don’t be afraid to play it slower while learning, and don’t play with too much distortion/effects. Take it slow and learn it cleanly. Speed will follow, and then you’ll not only play it with speed but also correctly!
Third, don’t avoid metronomes. Learning and practicing with a metronome or click track will help you develop good timing.
Fourth, as you learn, make sure you impart your personal feeling and emotion into the instrument. Vibrato, as well as purposely playing ahead or behind the beat, is a key element to giving your instrument a voice, rather than just a series of notes.
Adam Chase – Instrument Find
There are a few common mistakes when learning to play the guitar. The main thing to be aware of is practicing with patience.
A key to learning any instrument is to take your time and make sure you are focusing on form when you get started. All of the cool licks and lines that sound impossible to play are very attainable when you slow them down and take them one note at a time.
Once you grasp something that you are trying to learn at a slow tempo, slowly speed up the exercise incrementally.
If you make sure you are always using good technique and you are playing the part correctly, even if it is painfully slow, you will be much more precise with it when you get it up to speed.
Patience is the key to learning. While there is a temptation to jump to the fast and fun stuff, the guitarist that learns parts slowly and masters that process of picking apart music and putting it back together, will become much better.
As a hip hop artist, I mainly use the guitar for music production within my DAW, so my view of it could differ from others. Off top of my head, one of the biggest mistakes you want to avoid while learning are proper holding of your guitar and failing to tune each time you play. These are two factors to live by especially if people are just learning, you will notice a more flow of things as you progress.
It’s always good to learn from a mentor to help with the understanding of chords, etc. but one of the things to avoid is learning from too many people. It’s good to learn best practices and what works best for others but it doesn’t mean it will work for you, so you want to go with what works best for you and makes you comfortable.
Darcy Ogdon-Nolan – Living Entertainment
When first learning to play the guitar it can be extremely tempting to chase shortcuts and find the quickest way to learn all of your favourite songs.
This is definitely fun and keeps the interest alive, but make sure you balance it with the ‘fundamentals’ – such as correct finger position, scales, and rhythm work.
This will make you a much better player much faster, and bad habits are much harder to kick than good habits are to learn.
So you wanna play guitar? I recommend starting with a tab or YouTube of a song you love–it’s easier to be motivated. If you’re starting from ground zero, this can be a good way to learn practical techniques. Learn at the feet of masters by listening to recordings, then use tabs to fill the gaps. I started out playing along to Led Zeppelin.
Make sure that you always return to the love of playing. It’s easy to get bogged down in technical details. Whether it’s Django double stops, VanHalen tapping, monstrously complicated Satriani licks or obscure jazz scales, make sure that you’re having fun. Learn techniques but don’t get obsessed with perfection unless you love that.
In fact, you don’t have to be perfect, you just need to develop your own style. Pick and choose the techniques that resonate with you. Don’t be afraid to sound different–that’s how you develop a unique style that can set you apart from others. Then work on perfecting that.
Keep the focus on the joy of playing–it comes down to just playing over hundreds and then thousands of hours honing your craft. You just might be the next Guitar God.
Ryan Waczek – Indie Music Academy
The biggest mistake to avoid when learning to play guitar is simple to me: don’t play anything that you don’t love to play. It’s so important to love what you’re learning when tackling a difficult instrument like a guitar.
Why? Because there are huge obstacles to overcome early on: finger pain, dexterity, strumming, synchronization of the right and left hands…
It’s a massive undertaking! And on top of all that, if you are being forced to learn boring scales or stupid songs that you’re not passionate about, then you’re stacking the odds against you even more. Instead, play what you love, until you love to play.
There are many difficult challenges you will face as you progress in learning the guitar. But don’t worry about that in the beginning. Remove as much friction as you can in the beginning by playing music that you love. You’ll thank me later!
JG Kemper – Summer Plans
One of the biggest mistakes when learning to play the guitar is to start to believe you are limited to only using the basic chords as you learn them, and not variations on each.
I think it’s important at the very beginning to experiment with finger placement and find sounds and structures that are beyond the normal chord patterns.
Branch out early and you will be rewarded later.
Bob Lanzetti – Music Minds
Using tab is a great tool but I recommend not relying on it exclusively. The best thing you can do for yourself as a beginner is to develop your ear. Learn as much as you can by ear and only look at the tab to check yourself.
It’s a good idea to practice with an amp. It’s good to learn how the amp responds to the way you play and to get comfortable with it. Conversely, it’s good to practice without effects unless it’s a real specific sound to a song you’re learning. It’s better to work on getting a good clear tone rather than relying on effects.
Rather than running scales up and down, make music with them. Take a few notes out of a scale and create little melodic phrases. The classic blues players are a great source to hear this done expertly. Albert King and BB King are two great places to start.
If you have your eye on a particular guitar but it’s too expensive, wait until you can get the money and buy the real deal. Do not waste money on a guitar that is “almost” right because you will never be satisfied and will always want the real thing.
Try to watch guitarists play and that’s easy with YouTube. Learn from everybody.
The guitar is never conquered it is only subdued for the time that you are at your best, but stop practicing for a while, and the guitar will be strange to you.
When learning guitar, don’t stress too much over music theory or “proper” playing techniques. Learn a few simple chords and with those, you can probably play some of your favorite songs.
When I first heard the songs I love being played by myself, even though it was just simple chords, I was over the moon.
It gave me the motivation to keep practicing which is how you get better. No theory or technique is going to help you if you lose motivation for it. Have fun!
I would say, don’t beat yourself up. That is a lot easier said than done, but it’s something that happens to guitar players at every level.
They try to take their playing to the next level and often have trouble mastering new techniques and theory. Then they get frustrated and get down on themselves and sometimes quit altogether.
Just hang in there. Keep trying and if you feel yourself getting frustrated, try something else that’s more familiar. People learn the best when they are enjoying themselves. Keep going.
Ashley J. Saunders
The most common mistakes I see in guitar students are easy to avoid if you put in a little extra effort.
Most beginners make the mistake of moving on before they’ve fully mastered the song or exercise. It’s easy to lose heart if you can’t confidently playing something you’ve been working hard on. Luckily, mastering something only takes a little more effort.
Another issue I see in guitarists of all skill levels is learning without a purpose. Learning a cool chord, a new scale, or a fast lick is amazing but useless if you don’t work it into your playing. If you learn a new chord, write a song with it in. That cool lick deserved to be played in every solo until it becomes part of your vocabulary.
Most guitarists, I included, don’t take the time to review songs they’ve learnt. Instead, we move on to the next new song and file the old ones away. By continually reviewing old material, you build a firmer foundation and can track your progress.
A lot of guitarists wait for a long time before joining a band or attending local jams. This is a huge mistake. Playing with others will force you to raise your game, grow in confidence, and learn to anticipate. Even if you can’t attend local jam nights, you can start a band and learn some covers before moving on to writing your own material.
Andrew Laws – Making Music
I think the biggest mistake most new guitarists make is the same reason so many people quit learning guitar. It is a mistake to compare yourself to other guitarists.
I’m not just talking about giving yourself grief because you’re not instantly as great as Eric Clapton. I think it’s a mistake to compare your playing to any other player period. Not only is it disheartening, but you’re also missing an opportunity to do develop something truly great.
The best guitarists all have their own unique style. By comparing and mimicking other guitar players you might miss the opportunity to develop your own unique style.
To explain this better let’s take it to the extreme. When Jimi Hendrix learned guitar he did so on a broken, out of tune right-handed guitar. There were no YouTubers to tell him exactly how to play.
Young Jimi may have been able to listen to other guitarists, but he didn’t have the opportunity to watch endless videos and study exactly how others played. The results speak for themselves.
Hendrix had a style that was unlike any guitarist who came before him, and I dare say, unlike any guitarist who has existed since his days. If you want to be a great guitarist then innovate, don’t imitate.
Greg Gilman – Greg in Good Company
The gravest mistake beginner musicians make is failing to find the simple joy in playing the instrument.
It’s especially common for guitar players, because the instrument is a symbol of cool, so beginners are often attached to the image or idea of being a great guitar player more than they are the journey required to become one.
I picked up a guitar in 6th grade and never put it down. But I’ve seen dozens of people over the years invest in one of these wonderful instruments, only to cast it aside as a dust collector after just a few weeks of attempting to learn. Strings hurt, chords are awkward, and the fretboard is much more confusing than a piano.
Playing guitar is hard. It can be frustrating. And a beginner’s desire to learn will die unless they’re actively enjoying the process. I enjoyed writing songs from the start, so that is what drove my learning process.
Many others just love playing their favorite band’s songs. Others are really into musical theory. There are lots of different reasons people love practicing guitar, but those that don’t have one won’t want to practice, and they’ll never learn.
Thank you so much to all the musicians that contributed to this expert roundup!
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