11 Mistakes Beginner Guitarists Make…and the 11 easy solutions!
Mistake #1 – Practising what you can already know
Learn something new!
It’s only natural that when you pick up your guitar, you want to play something you feel comfortable and confident with. But all too often we get stuck playing the same old thing and don’t push ourselves to the next level. This is often described as “being in a rut”. But whenever I’ve met a student that feels they’re in a rut I often discover that they haven’t tried to learn anything new in a long time. This is understandable. We don’t like to get out of our comfort zone. Problem is, if we just stay where we are we get bored and don’t have any drive to pick up the guitar
Solution: Try something new…but don’t bite off too much at once! This will cause you to get overwhelmed which often leads to giving up. So when choosing something new try to find something that stretches you…but not too much. This is where a great teacher comes in very handy.
Mistake #2 -Trying to do too much at once
One bite at a time!
We expect a lot from ourselves when we pick up the guitar. Our left hand fingers need to be in exactly the right place, creating a clear sound, our right hand needs to be connecting with the strings in sync with the left hand, we have to think about timing and rhythm, all the while concentrating on what we’re doing and what is coming next. On top of that we are often looking at a page and decoding the symbols of music which can seem like a foreign language. No wonder learning music is so good for our brains!
Solution: It’s time to take a few steps back and break things down into bite size pieces. When learning a new piece of music, I recommend starting with one hand at a time and one small section of music at a time. Does the left-hand know exactly what it is doing? If we can’t execute a particular movement confidently with the left-hand on it’s own…how are we to do it while concentrating on everything else as well? Therefore, take everything in tiny steps, get each hand feeling confident in what it is doing before bringing them together. You’ll be amazed at how much this speeds up the learning process.
Mistake #3: Trying to play too fast, too Soon
The slower you play the faster you learn.
It’s so hard to play something slowly, especially when you KNOW how fast it is supposed to go! Very frustrating! However, the fine motor skills we need can only really be learned properly if we practise them nice and slowly. When we try to play too fast we often end up making mistakes. This is no big deal in itself, but if we keep it up we end up “learning the mistake”. We then have to spend time “unlearning the mistake”. This slows down the learning process and leads to frustration. The good news is, once your fingers start getting used to the guitar, after repeating the same movements, you’ll speed up naturally, without even trying.
Solution: Play everything very slowly to begin with and gradually increase speed. When practising, try and play at a speed at which you feel “in control”. Then once you feel confident try it slightly faster making sure you still feel in control of your fingers. Then you can gradually increase the speed.
Mistake #4 – Not continuing lessons
Many people start out with guitar lessons, cruise along buoyed by their initial enthusiasm for a while and then get to a certain point where they feel they hit a wall….at which point they often quit. It could be due to lack of time to practise, getting overwhelmed, feeling they are not improving fast enough, not connecting with the teacher, financial concerns…or any number of other reasons. I think we’re too hard on ourselves. It takes enormous will power to stick at something for the long-haul. It’s very few people who do it…but the rewards are extraordinary. The feeling you get from being able to play almost any song you choose is indescribable.
Solution 1: Stick with it! The value of a great teacher with a great method can not be underestimated here. Find a teacher or an online course and stick with it. When you feel in a rut or like you’re on the verge of quitting talk to your teacher about solutions. For example: choose simpler music, fortnightly lessons instead of weekly, 10 minutes practise each day instead of 20, devising a practise plan.
Solution 2: Set goals and create a plan.
Having a specific goals and a plan of how to achieve them is the single greatest way to get to where you want to go. Simply choose what it is you want to be able to play and then write down the steps you need to take to get there. Then schedule each of these steps into your practise plan and get to work! You’ll be amazed how quickly you get there once you know where you’re headed. A compelling goal that you’re really excited about will help keep you motivated.
Mistake #5 – Not enough practise
The number 1 cause of frustration for people who are learning guitar is that they don’t feel they’re getting anywhere, or improving fast enough. When you dig a little deeper you usually find that there isn’t much practise happening at home. The lack of practise is often due to being overwhelmed with the workload. Maybe they have bitten off more than they can chew…or perhaps the teacher has given them too much to do, or they feel they just don’t have the time. Either way, there is always a solution.
Solution: Do less
Instead of trying to learn a whole piece of music in one week, why not just try and learn one small section, or even one bar of music? That way you can reduce your practise time to say…5 minutes per day and you will gain great confidence in your abilities by choosing to master one small thing and then accomplishing that goal. Who cares if it takes a little longer to learn the whole song?! The journey is just as important as the destination. You will take the stress out of it and you will still be improving each week.
Mistake #6 – Consulting too many sources
Many beginners make the mistake of jumping from one YouTube video to the next, reading articles all over the internet and in guitar magazines, switching between various online courses, etc. This is especially true when they get stuck on something and switch learning sources in a bid to keep things easy.
With so many different paths available these days to learn how to play guitar, you run the risk of information overload. Instead of finding the answers you seek, this abundance of information can overwhelm and ultimately paralyse you. In order to get better as a player, you need to stay focused and dedicated. Find a teacher or an online course (like this one!) with a clear, comprehensive lesson plan and stick to it. If things get tough, persevere. Don’t always look for an easy out, which will only keep you stuck. Each challenge you overcome will help to make you a better guitarist.
Mistake #7 Practising the wrong thing
Pick something tiny to improve each week.
People often want to skip over the aspects of their playing that need a bit of extra work. Instead of pushing through and working on the 1 thing they’re having trouble with…they just keep playing what they already know. Then they wonder why they’re not improving!
The fact is, you have to do something that doesn’t feel comfortable over and over again until it does. It’s the same with anything in life. When you learn to read and write or to drive a car , you have to go through the initial “pain” of doing something that feels totally unnatural. But before long, if you persevere, it becomes second nature…and in the case of driving, I’m guessing you hardly even have to think about it. You just do it! Same goes for guitar. If you just keep doing the difficult thing it will eventually become easy.
The beauty of doing this is that each time you break through one of these barriers…you’re skills improve and a a whole world of new much opens up to you. It is so rewarding and exciting to know you are improving and giving yourself access to great new music. Another point about this is that it is usually only very minor things that need to be practised in order for us to break through these barriers. So, pick a tiny problem area and go to work. Even if for just a few minutes a day. It works wonders.
Solution: Focus on 1 small thing that you want to improve on.
Mistake 8# Trying to add rhythm before your fingers know what they’re doing
Let yourself learn “what to do” first.
Then you can focus on “how to do it”.
Rhythm is actually something that is very much ‘built in’ to the human being. We breathe in a rhythm, our heart beats in a rhythm, we walk in a rhythm. (Don’t believe me? Watch this video where I prove it! (link))
With this in mind, I have my students learn “what to play” first. By this I mean, that their fingers/hands need to learn to know where they have to go and what they have to do first. This takes focus, concentration and practise. When our motor memory has locked in the movements needed and we no longer need to focus on “what to play” we can then focus on the rhythm or “how to play” the particular piece. If we try and get the rhythm of the music at the same time that we are learning the physical actions, everything takes so much longer. Driving a car is a good analogy. When you are learning to drive, we usually practise the movements of the gear stick, and your working of the pedals before getting on the road. Then, once your hands and feet know these movements “without having to think about them”…then you can actually get out on the road and focus on other traffic, street signs, using mirrors and getting to where you need to go. If you just got in the car and tried to drive before you knew how to operate the car properly you would probably work it out eventually…but it would be too overwhelming. It’s too much to think about at once.
So this is why with guitar, we focus on the “what to play” first and only when we have this under control, do we focus on the “how to play”. This may sound time-consuming, but it actually speeds up the learning process no-end and cures the beginner’s biggest problem: Overwhelm.
Solution: Focus on the “what to play” first.
When your fingers/hands know where to go and what to do, adding rhythm is easy!
Mistake #9 – Comparing yourself to others
Only compare yourself to yourself!
Comparing yourself to your favourite guitar player or your musical-genius friend or even your teacher is a recipe for despair. “Compare and despair”. Many people who have bee playing for a short time feel the need to compare themselves with people who have been playing for 20 years. If they don’t do this then they compare themselves with other beginners who are faster learners than they are. All of these comparisons only serve to make us feel bad and take us away from what will give us real joy…which is, in one word “progress”.
When we are progressing we are happy!
Solution: Compare yourself to yourself… before.
Anytime the thought arises about someone who is better than you and you start saying things like “I’ll never get there”, “I’ll never play as well as….”, I’m just don’t have the talent”, “I’m too old”, etc etc….try this:
Look at how you played when you began, when you picked up the guitar for the first time. Has there been an improvement? Are you able to do something now that you couldn’t do when you started. If so, you are progressing. This should be cause for celebration.
This is why I recommend keeping a practise diary (here’s a link to a template you can use), not only to keep track of what you have done but also so you can chart your progress. It is an extremely satisfying thing to see how far you’ve come. If you feel you are not progressing see Mistake 5# Not Enough Practise and Mistake # Practising the wrong thing.
The way to stay happy with where you are with your playing is to compare yourself only with yourself in the past.
Mistake 10: Not Knowing Specifically What You Want To Be Able To Play
Imagine you are about to head off on holidays. Probably the first thing you would do would be to decide where you want to go right? Many of us don’t consciously decide where it is we want to go, whether we’re talking about holidays or the direction of our life!. So too with guitar. Simply choosing which direction you want to go with your guitar playing, setting achievable goals and then creating a plan can speed up your development faster than you ever imagined.
Many people just sort of “float” through their music-learning journey, not really knowing what it is they’re after, or what their ultimate aim is. I’ve had times like that myself. By far the most satisfying approach is to choose a goal and head in that direction. Setting a goal, creating a timeline for it’s achievement, dividing the goal into smaller, easily achievable mini-goals and then scheduling the actions needed to make it happen; these are the secret to accelerated learning.
Solution: Decide what it is you want to be able to play and stick to it.
Mistake 11: Not learning correct technique from the beginning
This one is fairly self-explanatory. If you don’t learn the most efficient, economical way of using your hands/fingers, you set yourself up for problems down the track. It also costs you time, because at some stage you will probably need to un-learn your technique mistakes. Save yourself years of frustration and make good technique a must!
Solution: Learn the correct way to play first, even if it is uncomfortable by following the advice of a well-trained guitar teacher to help you develop good technique and playing habits.