In this article, I will be discussing some common mistakes that a lot of guitar players do not realize is having an adverse effect on their playing. By being mindful of these, you can be sure not only to learn properly, but also ensure that you will have fun doing so.
“Practice Makes Perfect”
We have all heard this cliché before and none more than guitar players of all levels. This is something which every budding young musician or advanced guitar players hear and tell themselves through the course of their learning. However, not all who start playing the guitar get their desired results. “Why am I having a hard time despite all my practice?” is a question I have heard from too many musicians I know.
Not Setting Goals Properly
A lot of guitar players I know want to learn how to play like the greats. A few months later when asking them how their playing is coming along, they simply tell me that they have decided to not push through or that it was too hard. Not setting goals properly only sets up musicians for failure from the very beginning. It is one thing to say “I want to play like Satriani”; however, it is another thing on getting there. Below are some things to follow when setting up goals.
- Be Specific – Knowing what you want to learn will set you on the right course of getting there. “I want to play like Satriani” is a good goal but which is it? Do you want to play solos like him? Or maybe learn your favorite song from his albums? The more specific you are with your goal, the better chances of you achieving it.
- Be Realistic with a Timeframe – Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to attain your goal and be realistic about it. If your goal is to play like Satriani, Vai or Gilbert in 1 month, Stop Dreaming! “Learning how to play Satch Boogie in 3 months at normal speed” is a good goal and has a reasonable timeframe.
- Breakdown Into Practice Points – Learning technique can really be exciting but do not jump into the fray. Develop a process that will allow you to make sure that you take a step by step approach in reaching your goal.
Noodling Away Practice Time
It is quite easy to be sidetracked while practicing. Whether getting distracted by new gear, losing motivation or even wanting to learn things not following your pace can be reasons for this. Sometimes just noodling away on your guitar is much simpler but this should not make you stray away from your goals. Designate time for noodling during your practice. This will help you ease up and alleviate stress which can build up while practicing too much.
Not Using a Metronome While Practicing
A common mistake of both beginners and long-time players alike is not using a metronome while practicing. The use of a metronome while learning any instrument is critical. A metronome is the tool by which you learn to control the time element of your performance. How can you know whether your tempos are even if you don't know what "even" truly is? And in the case of more elastic tempo, how can you create steady accelerando or ritard unless you have first developed a solid sense of playing evenly? Musicianship is about developing control over all aspects of music. And timing is a biggie.
Using a metronome also has an adverse effect on your playing techniques. A metronome allows you to start moderately slow and build on your speed as a player. It will also allow you to determine the trouble spots and what tempo you would usually be having trouble with. Utilizing a metronome to moderately slow down what you are practicing helps develop note accuracy and makes your playing cleaner.
Excessive Use of Tutorials and Not Playing By Ear
Ever since YouTube has come out and the improvement of technology becoming rampant, information to a lot of things has been more accessible. This means that even video tutorials of how to play songs, sometimes note per not, have become much easier to come by. Do not get me wrong as there is nothing wrong with this. It simply becomes wrong when musicians develop the bad habit of not learning music by ear. Playing by ear is important in developing technique as this will allow you to play anything that you hear either with your ears or with your head. One way of utilizing these tutorials would be to allow you to check if what you learned by ear is correct and also give you a hand when a song becomes too difficult to learn by ear.
Strumming/Picking from the Elbow and Using All Downstrokes
Practicing your techniques correctly early on opens the proper gateway in order to have muscle memory take over when you are playing. A common mistake which I have seen a lot of times for beginners who learn without the guidance of teachers is using strumming/picking using their forearm or elbow and only utilizing downstrokes. Sticking with such a practice will open you up for fatigue and injury. Doing so is not only inefficient, but also makes you work more. A better way would be to use your wrist and utilizing both downstrokes and upstrokes while using small motions coming from the wrist.
Not Muting Properly
String muting means preventing certain strings from sounding while we play other strings. The reason why we need to mute strings at times is because otherwise the vibrating strings will interfere with the music we are playing. Other strings will vibrate either because our fingers bump into them or because they start to vibrate “in sympathy” with the ones we have played. The way we mute or damp strings we don't want to hear from is by touching the string with the skin of the side of the hand. If you do a karate chop on the table, the part of your hand touching the table is the part used to mute the strings. This is the same position we use to mute the strings, however, there is more to the story. We have to make smaller adjustments to the hand as we play and move from string to string. Here is an exercise for getting into the right position, and for teaching the hand how to make those smaller adjustments. Poor muting can lead to sounding unprofessional and unclean
Not Using the Tips of the Fingers for Chords and Fretting
Getting a full chord sound depends on where you place your fingers and how hard you press on the strings. When you first start playing guitar chords, sometimes they don’t sound like much. Often you get one or two strings to sound and the rest is all just the futile sound of a pick clicking against the strings with no notes coming out. That’s normal at first.
The lack of sound is mostly about your fretting hand right now, so let’s look at a few of the most common snags.
Fingers falling flat. When playing a chord, you need to keep your fingers somewhat squared, with your two joints making a box in which the fingerboard is the fourth side. Check on your ring finger in particular: on a D chord it probably wants to flatten out at the first joint, which means it is now muting the high string. That is, even if you’re fretting the high string just right, the underside of your ring finger may be muffling it. Squaring up your ring finger should help.
Too far from the fret. “Put your index finger at the second fret” really means, “place your index finger between the first fret and the second fret.” You don’t want to put your finger down on the string right over the second fret, but you can’t leave it too far back toward the first fret either. The ideal location is about three-quarters of the way toward the second fret. Of course, there will be some variation of finger placement, especially on a chord such as D where more than one finger has to be at the same fret (on different strings) at the same time.
Not pressing down hard enough. This one is tricky. You actually don’t need to press down forcefully to make a note sound, and in fact you can build up a lot of unnecessary tension and pain in your hand, not to mention your fingertips, by pressing too hard out of concentration or stress. But you do need to make sure that your effort is evenly distributed over all your fingers in the chord, and if you’ve already checked for slanted, muffling fingers and how close they are to the right fret, check on how much pressure you’re applying to hold down each string.
Not Learning How to Tune Your Guitar Well
Tuners are all around us these days. Whether traditional tuners or tuners on smartphones or tablets, they have been easier to procure. Again though, a lot of players heavily rely on these and have forgotten to train using their ear in tuning. Learning how to tune by ear trains you to recognize and know if a note is flat or sharp. Aside from using tuners, also learn to use other tuning methods such as using the 5th fret of strings and the use of harmonics.
Not Applying What You Have Learned
I have seen a lot of musicians spend hours doing exercises, studying musical theory, etc… However, a lot of them miss out on a point: Apply What You Learn To Real Music!!! It is simple to understand that some budding musicians can be easily intimidated in front of other people; however, Theories without application will render them useless. Use backing tracks or play along to a song which you have learned. Jam with your friends or other fellow musicians. Ask to play together with your guitar teacher. Applying everything that you learn and simply doing it is one of the first steps to improving.