Common beginner guitarist mistakes: Part One

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When first starting to play guitar, there are some common beginner mistakes that I made and that a lot of new players make. Your first guitar is special and exciting. I could not wait to get started. I could not wait to get my guitar home and start playing! I wanted to learn all the chords and all the notes and all the scales. I wanted to learn everything!


You need to balance that excitement with a little planning. If not, you could develop habits that will slow down your progress, or even worse, cause you to quit all together.


People can change bad habits. Sometimes change is not easy. Being aware of these issues before you begin will help you avoid bad habits completely. Making it less likely that you will need to go back and re learn something.


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Here are some common mistakes that beginning guitarists ( and some veterans ) often make and a few suggestions on how to deal with them.


1. Playing a guitar that is out of tune.


You may not notice that your guitar is out of tune if you are always playing alone and not along with any backing tracks or music. Then when you hear someone playing a guitar that is in tune, you may wonder why you don’t sound like them. This can lead to discouragement and self doubt.


Your brain is working hard to memorize and integrate all this new information you are throwing at it. If you don’t practice on a guitar that is in tune, you make it more difficult to learn. Our brains want to hear things that sound good. If you play a guitar that is in tune and play something that is out of pitch, you will notice it and you will begin to learn to correct it.


Buy an electric guitar tuner and use it before you play the guitar every time. Then use it again after you have been playing awhile to make sure you are still in tune. Eventually you will be able to learn to tune your guitar by ear.


2. Not paying attention to timing and rhythm.


In my opinion, the most important thing about learning to play the guitar if how to stay in time and keep rhythm. You have to keep a beat if you want to play with other musicians or even just to accompany yourself singing. Similar to the tuning example, you may not realize you are not keeping rhythm if you are always practicing alone and not along with others. You think you are cruising along and then you hang out with some friends and discover you can’t keep a steady beat.


The easiest way to learn to keep a beat is to use a metronome early on in your practice. An electric one will work just fine. This will help you with rhythm until you can keep the beat perfectly in your head. Using a metronome at every practice and paying attention to rhythm to keep a beat will help you learn much easier in the future.


3. Playing too fast too soon


Ignore the gurus. Learning to play guitar is not fast or easy. You have to put in the time and you should follow a certain order. Building on skills each time you practice is important. We learn through repetition. Our brains want to remember what we have learned so we can play it again. You will learn through getting things down SLOWLY at first. Perfect the chord, strum, scale or lick slowly. Then gradually increase the tempo (using your metronome of course).


Speed comes from practice. Speed should not be your goal. Playing things clean and in rhythm is the goal. The speed will come naturally. Learn one chord at a time and be able to play it right before moving on. Being a good guitarist in the future will depend on how you practice now. Slow and steady wins the race. Playing slow and correct and in time is more important than playing fast and sloppy and off beat.


4. Not practicing the right things


It is tempting to just practice what you can play. It is easy to develop bad posture and poor pick control. It is easy to avoid barre chords. It is easy to skip warming up your fingers or learning some basic music theory. It is easy to grow impatient and give up.


Your practice should include things that you are not comfortable with so that you can grow and evolve. You should have a goal about where you want to go with your guitar playing. You should be aware of how you are holding your guitar and your pick. Barre chords are intimidating. But you can learn them by practicing them a little at a time.


You have to realize that learning is a process that never ends. Live in the moment and enjoy the journey! Play a little each day and you will be surprised about what you will learn.


5. Consulting too many sources


Many beginners make the mistake of jumping from website to website, from one Youtube video to the next and from one tab to the next. This is especially true if people get stuck and things don’t feel easy and they search out the easy answer.


You run the risk of “paralysis by analysis” from so many sources of information. Instead of finding answers, you may just get overwhelmed and stuck. Learning and progressing is the key to sticking with the guitar. Each challenge you overcome makes you a better guitarist. Each success builds on the next.


In order to get better you have to stay focused and find a teacher that you like and trust—-like me.


And finally, RELAX. Learning to play the guitar is fun. It is good for your brain and your outlook. You should have a relaxed posture with no tension in your neck and back. You don’t have to crush the pick between your fingers. You don’t have to kill your fingers when pressing on the strings. Or strangle the neck. Relax your grip, your muscles and your breathing. Not to mention your expectations. Making a little progress at a time is the key. Your skills will increase faster than you think.  Keep these things in mind to avoid some common beginner guitarist mistakes.

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