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27 Mistakes Any Guitarist Should Avoid

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The guitar is a fascinating instrument that will enrich your life in more ways than one. It will be your companion either when you're feeling alone or when you the life of the party; beside you in your highs and lows - a confidant you can turn to day and night. It'll help tide over your boredom and sooth you when you are fatigued and go with you where ever you wish to take it.

It all sounds quite romantic but if you are a beginner, you're probably thinking I've gone nuts! What I wrote sounds inspiring, but be warned, the first few months your guitar will test you severely. You will lose your cool, get frustrated, angry and feel extremely inept. Don't expect your guitar to easily play into your hands - it takes time, patience, practice and perseverance. While learning, you are bound to make mistakes and fail. But failure is the pillar of success, and believe me, you will tide over and tame your beast.

Enough with the lecture, let us get down to certain mistakes that you must avoid. These not only cost you time and energy, but more importantly hurt your morale.

(I.) Broad Mistakes:

1. Don't give up before you start: If you want to learn the guitar, go out and buy yourself one. Procrastination will leave you at air guitar at best and playing in your dreams doesn't count as solid practice. Here's the guide / advice on buying (and maintaining) a new guitar.

2. Don't give up too soon: If you skipped the introductory paragraph then go back and read it and hopefully you'll be inspired. How soon is too soon? If you are quitting - its too soon! If your finger tips pain, use cold water or ice and rest them. It will get better. And once the calluses form in a few weeks, it won't pain any more.

3. Get lessons: You're only delaying things if you don't. Just a few lessons can propel you a long way. Guide like this site are not enough if you are just staring off.

4. Don't get intimidated: Sure the thing looks complicated, but there is a simple design behind it. Read up a bit about the construction of a guitar and you will see how it all works. Remember, you play just a few frets at a time and the pattern has a logic which is easy to catch. It may seem too difficult to play, but if I can do it, anyone can. It took me six months with regular lessons to get a basic hang on it. Remember - baby steps! Take your time and it will become easy.

5. Learn to tune your guitar: Always tune your guitar before you start playing. Practicing on an out-of-tune instrument makes you sound poorer than you actually are as well as wrecks your ear training. You can learn to tune your guitar quickly and easily. It is more important to hit the right note than hitting the right fret. Tune your guitar before every practice and touch it up in between songs.

6. Theory first: Start off first by learning the basic music theory. At the very least, you have to learn about the notes of music, the guitar neck, fret board, inlays, etc. Simultaneously improve your skill and knowledge. Here's a free guitar e-book (the index page) to guide you through. One thing here - learning staff notation from the get go will be beneficial but its not mandatory.

7. Don't get too ahead of yourself: Go slow at first. As your skill and understanding improves, it will get easier. Don't try and learn difficult songs in the beginning - you won't be able to and it'll just demoralize you. Start off with something simple like Twinkle Twinkle and Yankee Doodle. I understand that this might neither fulfill your rock-star dreams, nor live up to what you're friends might be expecting to hear, but its great practice. You can try something harder when you feel comfortable.

8. Give it some of your valuable time: Books on the shelf won't help you acquire knowledge by diffusion (not even if you sleep on them) - the same applies to music. Learning an instrument is all about practice. It makes you familiar with what you're dealing with and more importantly builds up muscle memory so that you don't have to think before playing every single note - just like cursive writing and riding a bicycle. You need to give it time. What ever amount you put in every day adds up, even a few minutes.

9. Listen to music: Listening to music is just as important as playing it. It will help you catch wrong notes.

10. Don't forget that you're learning it for enjoyment: If you're getting too worked up with it and it is becoming one more bit of your daily work schedule, may be you're just missing the whole point. There is a difference between playing and practicing - don't forget it.

(II.) Specific Mistakes:

1. Take care of your gear: Nothing shows that you picked up the guitar just to impress people than letting it stand / lie in the corner of your room / closet gathering dust.

2. Going all out and then fizzling out: Buy one guitar, preferably acoustic (and some basic effects, if you choose to go electric). Don't spend your life's savings on your first setup. Learn the instrument; hone your skills and the move on to bigger and better things. More / better things don't equate to better playing.

3. Tune your guitar: (mentioned above - and yeah, it is that important). You learn music through your ears.

4. Don't start off by using distortion: Learn how the notes originally sound before you "distort" it. Pick up your skill first and then add all the effects you desire. You must understand the alteration to the sound that effect produces.

5. Don't start off by playing songs alone: Practice the scales first and the songs will be easier. Go parallel, but scale first. Practice both chords and leads. Practice changing chords and strumming songs. Again, don't just play only the songs your want. Learn music as a whole and have a wide selection in your repertoire.

6. Don't look at your hands too much: Do not keep looking at your hands. It will hamper your progress. See which fret you have to play and try and hit it without seeing. You will have to develop that skill and it will be difficult going at first. Sooner or later your fingers will strike the right notes / chords. Like I said - it applies for both hands.
  • You can see your fretting hand at the beginning and if you get lost, but look away once you have found one of the notes of the piece. Try and play the rest of the notes by visualizing that part of the fret board. Its easier than it seems. Your body has position sensors that will kick in once you look away.
  • Plucking the strings (with your right hand) is something that you should do strictly without looking. 
  • Don't fall prey to these bad habits and trust you position sense.
  • Try and play the guitar with your eyes closed, or with the lights off, or blindfolded (if you're into theatrics). You will be able to do all that quite soon, if you do away with your dependence on sight of the strings.
  • Plectrums are optional. You can finger-pick / strum just as well.
  • Read: Anchoring, Guide and Pivot Fingers

7. Practice pieces and not individual notes or chords: Don't go about playing single notes or chords. It won't do you much good. Music is in the change (of the note or chord) as well. Learn to properly fret and strum. Learn to strum and change chords. Develop fluidity.

8. Don't go by the book all the time: No two people are the same. Everyone can play things in a way that is easy for them. Just because someone tells you to hold down a chord in a particular way, doesn't mean you can't do it in a way that you're more comfortable with. Concentrate on the sound and not on how to contort your fingers - simplify.

9. Don't neglect music theory: Learning theory is essential. You need to know what you're doing. It's not enough to just know the scales and chords, it's also essential to know why that is so. Learning to deconstruct a piece, a chord, etc and understanding its constitution will make you into a musician and not just a player.

10. Don't depend too much on spoon-feeding: Don't depend just on tablature or notes. Learn how to figure out for songs by yourself and liberate yourself. First learn how to read guitar tablature and start by practicing on the available tablatures of some songs. Remember, internet tabs are not deadly accurate, so depend more on your ear. Playing a song by ear is one of the most important things that you must do. If you want to play any song you want, this is your ticket.

9. Learn to use proper pressure, at the proper place, properly: Use just the right amount of pressure on the strings. What is the right amount? Well, the string should be pressed into the fret and your fingers shouldn't hurt terribly. The aim is to shorten the length of the vibrating string at the end of that fret and not to muffle it either. Try holding down a string towards end of the fret, just to the left of the metal piece down the neck (schematic below).

(Nut)|------|-----|----|.........|----|---|--|-|  (sound hole)
                ^     ^
Press at these points

As for the plucking hand, use just enough force to clearly sound each string. For both hands, be careful not the touch the vibrating segments of the string, as that will cause a buzz and silence the string. When playing chords don't press down on the strings with the flat (pulp) of your finger (left hand), use the tips instead. Conversely when playing leads, try and play using the pulp of your finger. Use the pulp of your right hand to pluck the strings and not the tips. Again, don't grip the neck too firmly. Your hand needs to slide over it.

10. Use all your fingers: Use all the fingers of both your hands - that includes the little fingers and the thumbs as well. The little fingers are key to playing most chords properly. The right thumb and little fingers will help you in playing fast arpeggios and riffs. The left little finger is pivotal in fretting fast solos. Don't forget to place your right little finger on the guard plate - this acts as a reference point allowing you to pluck the proper string.

11. Don't be afraid to play slowly: Your audience doesn't need to see how fast you can play. Nor would they be bored if you took your time. Don't get nervous and play at a moderate speed. Slow and steady wins the race. Try the slow pieces first and gradually pick up speed. Don't push yourself too much right in the beginning of your learning.

12. Don't play notes, play a song: Don't try and be excessively accurate with your timing. Do get a good rhythm, but play with passion. Express feelings through the piece. Music is all about that. Not doing this is what is called poor phrasing. It's quite like trying to speak in a foreign language by just reading out the "words" written down in your own. You speak something, but sound like an idiot.

13. Don't play on just one string: Many beginners (of Spanish guitar) are quickly enamored of the 1st (high E) string and play everything using just that one string. You get all 12 notes on it, but it sounds silly. It's a bad practice, to not utilize the other strings. Plus you know you have to stop doing that sooner or later.

14. Don't break your wrist or rhythm while strumming: I mean don't move your right hand's wrist while your strum. All the movement should come from the joints above. Stiffen your wrist while you strum. Again, don't break your rhythm while playing either.

15. Play along with someone or a soundtrack: It's important to learn how to keep up with everyone else. If you want a go at it alone, play a song and play along.

16. Learning how to sight read: If you are serious about a career in music, you must be able to fluently read music (staff notation). Being able to seamlessly read a new piece and play a song is sight reading.

17. Don't be afraid of making mistakes and experiment: Catch them, learn from them and get over them. Make intentional mistakes and gauge the results. Unless you deconstruct and analyze everything, you will not get it.

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27 Mistakes Any Guitarist Should Avoid

Comments: 6 comment(s)...have your say!


Very helpful information,,,

Arindam Sarkarsaid...

Thankyou; much appreciated ;)


This info will be gr8fl for that people who follows some wrong method of playing guitar. Thanx a lot....

Arindam Sarkarsaid...

Hope it really is. Thanks a lot ;)


thank you sir,,,,,,,,,,it will help me a lot,,,,,,i will reading your e-book,,,,,,,sourav

Dr. Arindam Sarkarsaid...

Thankyou, Sourav!

BasicMusicTheory Tip:

Tune your guitar before you start playing.^Top^

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