Do you know how some guitar players practice most days of the week, work hard, and are passionate about their playing, but they always struggle to be able to play the way they want? They are frustrated because they don't improve fast enough, begin doubting their potential, or even feel discouraged or angry with themselves when thinking about how long it is taking them to become a better guitar player.
Can you relate to that? I sure can, I just described myself 15 years ago.
There are specific reasons why guitar players go through such frustration and disappointment. Here are 11 key mistakes players make and repeat over and over again that you should definitely avoid.
1. Teaching Yourself. Many people attempt to teach themselves. Yes, it's true that some well known players were 'somewhat' self taught, but I do not suggest following that strategy even if your favorite player was self taught. If you are 100% sure that you can build powerfully effective learning and training systems on your own, that's great. However, if you are like most of us, doing it alone is the hardest, most time-consuming, stressful, and frustrating way to learn anything. This is a mistake that you should avoid. Some guitar players think it will impress others if they say, "I am a self taught player". That statement might impress a few inexperienced people, but being self taught is not a 'badge of honor'. Would you rather impress others with your playing or with an unimportant statement about your playing? I'm not criticizing self taught guitar players, I'm only saying that there is no advantage to being self taught... and no, it is not true that being 'self taught' makes us more 'original'. In fact, the opposite is usually true.
2. Taking Lessons From Ineffective Guitar Teachers. Unfortunately, most electric guitar teachers receive ZERO training on how to teach guitar. What is worse is that the vast majority of teachers do little or nothing to improve their guitar teaching skills. Want some proof? Use Google's keyword tool. Type in this keyword phrase: 'improve guitar teaching skills', 'guitar teaching skills', or 'guitar teaching training' and you will find that less than 10 searches per month are done for these topics at google! Of course there are some highly effective teachers around, but there are a whole lot more ineffective teachers. Here is a free resource on how to tell the difference between the good teachers and the mediocre ones, "Free Guide: How To Choose A Guitar Teacher".
3. Seeking New Guitar Information (tricks, tips, tab) Without A Proven Strategy To Reach Your Specific Musical Goals. We need information, advice, help and music to play, but without a proven strategic learning and training process that is specific to you, your skill level, your musical style and what you want to be able to do as a guitar player, information won't get you where you want to go. It is better to first seek help in developing a customized strategy for you to become a better guitar player. After that strategy is in place, then it is time to deal with learning the right information.
4. Not Knowing Specifically What You Want To Be Able To Play. Most guitar players are not specific enough when they think about (or tell others about) what they want to be able to do with their guitar. To say, "I want to play whatever I wish to play" is too vague. How can you (or your guitar teacher) develop a specific and effective guitar training strategy unless the goals you have are specific? It's like saying you want to be a great athlete, how can you effectively train with such a vague goal? Sure there are things you can do to become faster, stronger, more flexible or whatever, but it's much easier if you first get specific such as, I want to train to be a gymnast, or a long distance runner, or a body builder. Yes you can still improve without a strategy, but it will take a lot longer and be much more frustrating. You can always change your goal later if you discover you want to do something else instead.
5. Not Enough Focus On Things That Matter Most To Making You A Better Guitar Player. Have you fallen into the trap of practicing guitar without focusing on the specific things that can quickly begin to improve your guitar playing? Many people really do not understand and apply this concept in enough detail.... for example, I have a student named Mark who used to take lessons from another teacher in the past. Mark was studying sweep picking arpeggios with his previous teacher, and was making some progress. However Mark did not understand what 'specific' things he needed to focus on first before attempting to master the sweep picking arpeggios he was practicing. This was holding him back and making him feel very frustrated. Mark's previous teacher only knew how to 'teach' arpeggios and general sweep picking concepts. He did not really know how to "train" Mark with the specific things to focus on and how to overcome the challenges Mark was having. If you would like to see a small sample of this check out this short sweep picking video guitar lesson.
6. Too Much Focus On Things That Are Not Core To Your Goals. In addition to not focusing on specific things, many guitar players focus on the 'wrong things'. Some enthusiastic guitar players become temporarily obsessed with things which are distractions from other things that could be helping their playing much more. Here is an example: I used to get so frustrated and angry when I could not play something perfectly, I'd lock myself in my practice room and say, "I'm not coming out of this room until I master this damn lick if it takes me the next 19 hours! No breaks! No food! No human contact! I'm gonna nail this!" And I did master it. On the surface, it might seem like I was on the right track and practicing in a good way.... But in reality, I was spending my time only to stop being angry and frustrated. I was not investing my practice time wisely by focusing on the things that mattered most to making a better guitar player. In other words, my perseverance was commendable, but my strategy to master important long-term goals was weak. I allowed myself to be distracted. I don't make this same mistake anymore, and I urge you to also avoid it! Focus on the things that really matter for your guitar playing right now. If you are not sure how to do this, seek out a proven guitar teacher today.
7. Focusing On The Right Things, But in The Wrong Order. This is a common mistake that even many advanced guitar players make which causes a lot of wasted time and frustration. Imagine you want to improve your ability to create your own cool guitar solos. Let's assume that you are advanced enough to truly understand all the primary and secondary elements of composing guitar solos (or you have a guitar teacher to help you). Each of the many elements need to be learned and/or practiced in order to easily create awesome solos that you like. Where should you begin? What should you focus on first, second, third? Which of these things should you practice simultaneously? There is always a specific order in which musical skills should be learned and mastered in order to EXPLODE your musical skills. Unfortunately, that order is totally different for every person, style of music, musical goal, skill set and knowledge, so giving an example here would be pointless. My advice, find the best teacher you can and study with him/her in order to be able to do what you want to do with your guitar much faster and easier.
8. Not Isolating Problem Areas. Few guitar players are aware of the small things that hold them back in big ways. Because these little imperfections seem insignificant to us, we often ignore them. The truth is, small hinges open big doors. In the video mentioned above I explained how allowing your pick to lose its momentum when you are 'not picking' a note on the guitar makes your playing slow and sloppy... which will make you feel very frustrated. This is why I was sure to make a special point to help you avoid that mistake. Check out the small sample sweep picking video guitar lesson for more details.
9. Learning And Practicing Guitar In A Step By Step Linear Process. Does following a linear step by step approach to learning, practicing and mastering guitar seem like common sense good to you? Yes it does... And that is why guitar players who follow such a path are NOT great guitar players. I'm going to let you in an insider's secret... The truth is, following a linear approach to learning, practicing, and mastering is the NUMBER ONE REASON WHY "GOOD GUITAR PLAYERS" STRUGGLE TO BECOME "GREAT GUITAR PLAYERS"... I originally thought I would write an article on this one point alone, but I think you will learn this concept better in another short video I recorded while I was doing a recent guitar instructional clinic tour a few months ago. Check out this free sample from my "How to Master The Guitar" clinic.
10. Practicing Guitar In The Same Way Your Favorite Guitar Players Practice. Have you ever read about how your favorite guitar players practice and then tried to repeat the same practice routine? Yes, I've made this mistake too! It seems natural to use a similar guitar practice schedule that our favorite players are using. This is a mistake, because your current guitar skill level and knowledge of music is probably very different from your favorite player. His/her challenges and needs are likely not the same as yours.
Professional guitar players practice for different reasons than most amateur players do. For example, before recording a new album I will practice very differently compared to the period before going on tour. Once I'm actually on tour my practice routine changes drastically again. The rest of the year my practicing schedule changes yet again. This happens because in each case my challenges and goals are totally different. When my guitar students ask me, "Tom, how do you practice guitar?" I'm careful not to let my students assume that they should practice the same way that I do. Your practice schedule and strategy needs to be built around YOU and you only! If you need help building your own practice schedule, email me directly.
11. Learning From Too Many Different Sources Of Information. There will always be many learning opportunities and various paths to take, but it is critical that you do not get distracted into following a piece of advice from one person, then another piece of advice from another person and then follow more resources from somewhere else and so on and so on... while different people may have some good ideas to offer, the fact is, distraction is a big reason why many guitar players who are actively learning, don't really move forward quickly... these people are always busy following totally different resources, teachers, philosophies, instructional videos, free online guitar lessons, but all of this leads them to take one step forward, then 2 steps to the right, then one step forward, then 3 steps to the left, then one step backward, then two to the right, then 1 step forward and then another step to the left...
An illustration of this is shown below. The first path is obviously the most direct way to arrive to your goals. The second path is the inefficient approach filled with many distractions that come from various pieces of advice from many sources:
Once you have an effective strategy to become the guitar player you want to be, ALWAYS stay focused on it (unless your goals radically change)!! The very best way to do this is to have ONE primary guitar teacher who helps you to become the musician you really want to be.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't take advice from other people too, but you should have one 'primary' source of information, training and coaching, and see the other advice as an additional resource, but do not become distracted by it.
Download this free guide "How To Choose A Guitar Teacher" to find a guitar teacher with proven teaching strategies, proven training strategies and proven results so that you become the awesome guitar player you want to be and play the guitar the way you've always wanted to play.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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