Tired of not making progress in your guitar playing? Most likely, your lack of progress is the result of years of bad playing habits. Until you correct your bad habits, you will be destined to experience the feeling of helplessness you get after realizing that you need to 'begin from square one' every time you try to learn something new.
First, here is the bad news about these situations: If you have noticed that you've reached a plateau after many years of playing/practicing guitar, you 'will' need to face the frustration described above (possibly many times) before you accomplish your musical goals. I see this happen all the time to guitar players who have spent the majority of their time teaching themselves how to play. This is a very risky way to learn guitar because without a teacher to guide you, you are almost certain to develop destructive and limiting playing habits.
Now here's the good news: You can reduce the frustration of going through the situations above when you alter the mindset you have toward solving bad guitar playing habits and use the approaches described below.
After teaching tons of guitar players over the years, I've seen nearly any guitar playing related problem you can imagine. The following are just a few of the bad habits that I have helped my students eliminate:
1. Untwisting a knot of poor guitar technique habits caused by years of using too much tension and lacking finger independence in the fretting hand.
2. Frequently using the CAGED method as a means to memorize the fretboard and learn scales. The CAGED method is one of the worst things a guitar player can learn - it causes so many problems that I'd have to devote an entire article (or book!) to cover them all. At the very least, this system will greatly limit your ability to creatively improvise on guitar. Many of my new students come to me frustrated after using CAGED system for a long time and we have to take the time to fix all the problems they developed from using it. However, once we are done, they always thank me because they have become much better players.
3. Poor picking technique that is built off of years of inefficient picking hand movement and/or using an ineffective picking system. Watch this video about how to increase guitar speed to see what I mean.
4. Poor guitar practicing methods that make it very difficult to learn guitar and achieve your musical goals. I've talked about some of the best solutions for poor guitar practice habits in this video about how to practice guitar effectively.
Although the issues discussed above are just examples and the particular problems you might be facing may be completely different, there are common steps that all guitarists should take when fixing bad habits in their playing. By following these steps you will be able to go through the process of solving your guitar playing problems with as little frustration as possible.
Here are the steps to follow:
1. Start getting excited. Many guitarists have the gut reaction of feeling disappointed when they come across very fundamental mistakes in their playing. However, you really should not be feeling this way. Why? Because when you discover major faults in your guitar playing, you are learning 'exactly' what needs to be fixed in order for you to become a much better guitarist. This is not a negative thing at all - it's a reason to celebrate!
2. Think as specifically as possible. Before you will fix a fundamental playing issue, you need to:
A. Pinpoint the problem you are facing (use these assessments about how to become a better guitar player to learn which problems need to be corrected right now in your playing)
B. Get a clear understanding of why the problem is keeping you from becoming the player you want to become
C. Determine the steps you must take to eliminate the issue
D. Figure precisely why these specific steps are the best solutions for solving the issue
E. Picture how much better you will be once you have solved the issue and improved your guitar playing skills
Each of the five points mentioned above are all highly important. To get inspired to go through the work needed to fix a fundamental problem in your playing, you must understand both 'what' the problem is and why the problem is keeping you from becoming a better player. Additionally, when you visualize what it will be like when you overcome your current issues (and what it will be like to play guitar how you want), you will drastically improve your ability to sustain motivation throughout the improvement process.
The majority of guitar players only focus on one or two of the points mentioned above (usually A and C) while completely ignoring points B, D & E. This increases the chances that they will run out of motivation long before they totally fix their bad guitar playing habits. Learn more about keeping this from happening in your guitar playing by studying this article on overcoming musician burnout.
3. Focus on correcting one issue at a time. It is very easy to become overwhelmed when you learn that you have tons of issues to work on (essentially making you feel like you are starting over as a guitarist). You don't need to feel this way and I'll explain why:
Keep in mind that simply being aware of an issue in your playing is the first step to correcting the issue and becoming a much better guitarist. This applies to all issues you may be having whether they are very core, fundamental problems or smaller less important mistakes. So don't feel frustrated and overwhelmed - create an organized guitar practice schedule and tackle each issue one by one until you have solved them all.
Learn how to create your own practice routine for guitar so you can more effectively organize your practice time.
This transitions into the next point:
4. Don't feel too pressured to solve all of your poor guitar playing habits at once. In other words, don't put all of your guitar playing skills on hold in order to fix one bad habit. I see many guitar players make this mistake all the time. Rather than doing this, invest a certain amount of time into improving your problem area, but keep developing your other guitar playing skills during the remainder of your practice time. To learn more on how to avoid the mistake of working too much in one area of your playing, read this instructional article about making faster progress on guitar.
5. Perseverance is key - stay patient and push through. When you begin the process of eliminating many years worth of bad guitar playing habits, you will find yourself trying to revert back to your old (more comfortable) ways of playing that lead you down the wrong path. To avoid giving into the temptation of playing what 'feels' comfortable in the moment, you need to focus your mind on the end result you wish to attain. Discover more about this by checking out this article about how to have perseverance as a guitarist.
6. You become like the people you surround yourself with... so surround yourself with excellent guitar players who will support you as you work on correcting major guitar playing issues. By simply being around these types of people, you will gain a huge motivational boost to reach your musical goals faster. I know this is true, because I continually see the massive positive effect my private musician forum has on every new student who begins taking lessons with me.
7. Stop trying to solve you bad guitar playing habits by yourself. If you did not have the foresight to prevent these issues from occurring, you're not going to know how to fix them. Instead, locate an experienced guitar teacher who has invested a lot of time into helping guitar players like you achieve their greatest musical goals. Check out this free resource on how to find a great teacher and achieve your guitar playing goals as quickly as possible.
After reading this article, you are now prepared to begin fixing fundamental issues in your guitar playing. Get started fixing them right now by using these guitar playing improvement assessments to learn how to become a better guitar player. Next, carefully follow the points in this article, apply the concepts into your current practicing methods and find a great guitar teacher who will guide you along the right path. Once you do this, you will quickly reach your highest guitar playing goals and become the guitarist you always wanted to be!
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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