Learning to play the guitar is an emotionally enriching endeavor. Even the scientific community agrees that playing guitar improves your quality of living, from how you perform in school to your social life.
As exciting and life-changing as picking up a six-string can be, overzealous players might run into some pretty common mistakes without thinking. That’s why we’ve laid out common guitar mistakes.
Keep reading to get the most out of your guitar-playing experience.
While practice makes perfect, you want to ensure that your approach to the instrument you’re practicing sets you up for success. Even before you start strumming, there are a few things about your guitar that you’ll want to take into account.
Using the Wrong Kind of Guitar
There are conflicting schools of thought regarding the type of guitar beginners should purchase. Some instructors believe that players should use the best tool possible to learn. Others find that cheap guitars lower barriers to entry and make the guitar accessible to all.
As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.
Guitars can be as expensive as you want them to be. Some of the cost makes a difference in how it plays. But the highest price tags will not make you a better player.
Likewise, cheap toy guitars are tempting because they won’t set you back. But learning to play guitar on what is essentially a toy won’t cut it. The craftsmanship will hinder your progress.
Holding the Guitar Wrong
Incorrectly holding the guitar is the most common guitar mistake. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest to correct. Let’s break it down to its components:
- Sitting upright with your legs at a ninety-degree angle, rest the guitar on your right thigh. Be sure that the waist of the guitar, the thinnest part of its body, is what rests on your leg.
- Your right arm should come over the top and rest on the guitar at the crook of the elbow. This position will stabilize the guitar and help your strumming.
- Be sure your left hand can move freely up and down the neck of the guitar without the guitar moving.
- Do not tilt the guitar back against your body. This position is commonly assumed to see the strings better but will hinder all aspects of practicing and performance.
Here’s a great video showing how to hold the guitar correctly:
Not Tuning the Guitar
Sometimes it’s out of laziness, other times it’s because of over-excitement, but either way, not tuning before you play is just wrong.
This common guitar mistake is easy to get away with at first because strings can often go out of tune relative to one another. Meaning their pitches remain constant to one another. If you play alone, you might not notice.
Not being in tune will make it hard to practice with recordings or others. It will also help train your ear to the proper pitches, which will come in handy as you progress.
Practice is essential if you want to play guitar, but not all practice sessions are created equally. Practicing the right way will go a long way in taking your skill from “annoying guy at the party” to a showstopper.
Not Practicing Often Enough
As beautiful as a guitar looks hanging up on a wall, you won’t learn to play it through osmosis.
Consistent practice is the only way to learn. Lessons are a great way to learn new skills and hold yourself accountable, but you need to practice more than once a week. Beginners should be practicing daily.
By setting aside fifteen minutes every day, you’ll create a consistent habit, build quickly upon previous progress, develop muscle memory in your hands, and avoid frustration and burnout.
Not Using a Metronome
Using a metronome while practicing helps develop consistent timing and rhythm, which are challenges of coordination that many beginners face.
Many beginners neglect the rhythmic elements of the guitar. Though it isn’t often associated with timing in the same sense as bass or drums are, it is still a fundamental element of playing guitar.
By practicing to a metronome, you’ll solidify timing that will make your playing consistent and smooth. You’ll also get used to playing in a manner that will make playing with a group much easier as you progress and begin jamming with others.
Playing Too Hard
Beginning guitarists often compensate for their lack of finger dexterity by pressing on the strings too hard. Not only will this over-exertion end up hurting your hand, but it can also cause the guitar to go out of tune.
Sometimes players push harder on the strings to keep their guitar from making a buzzing sound. This sound is not related to the pressure applied to the neck of the guitar. It’s due to a lack of calluses on the player’s hand.
In time, calluses will develop at the tip of your fingers, alleviating discomfort and allowing for pressure to be applied acutely to the point of contact between the string and neck.
Tips for Better Practice
What you practice is just as important as how often you practice. Imagine if athletes never pushed themselves to become stronger or faster; they would languish long before perfecting their chosen sport.
This same concept applies to guitar. Proficiency in your playing isn’t a matter of working harder. It’s all about working smarter.
The key to improving as a guitar player is to build upon what you have already learned. There are a lot of guitar players out there that learned a few licks and called it a day. While there isn’t anything wrong with this, it certainly isn’t a good strategy for becoming a better player.
Just ask any guitar shop employee how many times they’ve heard customers play the same song over and over.
Challenge yourself with new chords, concepts, and songs frequently. The results will make you a better-developed guitarist.
Study Music Theory
Understandably, novice guitarists tend to shy away from music theory. It can be intimidating to apply an academic approach to music. Some even feel that it takes the magic and mystique out of music. We want to rock out, not practice mathematics.
The reality is, understanding how scales and chords work with one another bolster your journey as a guitar player.
There will always be room for the intangible elements of music, such as feeling and inspiration. But understanding the nuts and bolts will help provide you with the language to express these feelings. This language is essential for those that wish to start bands one day.
Learn Barre Chords
Beginners usually avoid barre chords because they require additional finger strength. Barre chords involve holding down every guitar string simultaneously with one finger. Though it can be physically taxing at first, there are many benefits to learning barre chords.
Many barre chords have underlying finger shapes that allow them to be played at different frets on the neck of the guitar, producing different chords. In the long run, this can make certain songs easier to play.
Mastering barre chords will also develop finger strength quicker. The sooner you strengthen your hands, the easier playing will become.
Final Thoughts on Common Guitar Mistakes
Playing the guitar isn’t impossible; it just takes a little patience and practice. Learning any new skill requires trial and error, and you’re bound to make mistakes along the way.
The key is to acknowledge our mistakes and know where we have room for improvement. Recognizing and learning from these common guitar mistakes will help you go from practicing at home to showing off your skills in no time.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.