When I got my first guitar, I was pretty thrilled about it. I thought to myself that I am going to learn everything I can about the guitar; my favorite songs, chords, notes, everything. And I thought to myself that I can learn all of it within a month so I can show off my skills to my friends by the end of the summer.
But I was pretty wrong about it.
In the entire process to learn the hardest songs I knew, I found myself to be stuck at very basic things. I saw myself not progressing as I wanted to – weeks went by and I was still at square one. Luckily, I caught myself before I caught and trained myself into bad habits and guitar practices.
You might have seen your friend playing his nylon guitar and you were like, I want to play this too. If you take the guitar with that aspect, then you tend to become hasty. And a hasty learner is never a good learner. Everything requires patience and time.
Therefore, in this article, I have written all of the mistakes a beginner guitarist might make- from their learning process to their play style. And then how to cope with them.
However, if you are a left handed person and thinking if you should learn to play with your right or left hand, then you should read this article.
1. Playing Guitar Without Any Goal in Your Mind
To me, this is the number one mistake beginner guitarists make. I have many friends who play the guitar without any goal and then eventually drop the instrument – this is because the play without any goal. They do not know what to play, what to practice, what to learn and then they wonder why aren’t they doing good.
The thing is, if you do not set up goals for yourself with your guitar, you will not take the guitar more seriously. You will not spend much time with it, you will not be efficient with your learning. When you have a goal and you complete it, then there is a feeling of an accomplishment in your heart, and on the next day – you try to achieve more.
2. Having Wrong Goals in Your Mind
Having wrong goals in your mind is as bad as not having a goal in your mind. But the real question is, what should you set as a goal?
Obviously if you are playing the guitar then you want to be good at it, so a goal like being the best guitarist in your area is not the best goal to have. Have more specific, shorter, measurable and achievable goals. You can set up a goal to learn that one song you really like in a day, or to learn a new music theory. Just have goals that you can achieve within a day or two, and then perfect on it.
3. Following Your Goals in The Wrong Order
This is another common mistake I see in many beginner guitarists – even in intermediate guitarists. Following the right order of a task is extremely important for a guitarist. You can skip the parts that you do not like and learn the stuff you want to first.
An example of this is when I was learning the guitar, I picked out songs and tried to learn while playing them. I used to learn my favorite part the song, and then learnt the rest of the song. This is wrong. Usually, the parts I liked where the most difficult ones, and it took me a lot of time to learn them. What should I had done was to learn from the beginning. One riff at a time, one chord at a time.
You cannot learn to run without learning how to walk.
4. Focusing More on Your Secondary Goals.
There are primary goals, and then your secondary ones. Primary goals are your core goals, that you have to learn. This is similar to following your goals in the wrong order. Sometimes, when you are new with your guitar – you tend to become overly enthusiastic. You get distracted by other things you want to.
As I said earlier, make a goal that can be completed in a day or two, and then perfect it. Notice that I did not allocate time for perfection. That is because perfection takes a lot of small things done right, and that takes time. When I was a beginner, I did not learn a new song until or unless I had completely mastered the pervious song. This is a good habit if you are an advance player, but for a beginner, it is just going to slow you down from your progress.
You cannot expect a beginner to perfectly play a tune, neither should you. Your main focus should be on learning the guitar, and increasingly become better day by day.
5. Learning from Several Sources at The Same Time
I had shiny object syndrome for a long time. Whenever I saw something new, I used to run towards it and leave the current thing I was working on. An example for this is when I was new with my guitar-I tried to learn everything. Whenever I read something new, may that be a technique or a play style I tried to learn that instead of thing I was learning at that moment.
If you have the same habit, then you need to stop. There are thousands of guides, tutorials, books on the internet, and you cannot possible read each and every one of them, and you can become easily distracted by them. It is always best to stick with one resource – may that be a mentor, or may that be a book, or a playlist you found on Youtube. Just stick with it, and finish it till the end. Then move towards one of the other resources.
6. Learning from Bad Teachers
This is another mistake I see many young guitarists make. Learning from bad teachers or instructors can actually make you worse with the guitar.
If you have a teacher who does not know the basis of the guitar himself, then he cannot teach you efficiently. If you are taught by someone who’s own habits are bad, nor knows how to properly play the instrument, then you are way better off not learning from him. This applies to friends as well. I mean it is okay to jam with a friend when you’re both new and just strumming the strings like savages, but if your friend is teaching you and he himself is a beginner, then I would recommend not learning from it.
7. Doing Stuff That You Already Know
This is another common habit of young guitarists. Whenever someone asks me for tips and tricks on how to become a good guitar player – I always ask them about their routine, and usually, the reply with practicing the same song for days. Now, practicing is not bad, is very good if you do so, but doing something that you already know is not the same as doing something new.
If you want to play the guitar and have fun, sure do it – but do not confuse it with your learning time. Separate your fun time with actual practice.
8. Not Knowing How to Tune Your Guitar
I have no idea why, but beginner guitarists almost never learn how to tune their guitars – nor is on their list of learning.
You should be able to tune your guitar simply with the help of your help. This is a must for any level of guitarists. Although, you might not need to learn how to tune simply by your ear, that comes with practice and time. But at least you should be able to use a digital or a traditional tuner. If you do not have one, then you can get yourself one from over here on Amazon. It is also the tuner I recommend to guitar players.
9. Not Tuning Your Guitar Before Every Session
This is a big one. Almost every beginner I know rarely tunes his guitar. Some of them do not even know when their guitar is out of tune, and many of them do not even know how to tune their guitars. That is why it is essential to know how to tune your guitar.
Practicing without proper tuning is very bad for your progress. Music relates with sounds, and guitar is all about sounds. When you play the guitar, your brain tries to remember the sound you had produced, the pitch of the notes, the sharpness of the notes – everything. This all happens in your subconscious mind.
Now, if you play the guitar with proper tunes, your brain will remember what the tune sounded like the next time you play the guitar. If you commit any mistake, your brain will instantly inform you and you will correct. However, if you play without proper tuning, then your brain will remember incorrect tunes. And if you make a mistake, it will not be able to tell if you had any error or not. And if you keep this bad habit for a long period of time, then soon your brain would not be able to differentiate between a good tune and a bad tune.
This can be very discouraging as well. If you are in a habit of playing without proper tuning, if you hear a piece from someone that you know how to play then you would think that why can’t you play as good as that person. It would create self-doubt and discourage you from playing the guitar itself.
I know many people who quit playing the guitar only because of self-doubt. Therefore, it is very important for you to tune your guitar. If you do not have a tuner, then you can buy one from here on Amazon.
10. Locking Your Wrists While Playing
Now, the first mistake I see in terms of play style is that beginners tend to play only from their elbows. They lock their wrists, and strum the guitar only in their elbow area. This bad habit can cause serious injuries. You might want to check my article, why my hands hurt after playing the guitar if you experience pain while playing the guitar.
Now, what you should do is to use your elbow as a support, and make movements with your wrists. Make small, precise movements with your wrists. Not only it prevents from muscle injuries, but is also way more efficient in terms of playing.
Furthermore, you should try to play upstrokes as well. I know this can be a bit daunting for a new player, but you need to develop the habit of playing upstrokes as well.
11. Not Using Your Finger Tips to Play Chords
This is another common mistake I see. I had a friend who came to my house a few days ago. He asked me to review him playing the guitar, and I did. I noticed, when it came down to the chords, I felt a weird buzz, a vibratory sound. When I took a closer look at him playing, I noticed that he was not using his finger tips to play their chord.
Now, this might not be clear to the person who is playing, but is definitely clear to the person who is listening. What I would recommend is for you to pick up your guitar right now, and play the C major chord. Check if hear a buzz sound, if you do, simply relax your finger, and try to play it with the tip. Now, the buzz should be gone.
Just remember, there are many things you could be doing wrong, but there are many things you are doing right as well. So, do not become discouraged by it. Perfection is attained by doing small little things done right.
12. Running from Barre Chords
This is the biggest thing that differentiate a beginner to an intermediate guitarist. A lot of beginners try to avoid this as they find this to be too technical or requires some amount of strength, but the truth is, it is pretty easy.
Basically, barre chords involve using your one finger to hold down many strings. Yes, this is hard at first, but it is quite easy to master. I have seen many beginners who avoid playing some songs solely because of this. But the matter of the fact is, one day you will need to learn this, and you cannot run away from it forever.
Just spend 10mins each day to master this. Take a piece, practice barre chords on it daily. I know this takes some strength, but if you do it daily, your hand will develop enough strength and technique to do this properly.
Just remember, each obstacle you clear makes you a better guitarist. And one day you will look back at these and laugh at how simple they are now for you.
13. Not Knowing When/How to Mute
This is another mistake I see in young guitarists. Although this one is not big as the other mistakes are, but it still a very important one. I rarely see guitarists muting the strings that they are not playing, and if they do not do so, it affects the other strings and the whole sound. It causes the notes to scatter, which is simply unpleasing for the year.
So, whenever you are playing the guitar, try to mute the strings you are not playing with your picking hand, while use your fretting hand to play. This would not only make you sound better, but make you a better player in general.
14. Playing Less Attention to Timing and Tempo
This might be one of the easiest steps to fix which holds significant result.
If you search the term ‘music’ on google, then the definition that comes out is, the combination of sounds produced to form harmony. And harmony is basically rhythm.
Having a sense of harmony is important for every musician – not just guitarists. If you are unable to stay in your tune, play it a bit earlier or after its time, then it will not sound right.
You need to learn how to keep up with the tempo and its tune. This is pretty easy to be honest. Back in the day it was done solely by ear. But nowadays, with technology we have so many devices that can help us with it. The simplest tool to learn proper tempo is a metronome. You can get one from over here on Amazon.
If you use this device regularly, then you will develop a good sense of rhythms, and after a few months of its usage, you would be able to maintain proper timing in your head, so I recommend buying one. This can be a great gift for your guitarist friend as well.
15. Neglecting Slow Songs
This is another mistake which I myself have committed. When we are young and energetic with our guitars, we try to play the hardest and fastest tunes possible, because they sound nice. However, if you are beginner, I do not recommend this as you will fail doing so.
Playing the guitar is just like running a marathon. If you have to complement a long distant racer, you do not say you are fast, you say you are strong. The same goes with guitars. You need to be strong in order to play the guitar, and strength comes with practice. Just like with marathon runners, you need to be fast in order to win, but speed comes with practice and long runs.
Therefore, what you should do is to take slow pieces, and learn through them. Then slowly build up your speed and proceed to the faster ones.
16. Not Practicing What You Learn
The biggest mistake is that guitarists do not practice what they learn. Just reading music theory is not enough, you need to apply it as well. Similarly, if you learn a piece, then that doesn’t mean you have mastered it and it is going to stay in your brain forever. You need to practice it time after time so you do not forget it.
As they say, practice makes a man perfect.
I could list 20 mistakes more, but that is counterproductive. If you are serious about your guitars, then after knowing the basics, you would automatically catch the mistakes you make. Nobody is perfect, even the greatest guitarists make mistakes regularly. But the real question is, what do you do about your mistakes.
The same rules apply to children as well. If you have a kid guitarist at home, then you would want to make sure he doesn’t make these kinds of mistakes.