It's inevitable that when you set out on learning something new, you will make mistakes. This is true for learning guitar as well.
Being a private and online guitar teacher, I've helped a lot of beginner guitar students get through the initial hardships, and have observed several very common beginner mistakes newbies tend to make.
There is a Latin proverb that goes: "A wise man learns by the mistakes of others, a fool by his own."
In the spirit of proverbial Italy, why not be wise today? I've compiled the 10 most common problems beginner guitar students tend to have so that you can learn from the mistakes of others.
1. Not paying enough attention to tempo and timing.
You would be surprised at how little most people can keep a constant rhythm going, even though this is basically the alpha-omega of music. If you can't keep count and stay on beat, you can't make music.
If you've been practicing without a metronome, well, it's time to get one. Use our online metronome, it's free, or download a metronome app onto your phone, and start using it during every single practice session. You'll be surprised at how bad you'll be at staying on beat if you haven't used a metronome before.
2. Trying to play too fast too soon.
Speed is actually a byproduct of your practice sessions, not something you should be aiming for.
For some reason, loads of my beginner students think they should be playing like Slash after a month. The guitar doesn't work like that, unfortunately. If it did, everyone would be playing guitar, but then it wouldn't be all that special anymore.
Here is one of the most important things you need to know: Playing slowly, but correctly, is more much more important than playing fast, but sloppy.
Speed comes naturally with practice, you don't really need to work at it, not until you really start advancing that is. You need to learn to control your fingers and carry out precise movements. This can only be learned at slow speeds, and you'll see that once your fingers start getting used to the guitar, you'll speed up naturally, without even trying.
3. Avoiding barre chords.
Learning barre chords is the first major hurdle in advancing your guitar skills. A few things were hard up till then, like playing a C major, changing chords, etc., but everything up till barre chords only caused a few days of pain.
Barre chords are hard (at first), if anyone says different, they're lying. Because of this, lots of beginners try to avoid playing songs that require barre chords. But then how will they ever learn it you ask? Well, they won't.
You have to push it, practice barre chords for 5 minutes every day, and learn songs that use barre chords. In a few weeks, they'll start getting easier, and in a few months, you'll be able to play barre chords.
If barre chords are giving you trouble, check out the barre chords section in my Beginner's Guitar Guide.
5. Not getting enough practice.
This list isn't in order of importance, but if it was, this item would be on top. Practice is the single most important thing, which you need to maximize in order to advance. There is no way around this, no magic bullet, no secret course, etc. Oh wait, maybe I just came across something epic.
The secret to learning to guitar is: Practice!
I know it's not as exciting as some courses which claim to get you playing like Eric Clapton in 1 week, but it's the truth.
Oh, and the better you get, the more you should practice. Seems contradictory right? Well, check out Steve Vai's 30 hour guitar workout.
6. Not practicing correctly.
A very common mistake I see with beginners who can play at a decent level already is that they get stuck at a level because they don't practice in a way that forces them to advance further. They have their basic "repertoire", which may be really nice, but they just keep on playing that, and not learning anything new.
To advance your skills, you need to learn and master new things every day.
Your basic practice session should look like this:
- Tune up. Use your ears as well, not just the electric tuner.
- Stretch your fingers, you don't want a your wrist or fingers.
- Do some warm up exercises, like spider exercises across the fretboard
The above should take just a few minutes, and this is where your practice session really begins. I recommend you split this into 3 parts, I've written about it before, but here is a refresher.
- 1/3 devoted to technical aspects of playing guitar and scales.
- 1/3 devoted to using your knowledge to play music. This is the fun part
- 1/3 devoted to learning new stuff. This is where you advance.
7. Do boring drills instead of practicing songs.
The number 1 motivation killer I've seen with students (who didn't start with me) is that they were made to do boring, repetitive drills non-stop.
Nobody starts learning guitar to do boring exercises, they start to be able to learn songs. That's totally cool.
Thankfully, there are literally thousands of really famous songs that are very easy to play, and loads of 4 chords songs as demonstrated by this band 🙂
Check out our level 1 song lessons for example. Beginners can literally start playing these after just 2-3 lessons, and they make for a heck of a better practice session, than going up & down the major scale on the D string...
7. Never playing in front of others.
Naturally, new guitarists will be shy, but playing in front of others is very important. It provides a healthy dose of adrenalin, gives you a short-term goal, opens your eyes to things you need to work on, and will make you feel awesome afterward.
Of course, I'm not saying you need to play at gigs as a beginner, or even as an intermediate guitarist. Strangers are not that forgiving 😉
Start out with your family, and move on to playing in front of your friends. Believe me, it'll be great, and the smiles and compliments you'll get afterward will motivate you to practice even more.
8. Not playing with others.
This one is a bit harder to achieve, but playing with others can be one of the most beneficial methods to get your playing to the next level.
Of course, you need to be able to play at a solid intermediate level already, but if you can find another guitarist to play with, or better yet, a whole band, you'll really start advancing.
9. Not setting goals.
How are you going to get there, if you don't know where you're going? Where? There!
You need to set short-term goals in your guitar studies. SHORT term, not 10 years in the future.
An example from a super beginner would be, "I'll master barre chords in 1 month, by practicing them every day, and learning 3 songs which use barre chords."
Or one from an intermediate player would be, "I'm going to learn funk guitar this summer."
So nothing too outrageous, something you can actually achieve in your set time frame.
10. Distracted by trying too many sources.
In today's world, you can come across millions of guitar lessons online. In fact, a search for this term in Google returns 33 millions hits. Wow!
Many beginners make the mistake of jumping from one free YouTube video to the next, reading articles all over, switching courses, etc. They do this especially when getting stuck on something, so they actually switch learning sources just to keep things easy.
Needless to say, this gets them nowhere. You need to stay focused and dedicated. Find a teacher, or a clear-cut course with a well thought out lesson plan, and stick to it. If things get tough, that just gives you something new to learn.
Stick with it!
Of course, I could list many other very common rookie mistakes newbie guitarists tend to make, but I think these were the most common ones.
As a bonus, without going into details, a few more mistakes beginners tend to make are:
- Develop bad habits, like bad posture (which I wrote about on porch.com) and holding the pick wrong
- Don't use alternate picking effectively
- Don't learn guitar theory
- Don't have their guitar in sight