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3 Awful Guitar Mistakes

3 Awful Guitar Mistakes

 

You often hear talk about the "principle of least effort" as if it were some kind of universal truth. Mostly people trying to sell you something tell you about how you can do so much more by doing so much less. Well this is not the case for music. Unless you're the next Paganini or Jim Morrison, you may as well forget this idea! Even those two put their entire lives into their art!

 

People are naturally lazy and the same goes for learning to play a guitar. Students are always looking for easy ways to do things.

 

Awful Mistake # 1 – Not Practicing Enough

 

Every human has tremendous potential when it comes to developing a habit and muscle memory that provides musical skill. The first terrible mistake that you can make is to not practice. Many people have had lessons in the past and they commonly say that they did not "progress enough," in explanation to why they stopped. And time and time again, when you get to the bottom of it, the truth is that they didn't practice; sometimes not even at all. It takes thousands of hours to become skilled at any art. Successful writers often say that they needed at least 10,000 hours of writing to get published. That's 5 solid years of six hours of writing per day! The time is not cut and dry, but what's for sure is that on average that's how long it takes anyone to become a great writer.

 

The time that you practice is different for many people. The minimum I recommend is at least 30 minutes every day. You can practice more than this (and many really enjoy it and do), but 30 minutes is enough to make significant learning and progress. If your goal is longer, then you may lose your concentration. 30 minutes is a period that many people can stay completely dedicated and focused to.

 

Practicing tips to develop the habit:

 

a) Same time – if you practice at the same time every day, then you can invoke the power of habit, even after just a few weeks. Most people have realized that after about 3-4 weeks your body starts craving practice when it gets to around that time. You have successfully created new neurological pathways in your brain that become permanent.

 

b) Same place – practicing in the same place is also important. You can put up inspirational pictures of your favorite guitarists. Have your guitar, chair and music stand there. This will help you get into the "zone" that many artists talk about; it's the same idea as a writer's desk or a painter's studio.

 

c) Every day – it's important to aim for practicing every day, but inevitably things come up. At some point though, you're going to have to make time for things and fight for your right to practice. It's essential for any artist to have this time for themselves and if people you live with cannot understand this then you have to force them and stick to your guns. Even 48 hours without practice can significantly set you back. This is not something you should compromise on.

 

d) No guilt – don't look back! If you missed a day or two of practice for unforeseeable reasons or emergencies, just keep going and recreate those lost pathways. Don't beat yourself up over it, don't lower your self-esteem and definitely don't try to "make up for it" by practicing more the next day – it doesn't work! Success is all about recovery!

 

e) Plan your practice – this is a lot like a lesson plan or an agenda. Write out the amount of time you will be spending on each activity. The sessions don't have to follow a strict formula, but they should include a warm-up (5m), exercises (5m), time for learning new things (15m) and then you can finish up by playing something you know really well (5m) to end on a good feeling.

 

f) Play for fun – after each session, depending on how much time you have available, play for fun. This could be an informal session where you play along with a Youtube video or you could even start jamming with a few friends or other students. The key is to be without stress or pressure and just play what you like.

 

Awful Mistake #2 – Picking Up Bad Habits

 

Bad playing habits can come from a variety of sources. If you have learned to play on your own without an instructor, or if you've picked up habits from others who have learned on their own then any of these could apply:

 

a) Posture – body positioning is poor and makes it difficult for you to play. Don't sit hunched over, don't tilt the guitar up, don't lower the head or strain the neck. Get a music stand so you are looking straight ahead at what you are trying to play instead of down onto a table or a chair. Use a strap so you get used to it if you ever play standing up.

 

b) Left hand and thumb – don't exert too much pressure when you hold the neck of the guitar. Keep it loose and relaxed. The best position is to have the ball of your thumb resting on the back of the neck, with a bit of space between the neck and the palm of the hand. This will give you more flexibility to stretch across the neck and finger complex chords the more you progress. If you are feeling any tensing at all, stop and release. Shake the hand out then start from the beginning. It's important to release the tension as soon as it happens instead of letting over-tensing develop. You can always slow the tempo down and speed up bit by bit as well.

 

c) The right hand – your right hand can get very tense too and this will cause a rough, abrasive strum, uneven finger-picking pattern and even a stiff handshake! When learning the guitar it's important to keep to a series of sequential exercises that are designed to increase your skill as you progress through the levels of knowledge and learning. It's commendable if you want to learn a piece that you really like, but it could be too difficult for a variety of reasons. It could have a difficult tremolo that's hard to maintain like "Recuerdos De La Alhambra," or if you're trying to play any of the solos by John Petrucci (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPB-7yG-5-Y&feature=related) then you could get discouraged very fast – he took literally years and thousands of hours to get there!

 

Tips to remember about bad habits:

 

- It's very difficult to unlearn bad habits once you have learned them. Make sure you get professional advice right from the start, even if it's only watching a good instructor on Youtube. But aim for trying to pay for quality lessons.

 

- One of the most important things to keep in mind when you're learning difficult techniques and progressing through sequential exercises that are designed to prepare you for complex techniques coming up is to take a break as soon as you feel any tension at all in either hand. Stop, relax, shake out your hand and come back in a few minutes.

 

- Play everything as slow as possible until you get the technique perfect and then continue at faster speeds. Don't forget to stop when you feel tension. Lower your speed when you come back after relaxing your hand.

 

- Use a metronome to help you keep the time.

 

Awful Mistake #3 – Not Having A Concept of Value or a Vision

 

1) Value – it's not enough to have a potential to become a great guitarist, the road to getting there is paved with value and vision. People inherently value things that take a long time to achieve, yet they often don't value the experience a highly qualified, professional teacher with years of experience can bring for their playing. This seems like a contradiction in a way. If someone has 40 years of professional experience then it makes sense that they would be able to tell you right away what you are doing wrong with your technique when you make a mistake. In learning the guitar it's important to have your technique corrected as soon as you make a mistake so you don't learn it the wrong way. It's very difficult (if not impossible) to unlearn a mistake that you've been repeating for years. You can even find later on that there are some things you just cannot play, because your hand is used to being in a stiff or inflexible position. You've built muscle memory and neurological pathways that cannot easily be removed. It would be easy if you could wipe your memory and start again, but this isn't going to happen so you need a teacher to set you on the right path from the start.

 

2) Vision – vision and visualization is extremely important for learning the guitar. Not only should you constantly be trying to envision where you want to be a year from now and keeping an eye on your long-term goals, you should also keep focused on your short-term goals from lesson to lesson. You can try imagining that a year from now you'll be playing like Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen and eventually you will be able to get there. On the other hand, your short-term goals could just be to play that riff perfectly by the next week. Keep practicing it – add it as an exercise routine for a week and you will definitely get there. The key is to break it all down into manageable parts and never lose sight of your vision. Find friends and find members of your family to spend more time with who share your vision and encourage you.

 

About the Author

Tomas Michaud is a guitarist, recording artist, entrepreneur, music educator. He is the owner and Music Director of the SF Bay Area's premier music education facility, Star land Music Center in Alameda, CA, and has taught or consulted with thousands of students over the past thirty years. He is the author of six CDs of Contemporary Instrumental World Music, and his latest, Beauty and Fire, has consistently charted in the top ten. To know more about Tomas Michaud visit us at http://www.starlandguitar.com/

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