Here are some mistakes you probably make when practising guitar
Mistake 1 – Not working out how fast you can play the exercise to a metronome
(or some other objective way of measuring the exercise). This tells us what our current ability level is and also forces our brain to think about the music more methodically and precisely, because we need to work out how to play it to the click.
Mistake 2 – Not making specific decisions about what finger is going to play what note
A very common mistake that I see people make without realizing it, is that when they are playing an exercise, etude, or a piece and they start pushing their ability, is that with each repetition of the exercise, they are using a slightly different fingering. This creates a problem with muscle memory.
One of the goals of practicing is to train our muscle memory to learn new movements, so that we don’t have to consciously struggle with every note that we play. In order to do this, we have to repeat the exact same motion 100s of times in a row.
Now when you use random fingers to play an exercise, rather than training that one exercise into your muscle memory, you are actually training your muscle memory on four… five… nine or even more different exercises simultaneously, which is not very helpful. This is a big reason why a lot of guitar players struggle to make progress.
Make a specific choice about what fingers you are going to use and stick to it!
Mistake 3 – Not making specific decisions about what direction your pick is moving in
This is exactly the same principle as Mistake 13, but now with the motion of your pick. You should be using directional picking when playing the guitar, so make sure that you are applying it correctly to what you are working on!
Mistake 4 – Playing an exercise correctly once and then increasing the difficulty / metronome speed
Writing these mistakes out is like creating a biography of my guitar playing!
Once you get an exercise right… you want to make sure you can play it right 5 times in a row. If you have to play an exercise five times in order to get it coming out right once, then you have not learnt it!
I remember learning a cool sweep picking lick when I was at music college and showing a friend. He then asking me to play it a second time and a big string of garbage came out of my guitar. What I had “learnt” was cool, but I wasn’t yet able to use it in musical situations as part of my guitar playing. Don’t repeat my mistakes.
Mistake 5 – Ignoring muscle tension
You’ve probably read about professional musicians who talk about being completely relaxed when they are playing… but is this something that you practice? Aswell as training out body to correctly execute the technique that we want to use, we want to train it to execute that technique with a feeling of having every muscle as relaxed as possible. Now, yes in order to pick a note on a guitar we require some muscles to be tensed for some duration of time, but there are two common mistakes made with this that we will look at…
Mistake 6 – Keeping muscles tensed for too long
So we goto pick a note, tense a muscle and hour hands move and play the note. So we have made a conscious choice to tense the muscle. Do you then make the next choice, which is to relax that muscle? Or do you keep it tensed up as you go into the next note? Ideally we want to be relaxing tensed muscles after the note has been played. If you are doing this, it often shows up by your arm / hand getting sore quite quickly. As with a lot of these ideas, awareness is most of the battle.
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