How To Solve Your Guitar Playing Problems

Like a lot of musicians you have likely faced certain challenges in your guitar playing that you were not sure how to solve.

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Like a lot of musicians you have likely faced certain challenges in your guitar playing that you were not sure how to solve. When this happens it is common to feel at a loss for solutions that will help you move forward in your musical skills. As a result, a lot of musicians throw in the towel either by giving up on their guitar playing entirely or move on to working on some other musical skill, settling for far less than their potential in musical development.

The good news is that if you have both of your hands operating properly it means that you CAN learn to solve any guitar playing problems you encounter. Although it isn't realistic to suggest a single cookie-cutter method for overcoming all conceivable problems on guitar, there are' some proven steps you can take that will get you closer to finding the solution that you need for the problem at hand. The next time you feel your guitar playing becoming stuck, apply the 5 steps listed below to jump start your progress:

1. Get Specific

In order to effectively approach any guitar problem or challenge you must first get crystal clear on exactly WHAT it is you need to fix. As common-sense as this advice sounds, I get daily emails from guitar players who describe their guitar challenges with vague phrases such as: I am bad at improvising or I can't improve my speed or I need help with rhythm guitar. Until you learn to get A LOT more specific in pinpointing exactly where and how your problem appears in your guitar playing there is virtually no chance for you to correctly fix it. In addition to the obvious reason for needing to know what the problem is in order to work on it, breaking down a much bigger issue (such as general difficulty with improvising) into a series of specific and smaller tasks will make it a lot less overwhelming to practice towards mastering them. When doing this step in the process of solving your guitar problems, fill in the blanks of the following sentence: I have difficulties with (put guitar/music skill here) whenever I (describe a precise musical situation here).

2. Put Your Thinking Cap On

Even though we typically think about music as a creative art, the process of improving your guitar playing' (especially in the area of guitar technique) is largely dependent on the foundational laws of physics, body mechanics and common sense. Quite often you might face what appears to be a total inability to play something on guitar that can easily be solved by paying attention to notice a single minor' adjustment needed in your technique. Even the more creative aspects of your musical development can be broken down into sets of concrete skills that can be analyzed and improved by thinking through the problems you have in each one.

As an example, if you are practicing a lead guitar phrase that you are not able to play cleanly, consider how each of your hand moves (and how it should' move), find the breakdown in the efficiency of your technique and analyze the picking and fretting hand motions. Use your common sense to determine how your hands need to move in order to avoid a specific mistake or to make your guitar playing sound clean. To observe a detailed video demonstration of this process of solving guitar problems in action watch this free video about changing guitar chords.

All of that being said, it would be a mistake to fall into the extreme of overthinking the issue at hand. Some guitar players fall into the self-imposed trap of analyzing a certain detail of their technique to the point where they become so paralyzed that their practicing becomes counterproductive. Keep in mind that your actual objective is to be able to play what you want to play (first and foremost) rather than making your guitar playing perfect'. As long as you are able to make your guitar playing sound the way you want, then your practicing efforts are successful.

3. Prioritize The Problems In Your Guitar Playing

Your guitar challenges are not created the same and to solve them successfully you should separate them into 3 levels: Immediately Solvable (things you can take action to completely resolve right away), Medium Term (such as problems you can begin to solve now but won't be able to completely overcome in a short time) and problems that are currently unsolvable (in other words, given your current skill level it is impossible to take action to solve them right now). Allocate the bulk of your guitar practice time to working on the Immediately Solvable and Medium Term level problems so that you can fix them as quickly as possible. As your general guitar playing improves, you will also find that the problems that were previously unsolvable will transition into the realm of Medium Term problems (and from there - into Immediately Solvable issues) so that you can get closer to completely removing them from your guitar playing.

4. Increase The Challenge

A very unusual (and highly effective) way of making your guitar playing problems start to feel easier involves intentionally increasing the challenge you are facing in your practicing. This can be done mainly by introducing new and more challenging demands on your playing that didn't exist in the original version of the music. Be creative to design several ways of doing this. To see some examples of applying this technique in actual practicing, check out this free video about getting better on guitar. To make this technique work in the best way possible, you must already have it crystal clear in your mind what specific challenges you need to overcome in your playing.

5. Persevere

No matter how frustrated you might be with your current rate of progress, always keep in mind that you very well might only be a single practice day away from a monumental burst of progress in your guitar skills. Also realize that it is entirely possible to conquer EVERY challenge you face in music and guitar playing. Your breakthroughs and results may often come from a variety of surprising avenues, such as through self-discovery or from being guided through the process by a teacher or some other learning aid.

All top musicians managed to successfully improve their guitar playing not because of some magical innate ability but rather through their perseverance, work ethic and a regular usage of the guitar playing problem solving ideas that I talked about throughout this article. It is in your power to do the same by constantly applying the same tools when you practice guitar. As you do this, you will notice a much greater feeling of empowerment as you realize that your guitar playing future is entirely within your own control.

About The Author: Mike Philippov is a recording artist, guitar teacher and author. His articles on practicing guitar are read worldwide. Visit to find more free resources and lessons on improving your guitar playing.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I can really relate to the part about increasing the challenge. My band plays a style similar to Foo Fighters, yet my practice sessions consist of Metallica and Megadeth songs so my guitar playing really improves beyond what I play.
    that's like Petrucci's method of pushing the metronome higher than your target tempo
    Or using the "bursts" method for developing speed (usually done without a metronome). Shawn Lane was an advocate of doing just that.
    Points 4 and 5 are my best friends. Ever since I started practicing Dream Theater songs, my playing went through the roof!
    Yes yes and yes! Mine is Al DiMeola... if you want to get your scales, picking and timing tight, play some old school Al. I can't tell you how much my playing has improved just by practicing his music. His music sounds terrible unless you play it on time and cleanly so it forces you to play it correctly. There is no short cut to playing his stuff.
    I always try to educate myself in new techniques. Whether it's relearning scales or maybe learning a new song. Paul Stanley said it best. "If you stop growing (learning) as a guitar player you might as well call yourself dead"
    I'm not sure if anybody else does this, but when I'm writing songs for my band, i always try to include at least one riff that is beyond my own skill level to play, that way I have no choice but to get better in order to play our songs
    I wrote a whole rapid speed unison section that no one in may band could play once, we had to slow it down (which still worked well) until we became good enough to execute it
    Not a bad article. On the bright side, it wasn't one of those "I'm the greatest guitar teacher in the world; you'll suck without me; bow down *****s" kinds of articles. It seemed actually helpful if one needed assistance. Also: Penis.
    i can't cay much with this. I practice with songs by bullet for my valentine, Metallica, and Three days grace, but i'm one of the only ones that can at the moment, so... it has been helping me with learning both rhythm and lead guitar though.