11 Damaging Mistakes Guitar Players Make And How To Avoid Them

There are specific reasons why guitar players go through such frustration and disappointment. Here are 11 key mistakes players make and repeat over and over again that you should definitely avoid.

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Do you know how some guitar players practice most days of the week, work hard, and are passionate about their playing, but they always struggle to be able to play the way they want? They are frustrated because they don't improve fast enough, begin doubting their potential, or even feel discouraged or angry with themselves when thinking about how long it is taking them to become a better guitar player. Can you relate to that? I sure can, I just described myself 15 years ago. There are specific reasons why guitar players go through such frustration and disappointment. Here are 11 key mistakes players make and repeat over and over again that you should definitely avoid. 01.Teaching Yourself. Many people attempt to teach themselves. Yes, it's true that some well known players were 'somewhat' self taught, but I do not suggest following that strategy even if your favorite player was self taught. If you are 100% sure that you can build powerfully effective learning and training systems on your own, that's great. However, if you are like most of us, doing it alone is the hardest, most time-consuming, stressful, and frustrating way to learn anything. This is a mistake that you should avoid. Some guitar players think it will impress others if they say, "I am a self taught player". That statement might impress a few inexperienced people, but being self taught is not a 'badge of honor'. Would you rather impress others with your playing or with an unimportant statement about your playing? I'm not criticizing self taught guitar players, I'm only saying that there is no advantage to being self taught and no, it is not true that being 'self taught' makes us more 'original'. In fact, the opposite is usually true. 02.Taking Lessons From Ineffective Guitar Teachers. Unfortunately, most electric guitar teachers receive ZERO training on how to teach guitar. What is worse is that the vast majority of teachers do little or nothing to improve their guitar teaching skills. Want some proof? Use google's keyword tool. Type in this keyword phrase: 'improve guitar teaching skills', 'guitar teaching skills', or 'guitar teaching training' and you will find that less than 10 searches per month are done for these topics at google! Of course there are some highly effective teachers around, but there are a whole lot more ineffective teachers. Here is a free resource on how to tell the difference between the good teachers and the mediocre ones, Free Guide: How To Choose A Guitar Teacher. 03.Seeking New Guitar Information (tricks, tips, tab) Without A Proven Strategy To Reach Your Specific Musical Goals. We need information, advice, help and music to play, but without a proven strategic learning and training process that is specific to you, your skill level, your musical style and what you want to be able to do as a guitar player, information won't get you where you want to go. It is better to first seek help in developing a customized strategy for you to become a better guitar player. After that strategy is in place, then it is time to deal with learning the right information. 04.Not Knowing Specifically What You Want To Be Able To Play. Most guitar players are not specific enough when they think about (or tell others about) what they want to be able to do with their guitar. To say, "I want to play whatever I wish to play is too vague. How can you (or your guitar teacher) develop a specific and effective guitar training strategy unless the goals you have are specific? It's like saying you want to be a great athlete, how can you effectively train with such a vague goal? Sure there are things you can do to become faster, stronger, more flexible or whatever, but it's much easier if you first get specific such as, I want to train to be a gymnast, or a long distance runner, or a body builder. Yes you can still improve without a strategy, but it will take a lot longer and be much more frustrating. You can always change your goal later if you discover you want to do something else instead. 05.Not Enough Focus On Things That Matter Most To Making You A Better Guitar Player. Have you fallen into the trap of practicing guitar without focusing on the specific things that can quickly begin to improve your guitar playing? Many people really do not understand and apply this concept in enough detail. for example, I have a student named Mark who used to take lessons from another teacher in the past. Mark was studying sweep picking arpeggios with his previous teacher, and was making some progress. However Mark did not understand what 'specific' things he needed to focus on first before attempting to master the sweep picking arpeggios he was practicing. This was holding him back and making him feel very frustrated. Mark's previous teacher only knew how to 'teach' arpeggios and general sweep picking concepts. He did not really know how to train Mark with the specific things to focus on and how to overcome the challenges Mark was having. If you would like to see a small sample of this check out this short sweep picking video guitar lesson. 06.Too Much Focus On Things That Are Not Core To Your Goals. In addition to not focusing on specific things, many guitar players focus on the 'wrong things'. Some enthusiastic guitar players become temporarily obsessed with things which are distractions from other things that could be helping their playing much more. Here is an example: I used to get so frustrated and angry when I could not play something perfectly, I'd lock myself in my practice room and say, I'm not coming out of this room until I master this damn lick if it takes me the next 19 hours! No breaks! No food! No human contact! I'm gonna nail this! And I did master it. On the surface, it might seem like I was on the right track and practicing in a good way. But in reality, I was spending my time only to stop being angry and frustrated. I was not investing my practice time wisely by focusing on the things that mattered most to making a better guitar player. In other words, my perseverance was commendable, but my strategy to master important long-term goals was weak. I allowed myself to be distracted. I don't make this same mistake anymore, and I urge you to also avoid it! Focus on the things that really matter for your guitar playing right now. If you are not sure how to do this, seek out a proven guitar teacher today. 07.Focusing On The Right Things, But in The Wrong Order. This is a common mistake that even many advanced guitar players make which causes a lot of wasted time and frustration. Imagine you want to improve your ability to create your own cool guitar solos. Let's assume that you are advanced enough to truly understand all the primary and secondary elements of composing guitar solos (or you have a guitar teacher to help you). Each of the many elements need to be learned and/or practiced in order to easily create awesome solos that you like. Where should you begin? What should you focus on first, second, third? Which of these things should you practice simultaneously? There is always a specific order in which musical skills should be learned and mastered in order to EXPLODE your musical skills. Unfortunately, that order is totally different for every person, style of music, musical goal, skill set and knowledge, so giving an example here would be pointless. My advice, find the best teacher you can and study with him/her in order to be able to do what you want to do with your guitar much faster and easier. 08.Not Isolating Problem Areas. Few guitar players are aware of the small things that hold them back in big ways. Because these little imperfections seem insignificant to us, we often ignore them. The truth is, small hinges open big doors. In the video mentioned above I explained how allowing your pick to lose its momentum when you are 'not picking' a note on the guitar makes your playing slow and sloppy. which will make you feel very frustrated. This is why I was sure to make a special point to help you avoid that mistake. Check out the small sample sweep picking video guitar lesson for more details. 09.Learning And Practicing Guitar In A Step By Step Linear Process. Does following a linear step by step approach to learning, practicing and mastering guitar seem like common sense good to you? Yes it does And that is why guitar players who follow such a path are NOT great guitar players. I'm going to let you in an insider's secret The truth is, following a linear approach to learning, practicing, and mastering is the number one reason why good guitar players struggle to become great guitar players I originally thought I would write an article on this one point alone, but I think you will learn this concept better in another short video I recorded while I was doing a recent guitar instructional clinic tour a few months ago. Check out this free sample from my How to Master The Guitar clinic. 10.Practicing Guitar In The Same Way Your Favorite Guitar Players Practice. Have you ever read about how your favorite guitar players practice and then tried to repeat the same practice routine? Yes, I've made this mistake too! It seems natural to use a similar guitar practice schedule that our favorite players are using. This is a mistake, because your current guitar skill level and knowledge of music is probably very different from your favorite player. His/her challenges and needs are likely not the same as yours. Professional guitar players practice for different reasons than most amateur players do. For example, before recording a new album I will practice very differently compared to the period before going on tour. Once I'm actually on tour my practice routine changes drastically again. The rest of the year my practicing schedule changes yet again. This happens because in each case my challenges and goals are totally different. When my guitar students ask me, Tom, how do you practice guitar? I'm careful not to let my students assume that they should practice the same way that I do. Your practice schedule and strategy needs to be built around YOU and you only! If you need help building your own practice schedule, email me directly. 11.Learning From Too Many Different Sources Of Information. There will always be many learning opportunities and various paths to take, but it is critical that you do not get distracted into following a piece of advice from one person, then another piece of advice from another person and then follow more resources from somewhere else and so on and so on... while different people may have some good ideas to offer, the fact is, distraction is a big reason why many guitar players who are actively learning, don't really move forward quickly... these people are always busy following totally different resources, teachers, philosophies, instructional videos, free online guitar lessons, but all of this leads them to take one step forward, then 2 steps to the right, then one step forward, then 3 steps to the left, then one step backward, then two to the right, then 1 step forward and then another step to the left... An illustration of this is shown below. The first path is obviously the most direct way to arrive to your goals. The second path is the inefficient approach filled with many distractions that come from various pieces of advice from many sources: Once you have an effective strategy to become the guitar player you want to be, ALWAYS stay focused on it (unless your goals radically change)!! The very best way to do this is to have one primary guitar teacher who helps you to become the musician you really want to be. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't take advice from other people too, but you should have one 'primary' source of information, training and coaching, and see the other advice as an additional resource, but do not become distracted by it. Download this free guide How To Choose A Guitar Teacher to find a guitar teacher with proven teaching strategies, proven training strategies and proven results so that you become the awesome guitar player you want to be and play the guitar the way you've always wanted to play. About the author: Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world. Visit www.tomhess.net to discover highly effective music learning resources, online guitar lessons and tools including free online assessments, surveys, mini courses and more. 2009 Tom Hess Music Corporation. All Rights Reserved

343 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    KoRnOnA6String
    Even though I read through all of it, it seemed like a VERY long post to mask that all he's saying is.. "Get a teacher" .. Annoyed me throughout the whole piece, even if it was helpful -.-
    teknotard
    MAny good points, but the first one is a big mistake. Its true you cant do it on your own, I know I didnt. BUt I never had a guitat teacher. You dont need one. I did however have froums like this, friends, and a music theory teacher. But never one formal guitar lesson, and i think of my self as very good
    Jeroenofzo
    Basically some bullshit imo.Few good points, but alot of redirection for some 'free' video's you nee to register for. But i got a teacher, and he says the oppisite of your 11th point : Learn and try as many things as you can, to widen up your interest and techniques. Tend to belive him more...
    .starrk
    I never had a teacher, and I am doing great. Don't assume that just because you failed without a teacher that other people will as well.
    zorlacwareZ
    if your planning to become a great guitar player and maybe someday your way of living, then get a good teacher because it will be a "good investment" for your dreams, but if you play guitar just for the fun of it, getting a teacher just a waste of duff..just use your creativity,passion,perseverance and you'll get the hang of it, actually this article is making those guys that cant afford "teachers" to become more frustrated to their endeavor.
    Hsupernova
    Buster69 you took the words from my mouth, as did MPA guitarist. This is the biggest load of bullshit i've ever heard. He talks about learning to play the guitar like it's a ****ing pyramid scheme. Don't try and teach yourself? this guy is a moron. The key is to persevere, be paaionate about what you play, don't get stuck in a rut, and check yourself to see if you are making simple mistakes. Play in front of a mirror, you will notice simple things, e.g you are only playing using the forefinger and the ring finger. Take Joe Bonamassa, technically speaking, possibly the best guitarist alive today (who this website should really pay more attention to). He taught himself from the age of 5, practicing up to five hours a day, 360 days a year. The key to being a good guitar player isn't reading shitty advice pages, it playing! alot! So everyone get off this stupid post and stop wasting your time looking for tips and tricks, they make little difference. Think about it, SRV wasn't reading internet posts, he was playing and getting inspired. Just pick up your guitar and play.
    M.P.A.Guitarist
    Minion2580 wrote: im self taught. i took lessons for about 2 months but i didnt learn shit except a little tapping riff and an a minor scale so i just stopped going. i never made any goals, i just read tabs, learned songs and chords, started picking back and fourth, and kept trying harder and harder songs, and i am way better than i thought i would have been a year ago
    same here
    M.P.A.Guitarist
    ehhh ive never had lessons but im pretty dam good, some of my friends take lessons and they kinda suck..and we've been playing the same amountof time... i think its b/c im more passionate about it
    Rocker_geek
    Skilface wrote: ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD SORRY ALL GLORY TO THE TOM HESS I'd like to thank you for that chart. It has shown me that the right-right-down-right-up-right-diagonaldownright-diagonaldo wnleft-diagonaldownright-right approach will get me NOWHERE.
    ha ha lmao +1
    the red chadd
    Aka: Hire me as your teacher. We're always told what we're doing wrong, but what we should be doing is always tip-toed around. Tom is a great writer, he has very diplomatic approach in how he words things. It's like we're learning something, but essentially the underlying message in all his articles is "pay me to teach you."
    Minion2580
    im self taught. i took lessons for about 2 months but i didnt learn shit except a little tapping riff and an a minor scale so i just stopped going. i never made any goals, i just read tabs, learned songs and chords, started picking back and fourth, and kept trying harder and harder songs, and i am way better than i thought i would have been a year ago
    Vte
    most of this article is good, but the self taught is bad part was the worst. most people do not want to learnn from somebody else that probabl learned on their own, its like telling yourself you cant do it cuz ultimate guitar sais so, yet only like 1 in 10 tabs are correct in this site.....irony?hypocrisy? only god knowz
    The Judist
    pjotrfijas wrote: Here's a run through of the Rolling Stones Magazine list of 100 greatest guitar players of all time: 1 Jimi Hendrix - Self taught 2 Duane Allman - ? 3 B.B. King - Self taught 4 Eric Clapton - Self taught 5 Robert Johnson - ? 6 Chuck Berry - ? 7 Stevie Ray Vaughan - Self taught 8 Ry Cooder - Largely self taught 9 Jimmy Page - Self taught 10 Keith Richards - Self taught In addition, you have artists like Prince, Van Halen and Mark Knopfler, who also were entirely self taught. I think the morale is, that in order to become really great, you need to trust in yourself and only yourself. If you trust in a teacher, and if you trust him MORE than your own guitar instincts..... then you will become mediocre at best. I don't think it's any coincidence that the Rolling Stones top 100 list is dominated by players who largely were self taught.
    Didn't Robert Johnson make a pact with the devil, so that he'd be damn good on guitar if he gave up his soul? Why didn't the article mention this route? The diagram would be easy to draw!
    XxDethmetalxX
    Tom Hess is a guitar teacher...with an online site...which costs a lot of money. I am self taught and I am doing just fine-don't let this self-advertising tell you otherwise. Oh, yeah, the thing about taking it from one source really means go to his site, learn from him, and forget about all the other options you have. Actually, this whole article really just means "go to my site, pay me hundreds of dollars, and don't bother with other teachers, much less attempt teaching yourself."
    Thrash_fire666
    I think you can learn however you want and that each path will take you to a different place, you can take lessons and become some teachers little bitch (FUCK U TOM) or, you can be self taught,struggle, smash your guitar and become great by leaning from your mistakes.
    gbgg9409
    This guy obviously hasn't even taken the time to try and teach himself. Getting a teacher is the last thing I want or need. I have been self-taught for only 2 years, and I make 6-year professionally taught players jealous. I didn't mean to brag or anything, but my point was that being self-taught isn't all that "mediocre." Believe me, I know a lot of people who quit guitar after being taught for about 2 months, and never touch the thing again. Oh well. At least I get to use their Fenders.
    DimebagRob
    Retro Rocker wrote: Alot of hate towards Tom here, why? In todays world you should be grateful for the free (and useful) advice.
    Free maybe, but useful certainly not, this lesson may as well be the words "GET A TEACHER NOOB!!!!" in big, bold red letters.
    foodfight
    Obviously a marketing ploy to get us to sign up with some online bullshit lessons... Teachers are just there to guide your playing from another perspective which is a waste of money in my opinion... 30 bucks an hour or whatever is a joke... Just grab Audacity and record yourself playing side by side with whatever song you're playing and judge your progress yourself.
    ongbakkneedrop
    i think guitar is about expression and fun. there should be no linear path or unlinear path. you should be playing for yourself and yourself only. if ur playing just to be the next steve vai, then music is not gunna be fun to you.
    SlayerOfTheGods
    Regardless of what this says, I am very proud of what I have acheived in one year of self teaching, so I guess maybe this doesn't apply to everyone.
    si_13
    I started off guitar playing with a teacher, I had about half a year with him. I already had the basics, and we built on that, but by playing music and styles that didn't interest me at all, I never practised my guitar. Since quitting tuition, I got a new guitar and have progressed much further, as I can play my own style and songs, and I have a really interest in learning new material, and with mastering each songs comes new skills.
    axe_man
    like roksta101 above is started on classical and got an electric which i got some fundemental begginer teaching on but felt my guitar teacher was lazy and restricting me not taking into account that i had allready been playing classical for number of years and am now self taught it has worked better for me. I also found all teachers i've had are reluctant to help me towards my goals. I love metal and i would present my guitar teacher with a tab or song that i could challenge myself by learning it and because he didnt like it he would just ignore it. self taught isnt bad.
    highwaysalmon
    I am very happy I decided to teach myself guitar. I think if I had of learned by studying with a teacher, I would not the same appreciation that I have for the instrument.
    roksta101
    Good article i agree with most things...though i disagree somewhat your first point about self teaching... i got taught how to play classical guitar. when i got my electric i went on a bit of a break from formal teaching and taught myself most things about the electric..i think when one teaches oneself, one finds alternative ways of doing things..you explore other methods and you messup alot-which helps you know what not to do...i think you learn alot more about really what you actually doing..from the bottom up..instead of other people telling you how to do things and you just following them..you dont really always get whats behind all of it. formal training does help but dong it yourself gives one hands-on experience with what you are playing.
    happypilot100
    Everyone has their own style, so why can't self-taught be counted as a way of developing your own style? The people who get lessons and such get taught THE SAME thing. Who is this "Tom Hess"? Some unknown author that tells people what to do like a For Dummies book that doesn't even play guitar? People need to get a life, seriously.
    notaclevername
    this is kinda crappy. some ppl can learn just fine by thereselves, and others learn better with teachers. i personally learned better by myself because my teacher always pissed my off cause all we did was tab out and learn songs which is easy to do. so crappy teacher is good advice not to do. i've learned alot of this site and online lessons.
    HughF
    Well...he managed to piss off half the guitar playing community with the self taught comment...patronizing bastard. UG should also try and look out for articles that are selling things...like Tom Hess's website.
    ShadesOfNight
    im self taught almost completely. i just played whatever came into my head for 7 years, then went to a tutor and acheived grade 7 within 2 years. and that entire article wasnt really helpful. those 11 points could really be condensed into about 3. tom hess just rants on about some random crap for much longer than he should be allowed
    Robbertto
    this guy is a just another jerk who is full of himself due to his playing ability, he acts as if guitar is only about mastering the instrument and being the best around (through teaching, notices he pitches his 'affordable' website at you). It's an instrument, not a competition. I am a self-taught guitarist and I play just fine, thank you very much. I don't play to impress anyone. I play TO play. Aside from that, here's one thing that really pissed me off... "and no, it is not true that being 'self taught' makes us more 'original'. In fact, the opposite is usually true." how does being self taught make you less original? This makes no sense. I can sort of understand being self taught "not" making you more original, but LESS original? hmmm.. thanks for the advice "master" Tom Hess. pfffft
    KevVin
    He's a great business man, i'll give him that. He confuses you into thinking he's really smart and believing everything he says, thats how most people make money these days. But it just depends on what you're after out of guitar playing doesn't it? I just find music lessons stress me out too much to bother palying.
    HavokStrife
    playinbass1432 wrote: I'm self taught and I'm progressing just fine, thank you very much.
    Seriously, usually I don't find his articles so much of a pitch as others do, but this one, is definitely one of those "You're doing it the wrong way, and you're never gunna do the right way by listening to anyone else, including yourself, except ME!! So buy my books/seminars/lessons/etc. or you'll suck forever!" You know, hate to break it to you, but I learn a LOT off this site, for FREE from awesome players like Kris Dahl and such that take the time to make good lessons instead of just trying to make money off n00bs.
    Skuzzmo
    Just read that and yeah good advice but why do I feel like I've just read the patter of a salesman?
    goskayourself
    everybody is different and learns differently its completely up to the person on how they learn or want to learn..play for the love of the music!
    yus_yus_13
    Robbertto wrote: this guy is a just another jerk who is full of himself due to his playing ability, he acts as if guitar is only about mastering the instrument and being the best around (through teaching, notices he pitches his 'affordable' website at you). It's an instrument, not a competition. I am a self-taught guitarist and I play just fine, thank you very much. I don't play to impress anyone. I play TO play.
    +1000
    dudemanwhoathe1
    vortexpassion wrote: Jeroenofzo wrote: Basically some bullshit imo.Few good points, but alot of redirection for some 'free' video's you nee to register for. But i got a teacher, and he says the oppisite of your 11th point : Learn and try as many things as you can, to widen up your interest and techniques. Tend to belive him more... is your teacher the pro player and teacher that Hess is? kinda doubt it dude
    Hahahahahaha! Classic comeback.
    SlashWannabe1
    You ever notice how people who have extraordinary techical skills are usually gay or ugly and incapable of getting chicks. All my hero's were mostly self taught made great epic music that spoke to the soul and they were usually the ones you hear about getting laid the most... Slash Angus Young... ect.. Who's ever heard a story about groupies being lined up for blocks outside of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai's hotel?
    austhrax
    a good read but i think if everyone studies the same way how are we being original,also depends on level each player wants to get to,i am quite happy playing not practicing!
    SlashWannabe1
    I'm self taught and saying "You need a teacher" and you need to follow what somebody else thinks you should be learning is just bs and would have resulted in me throwing my guitar at the fkr tryin to teach me. I don't mind guidence but if your going to make playing guitar a job then I wont have none of it. When Guitar playing doesn't become fun anymore and often times teachers aren't any fun then its time to quit.
    Skilface
    ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD SORRY ALL GLORY TO THE TOM HESS I'd like to thank you for that chart. It has shown me that the right-right-down-right-up-right-diagonaldownright-diagonaldo wnleft-diagonaldownright-right approach will get me NOWHERE.
    Tye1989
    Tom Hess is a guitar teacher? Well that explains the article then -.-" What about the people who can't afford to dish out cash every week for a teacher? I've been playing a year and half teaching myself, I'm not great but I don't think I'm terrible either. Problem 11 is just stupid...plain and simple.