The Number One Mistake That Holds Most Guitarist Back

Learn what the biggest mistakes most guitarists make and how to rectify it.

Ultimate Guitar
What is the number 1 mistake that holds you back? If you are like most guitarists, then I'm almost certain it is the same as my student, Chris.

He always made this mistake when I first started teaching him. He had played for years and this consistent mistake had become an ingrained habit. It took me a little while to drill it out of him but we got there in the end.

It's such a simple mistake, but it is critical to your success as a guitarist. The mistake is: Trying to play what you are learning at full or near full speed.

Yes, it's so simple. I always tell a student you must live by the "10 x rule". That rule means, whenever you learn anything new: You must play it 10 times in a row at half the speed and with 100% accuracy.

"Why?" I hear you ask. Because you will learn it infinitely better, you will play it with better technique, and you will remember it far quicker than if you try it at full speed.

Here is a common scenario and it's the one I noticed Chris doing. He would learn something new. As soon as he had learned the first note, he would be attempting the part at full speed. Then, he would make a mistake. Stop. Start again. Another mistake. A big sigh. Stop. Start again. And again and again until the guitar would nearly be thrown out the window. (by him, not me).

I would then go over and reinforce the "10 x rule". Chris would then slow down, play everything with precision, digest the notes and pretty soon after be playing the piece at full speed. The thing is, playing it 10 x slowly is far faster in the long run that attempting it 100 times fast and getting nowhere. Your technique will improve so much more doing it this way too.

Remember, the "10 x rule" and breathe nice and deeply while performing it. It actually is a nice way to practice - particularly if you are prone to going through life at a million miles an hour or get frustrated easily.

About the Author:
Dan Thorpe. You can view more of his tutorials at his website Guitar Domination. You can also download two of his eBooks here.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good advice. I must say I fall victim to this sometimes, especially if it's a song that has a quick tempo, but the bottom line is if the song is complicated then u have to play it slow at first.
    This is something I have heard so many teachers say. One more psychological plus is that when mastering something at lower speed, you feel like you master something, instead feeling yourself just plain slobby after playing something not so well at full speed. It's nice to end your practise session with success.
    I think all of us fall into this same trap, and I'm no exception. I'm really bad about showing up at rehearsal without having practiced much, if at all. Especially during busy weeks at work.
    Great advice! I've fallen into the "I can play that fast"-trap too many times
    I disagree. Many things depend on confidence and don't even sound like they make sense until you're close or at real tempo. That advice may work in some contexts but it's not a universal rule.
    So true. Kinda nice so many players even Youtube now have a half speed option that really doesn't effect pitch etc. Great practice tool. I agree with this advice whole heartedly as it really held me back my first couple years.
    The brain must be trained in both, high speed accuracy and slow speed accuracy. it doesnt matter what you begin with. I think the most important mistake is how you approach your guitar. Pose damage will truly fuck you up once in a while. With the right pose you will open the energy sources of your body, if trained which means... right boys doing some gymnastics especially your back is important! You concentrate on your breath an all other aspects will follow. Pose comes before EVERYTHING guys... I know it's hard to accept. And... Yes I do play sick Hardcore Metal and stuff. I'm rather 50% cool without back hurts then a 100% complaining fucked up ready for wheel chair. (No offense to handicaped people.)
    Great advice and completely true. I actually stopped playing for a while trying to tackle dream theater licks, riffs, and solos (not the easiest ones out there to master), and then got sheet music and started learning them slowly. With practice i learned them! Though they are still a bitch to play...
    I once played scarred for my exam, should have chosen another song actually xD I totally agree with your method. It's just... the "number one mistake that holds most guitarist back" is your pose, and if I look through the eyes of a beginner and he reads the article he gets the wrong idea's pose, the number one mistake before EVERYTHING. xD This is how a beginner should approach his guitar, it is what will hold him back, it is important for his health and health should come even before your ego, even in Rock'n Roll. I mean... whom do you fuck up for? I mean look at Muse, they will play their shit probably without health issues until they're dead...
    Fantastic advice. I used to have this problem when I was younger, these days I know to slow down so I don't get frustrated. Just yesterday I was practicing some string skipping taps, something I've never put much work into and it's a slow process. The second session was still slow but I felt much more capable. Go slow people, the more comfortable you are with guitar the faster you'll learn a new technique and play it at the speed you want.
    Interesting to point this out; I'll often try to play at full tempo for the heck of it, but in the back of my mind I know I'm not *seriously* trying to learn the song. Or sometimes I'll play at tempo in order to practice playing through mistakes without stopping. But to really learn it's definitely necessary to take it slow.