Jan 8, 2018
How is it possible that some guitarists continue getting better year after year while some of us stay pretty much the same for decades?
It’s because guitar practice is a skill in and of itself. We have to become aware of what’s not working and continually find ways to improve it. Luckily, it’s not that hard to do.
Here are 8 common practice mistakes that I wish I had corrected years ago.
1. Not setting clear goals
It’s fun to jam, learn songs, and record demos. But how do we really get to the next level? We need clear goals.
A clear goal is specific, action-oriented and has a deadline.
For example, “Be able to play the pentatonic scale from memory up and down the fretboard in 16th notes at a tempo of 160 BPM by March 1st” is a clear goal.
On the other hand, something like, “play like Slash” or “get faster at soloing” is not clear. You could chase these abstract goals for a lifetime and never reach them. Worse, they make it hard to be satisfied with your progress.
When you set clear goals, you’re giving yourself a chance to find success – which is the addictive juice that keeps you coming back. Without that, practice just isn’t rewarding and it’s very easy to stop or just play around without purpose.
Make sure you set goals that are clear and doable so that you can celebrate your wins!
2. Focusing on small stuff
Real progress is made by escaping gravity. And that takes a lot of thrust.
While learning a riff or song can be fun, it may not actually be the best use of your practice time. So what is the best use of your time?
It’s the big stuff. Perhaps it’s theory, strumming technique, scales, rhythm, or your ear. There’s only so much. Employ the 80/20 rule and focus on the biggest stuff first.
If you need help finding the biggest opportunities for you right now, hire a guitar teacher. Even if it’s just for a few lessons.
3. Letting yourself get distracted
If you’re sitting down to practice guitar, practice guitar. Don’t multitask. Don’t let yourself get distracted.
Get into the habit of stopping potential distractions dead in their tracks before they eat away at your progress. Here are some things I recommend to do every time you practice:
- Put your phone on sleep mode
- Turn off your computer notifications
- Mute the television / background noise
- Make sure to have a drink of water nearby so you don’t have to get up
- Pick the best time of day to practice so you won’t be disturbed (plan ahead of time)
4. Not accepting critical feedback
You may have heard the phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” For practicing guitar, this truth is a big one.
Sometimes we don’t really know what we’re doing wrong. These are our blind spots. To continue to improve, find a trusted person to give you great, detailed feedback about your playing.
Perhaps this is a guitar teacher. Whoever it is, you’ll want to get good, critical feedback that you know to be true because it can really help you improve.
A word of caution: watch out for friends and family. Your loved ones generally don’t want to hurt your feelings. They may not give you the brutal honesty you really need to reassess your practice routine.
Get serious with critical feedback. The truth shall set you free!
5. Believing that sounding good doesn’t matter
You may be fine with practicing scales on an unplugged electric guitar, but I’m not. It’s boring, uninspiring and makes me not want to practice.
We all know the biggest threat to progress is simply failing to practice. To avoid that, try creating a sonic environment that your ears fall in love with.
Buy a few toys – effects, a nice amp, etc., and always keep your strings tuned and fresh. This will make doing the boring stuff much more tolerable. Good-sounding practice makes a difference!
6. Allowing barriers to pile up
One of the simplest mistakes we make is allowing barriers to get in our way of practice.
Environmental barriers (however small) add up and can make us go “ugh” when it comes time to practice.
Think about it: Do you really need to put your guitar in the case at night? Can you hang it on the wall? Can you leave it plugged into your amp? Do you have enough spare picks lying around? Extra strings?
Make it easy for yourself. Set a weekly or monthly reminder to do a sanity check on any barriers to guitar practice that may have built up. Iron them out regularly to make practice painless and more efficient.
7. Not automating tempo practice
Some guys play for decades without a metronome and when they jam with a buddy, they’re all over the place. Embarrassing!
Whenever possible, practice to a click. And if you don’t like the boring sound of a metronome click, load up some drum loops or use my one-touch drum beat metronome app to simulate playing with a real drummer. I made it specifically for practicing an instrument without having to program a drum machine – it’s got all my great beats in it!
Anyway, timing and feel should be developed constantly, and that’s a pretty easy tweak to make. Get the right tools in place to automate it whenever you practice guitar and you’ll be much better off in the long run.
8. Not prioritizing FUN
There are definitely aspects of guitar practice that are and will always be mind-numbingly boring. But whenever possible, you should try to make it fun.
Learn songs with friends, practice scales to jam tracks, improvise with a drummer or drum beats – all these things can help.
Also, pick music you actually want to learn, pimp out our practice room so it’s cozy and stylish, and set clear but easy to achieve goals. All these can make practice more fun and rewarding.
More fun = more practice = faster progress!
If you find your guitar practice lacking, consider reviewing these 8 common mistakes frequently.
Basically, you’ll want to make sure you’re always working towards an actual goal, you’re focused and you enlist the help of others to find your weak spots. Make metronome practice a constant and fall in love with a cool, great-sounding and stylish practice environment that is easy to get sucked into.
Rick Belluso is the co-founder and CEO of Ninebuzz Music Tech. He is an award-winning drummer and creator of several top-rated mobile apps. Rick blogs about music practice, songwriting, productivity, audio gear, and more.