Having had lots of students over the last 10 years, I have been noticing the same learning mistakes in many of them. This is the reason why today I would like to talk about the five mistakes you make starting to play guitar, and how to overcome them.
I have to start this topic with a simple affirmation: Guitar is not an easy instrument to approach, at least at the beginning, and when you have already a certain level, it is difficult to find your voice, to stand the crowd, and have your own personality.
In simple words, it is difficult to make that step forward and have your own style once you have to go professional.
I struggled a lot to reach the ability level I desired, and then to find my inner voice and personality.
I have been passing through many different “phases”:
The Petrucci-Gilbert Metal phase, the Fusion Allan Holdsworth phase, the Metheny-Jazz phase, then again the Rock and Metal, till what I am today: a mix of all of past experiences.
To be honest, every one of these periods of my life gave me something, and my natural curiosity and love for music have been the natural drive to develop my inner personality. And still, I work on it every day.
At the same time, I still wish I would have never made some mistakes that indeed made me lose a lot of time, that I could save to better craft my ideas.
You are not gonna make the same mistakes too! So here we go!
1) Not setting up your instrument properly, and not
searching for the right gear for your purposes
This one seems to be naive but I ensure you that it is not at all.
If you have been teaching to beginner students, or you are a beginner student right now… Well, you most probably faced this simple problem: you buy your first electric or acoustic guitar and the setup is absolutely horrible when you go out of the shop. The action (the distance between the string and the fret) is very high, the octaves are not in tune, the locking tuners are not good enough and you are all the time out of tune… As result, you will struggle a lot to develop your technique on an instrument that doesn’t follow you, you will be frustrated, you can develop some tendinitis or other muscle problems, probably you will simply think that you are not talented enough.
Wrong. Just set up your guitar properly. Your instrument has to be ergonomic and easy to play.
Stay away from guitar teachers that say that the higher action you have the more you have “sound”. Same for luthiers that will tell you that you will have to keep your action super high to have sound and sustain. This is (partially) wrong. You can have an incredible sound with an action that is comfortable, that gives the impression that you are relaxed while playing. The more you are relaxed, the more your body and your hands will give out your sound. The sound is in your mind, and in your fingers first. Then the instrument has to work for you, not fighting against you.
Same for the amps or effects: try to find your inner voice, don’t buy pedals only because you have to or because it is the trend. Use your instinct and your ears. On my blog, I also review pedals and effects, so feel free to take a look!
Here you can find some guitar I can advise for beginners that don’t want to spend capitals on a decent instrument that is ergonomic enough to play.
Ibanez AZ Premium
2) Not organizing your study time
Well, this is a controversial topic.
For sure there are people that are less prone to be super organized and are more productive and achieve better results when they use their creativity and instinct.
The concept of serendipity is something very important in art: the ability to achieve a new discovery by simple intuition. It can be something “casual” that could happen to you that makes you have that “Eureka time” and that unlocks the genius. Serendipity can be a surprisingly productive tool.
For sure it is totally wrong that always being super organized in any detail can lead you wherever you want. As a musician, you should find time to let your brain breathe and discover or associate concepts in a casual way. In other words, serendipity.
On the other hand, not being organized can lead you to nothing if you don’t visualize your goal and don’t plan the steps to achieve it.
Personally, I would suggest to have your own week calendar and to assign to any time slot of your week the particular subject that you want to work on. Plan your day a day in advance and give room for flexibility and sudden changes.
I talk about this topic in my course: the necessary steps to follow to properly organize your time and achieve the goals you desire in music development.
Having a calendar with organized goals and an accurate choice of the time to dedicate to a particular topic you want to develop, can totally make the difference in the final results you can obtain for your playing.
Here you can find a collection of books that can help you with time management
3) Not studying with a metronome
This is another controversial topic but let me tell you that studying with a metronome (or a drum machine) can make the difference, both for your timing, rhythmic control and for your technical accuracy in both the easy and the difficult passages.
I call again this topic controversial because it is also true that a metronome is just a metronome.
A metronome is not music, a metronome doesn’t have harmony and chord changes, a metronome doesn’t have the groove, a metronome doesn’t have dynamics.
A metronome is just a clock, it will tell you how to stay on the grid. At the same time, the ability to stay on the grid and placing the notes you play on the right spot totally make the difference while you are playing with others, and while you are recording. Timing really makes the musician, and most of the time, it makes the “working” musician.
Developing your “inner clock” is also vitally important if you want to play solo, or simply if you want to absorb and memorize difficult passages with a correct method.
So, sorry, I guess you don’t have any choice. Buy a metronome, or a drum machine and do your technique exercises, or study songs WITH the metronome. Some of these apps have also a time trainer: the sound will stop for a certain number of bars and you will be obliged to keep on staying on the tempo during the silence. This is very useful to develop your inner timing and to be rhythmically independent during a performance. Your ultimate goal should be to have both the ability to listen to others while at the same time never losing your inner timing. You won’t have to “depend” on the rhythm section, you should be badass enough to drive them, and give them the right inputs. They will be more than happy to follow and the music will be more fresh and dynamic.
Again, the metronome is just a metronome. Don’t forget to study also with a drum machine, drum loops, and a complete backing track. You should be able to breathe with the music while having an inner driven timing.
4) Not playing with other musicians
Playing with other musicians is fun!
You will make friends, you will meet mind liked people, you will share the same passion with them and most importantly… You will improve dramatically!
Playing real music with real people makes all the difference. Unless you are a solo musician by choice, the benefits of playing with other musicians are infinite.
Playing with a band or an ensemble will be your real proof. You will face the truth about your real abilities, your limits, and your strong point. Positively measure yourself with the others will let you have the right picture of yourself. If this picture will frustrate you ( and most of the time it will as long as you are a person that craves improvement), don’t let this frustration overcome you.
Stay concentrated and focused on what is already your strong points and make leverage on them to express yourself. Take the negative feedbacks to come back home and focus on your improvement areas. Don’t let a lack of preparation in a single area becoming the measure of how much you are worth. Your worth is beyond that. On the contrary, use the feedback coming from the others as a measure of how much you will have to improve in a single aspect of your playing. Then you will see the improvements when you will put together all the single pieces of the puzzle.
Do not forget to have fun in the meantime. Playing with other musicians will lead you to friendships, to love, to understanding, and… lots of beers and laughs!
5) Not recording yourself
If you never recorded yourself… Well, you should start immediately.
Recording your exercises, your songs, your time spent on the instrument can be vitally important to have the real big picture of your abilities.
Like playing with other musicians, recording yourself can be very helpful to be grounded and see yourself for what you really are.
If you lack timing, intonation, intention, groove…and you record yourself you will see it immediately.
Sometimes can be difficult to put yourself in front of a mirror. Don’t be hard on yourself if you discover things you don’t like. You will most probably do it during the rest of your music journey. On the contrary, use this energy to find an inner drive to become better. Transform the energy coming from bad feelings into energy that will push you toward a new direction.
Stay focused, don’t let the frustration overcome you. Your goal, as an accomplished musician, should be the being able to enjoy the trip while at the same time giving yourself the room for constant improvements, always to become the better version of yourself as a musician and human being.
Technically speaking, recording yourself is not that difficult anymore.
The choices are infinite.
Take the recording time as a priority on your musical journey.
More than everything, it will be the tool that will make you become better in a shorter amount of time, and by facing the truth about your skills, you will be more in equilibrium with yourself, more mature. You will acquire the ability to not be too hard on yourself while being objective, and you will automatically become more understanding of other musicians’ limits and flaws when you will be facing them.
I hope this article was helpful to you.
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