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Top 4 Guitar Playing Mistakes To Avoid

Updated on July 15, 2011

Guitar playing is a skill which is difficult to perfect. Having been playing and teaching guitar for years, I have seen all kinds of guitarists, from 5 year old kids to experienced jazz gurus. An interesting thing which I’ve noticed is the consistent pattern of mistakes which beginners tend to make when they start off. I compiled a list of what I feel to be the 4 most common mistakes which are stopping most of us from becoming the next guitar god. Are you making these mistakes?


Mistake #1 – Paying No Attention to Rhythm

A sense of rhythm, in my opinion, is the single most important aspect to guitar playing which separates the good guitarists from the bad ones. I even feel that rhythm is more important than the choice of notes, believe it or not. After all, it’s not what you play that’s important – but how you play it. You could play the blues in an entirely wrong key but if your rhythmic phrasing is good, it will still sound good. Unfortunately, rhythm is an area which beginners tend to neglect. They prefer to practise fancy tapping techniques or sweep picking rather than getting the basics of rhythm. And the result – sloppy guitar soloing.

So how can this be corrected?

You must train yourself to have a good sense of rhythm and the best way of doing this is by using a metronome. What I like to do is to play the major scale (or any other scale that you prefer) up and down the fretboard whilst keeping to the beat of the metronome. I would play the scale using quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes, and I would also try varying and combining the rhythmic phrases. Doing so trains you to recognize the differences between the different note durations. Once you’ve got the hang of these basic rhythms, you could try playing the scale in a swing rhythm or even triplets – the trick is to be aware of your rhythm and having full control of the timing of your notes. Remember – sloppy rhythm makes a sloppy guitarist!

Mistake #2 – Having a Limited Lick Vocabulary

What’s a sure fire way that a guitarist can make his audience fall asleep? The answer is playing scales up and down the fretboard. Whilst playing scales can be good warm up exercise and can help improve your rhythm using the exercise described above, do not get this confused with music. This mistake is common amongst shred guitarists and beginners who have just begun to learn their scales. A common misconception is that if you master your scales, guitar soloing is going to be easy. This, however, is far from the truth.

Knowledge of scales and modes will only make you aware of the notes that you could play and the notes you shouldn’t play. A guitar solo still has to be put together in a form which is captivating and interesting to listen to. The problem is that most beginners think that guitar soloing is just playing scales.  This isn’t guitar soloing though – it's rambling!

So how do we solve this problem?

Firstly, you must undersatnd that when good guitarist are improvising, they’re not really improvising all the time. Up to 70% of the guitar solo are in fact licks which they have worked out already. The only part which is improvised is the piecing together of the licks.

Expanding your guitar lick vocabulary is therefore an important step to becoming a better guitarist. So my advice to you is this - go learn some new licks! Blues licks are a good place to start. Why not set yourself a target of learning at least one new lick a day? By having a large collection of guitar licks internalized, guitar soloing becomes much easier.

Mistake #3 – Incorrect Use of the Bend

Although seemingly a minor mistake, incorrect use of the bend is one of the most annoying mistakes that I hear guitarists make. This is a shame because bending is a great technique. It is a technique which seems to be fairly unique to the guitar. When used well, bending is a great way of adding tension to a guitar solo, making it more interesting.

Unfortunately, most guitarists either bend too often or don’t bend correctly. There is a tendency for beginners to bend at every chance they could get in a guitar solo, even bending notes that really can’t be bent! The truth is, overuse of the bend not only decreases the effectiveness of it, but it can also be very annoying to the listener. Bending should be used with moderation.

Another bending pitfall which a lot of beginners make is bending to the wrong pitch. Underbending or overbending a note sounds incredibly sloppy and is obvious to the ear. Fortunately with practise, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. Practise your bends every day, ensuring that a half bend has the same pitch as a note one fret up, and a full bend, two frets higher up.


Mistake #4 – Not Broadening Your Musical Horizon

I always say to students: be a sponge. I’m a firm believer in soaking up every bit of information which I think will improve my guitar playing. This means checking out new guitarists, exploring new genres of music that I’m not familiar with and be inspired from other types of instruments.

Unfortunately, most guitarists love to brand themselves as being one form or another and refuse to step out of their comfort zone. Whilst it’s important that we all develop our own style of guitar playing, there’s no harm in exploring other genres of music. In fact, you may find yourself being captivated by the sound of a certain genre, even though you never had the interest in it before. For example, when I was a teenager, I had always been very much a metal head. A chance encounter with a Pat Martino song made me intrigued by the world of jazz and has me turned into a jazz fan ever since. Even though you may not take up a new particular genre of guitar playing, you can still learn lots from it. Rock guitarists, for example, can learn a lot about phrasing from listening to blues guitarists.

I also recommend guitarists listening to other instruments. As a jazz guitarist, I regularly listen to saxophone records and pianists to get inspiration for new guitar playing ideas. By widening your musical horizon, you’re not only making yourself a better guitarist, but also a better musician.

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    • theipad6213 profile image

      theipad6213 4 years ago

      Some very handy tips on this page. I have been playing guitar for about 30 years now and can always use some good tips to help me out. Never stop learning. I am always trying to learn new licks and styles. Try to come up with my own stuff, this makes it more interesting. Thanks for the post.

    • profile image

      Tim 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your article. I just play noisy stuff in my bedroom. I agree about broadening horizons. Keep changing.

    • BennyTheWriter profile image

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Excellent hub. I'm a guitarist too; in the jazz genre, you might say somewhere between "beginner" and "intermediate." These tips are very helpful to me; I certainly recognize many of my mistakes, especially ignoring rhythm and not learning enough licks. I'm often trying to compose my own licks too much, but my knowledge of fretboard possibilities remains limited if I don't explore the tried, tested and true.

      Again, great hub with many great reminders! You're encouraging true musicianship.