(Repost of a past article I wrote in my guitar teaching days.)
Things my guitar students do that make me secretly dream of setting them on fire.
1. Not tuning up your guitar before practicing EVERY TIME. Or at least, being too lazy (WTF???) to tune when it’s obvious one string is way flat and another is way sharp. People don’t play their guitars like that, you say? Then you’ve never been a guitar teacher!
Tuner! I recommend my students get this Korg tuner when I’m teaching at my local store. It’s cheap without being too cheap and lets you tune to any note without confusion for those days you want to experiment with drop D and metal tunings. No, I don’t work for Korg–though I should be getting paid for promoting them. Gotta figure out this affiliate marketing stuff…
2. Not wearing a guitar strap. And tighten that strap so it doesn’t fall off your shoulder. You want the guitar in the same place every time you play, the neck pointing UP instead of DOWN, the body of the guitar up against your body, not sliding flat on your lap.
3.Sit up straight! Slouching is bad for your posture and will result in back problems down the line…so my chiropractor says.
4. Cut your fingernails! I guess this one’s debatable, especially if you’re studying classical guitar. But I’m thinking of the guitar kids who want to bust out rock & blues, Slash and Zakk Wylde insanity or even suffer through one of my campfire songs and seeing their nails I ask if they just got a manicure. Long nails (in the fretting hand, anyway) are the enemy of guitar playing! Chords, string bends, all sorts of things become difficult or impossible if they start going past the fingertips. So keep those suckers trimmed below the fingertip!
5. Holding the pick wrong. I know, it’s a personal thing and there’s no “right” way to do it. But if you go by what the majority of the players are doing to play well there IS a “right” way to do it that reduces your learning curve, with your thumb and index finger. Quit holding it with your thumb and ring finger or I’m going Sister Mary Agnes on you and taking a ruler to the offending wrist!
(I’m talking about rock & blues guitar, btw.)
6. Playing “Back in Black” and calling it practice: It’s practice if you’re learning it for the first time. But if that’s all you’re playing three months down the road (along with “Stairway”, “Crazy Train” and that Kansas riff) then you’re goofing off. Play it a couple times to keep it in the long term memory then get yourself into some new things to practice or your motivation will stagnate.
7. Trying to learn every scale instead of the first scale WELL: Hey, cheers to you being motivated in this department. But scales aren’t music; scales are TOOLS to make music. You don’t go buy every tool at Home Depot before you know what job you want to accomplish, do you? Learn how to make cool music with one scale in one position, maybe even one octave of that position. Then expand the scale in one key across the neck, focus on techniques within that scale, etc. The other scales aren’t going to disappear, they’ll be waiting for you when you reach that plateau in your major scale or pentatonics (most teacher recommended starting points) and you crave new sounds.
8. Not learning rhythm: Playing whatever song you want, any chords or licks you want without understanding the rhythm in what you’re doing…it can be done. Nothing wrong with having fun–guitar isn’t all about practice and overcoming weak areas. But if you’re hitting a brick wall in what to strum or your shred solos are all the same Van Halen triplet style then you need to get a handle on some advanced rhythms to keep yourself motivated. Check out my blog on improving rhythm guitar for some suggestions.
9. Not learning complete songs: Guitarists love to goof around with the intros to famous songs instead of learning the whole tune. I fall into this trap regularly and need to police my efforts. And some songs on guitar don’t sound right by themselves (IMO, a common problem in rock and blues music because it’s not very solo guitar oriented), they need the other instruments to sound better. But you can’t keep your band with you 24/7, so a better alternative is to learn some solo pieces. Fingerstyle and classical guitar books are usually top places to find such music. I like this book by Jon Finn called One Guitar, Many Styles that is full of solo guitar pieces in rock (including some monster tapping pieces), blues, jazz and classical…actual songs, not just a few clever riffs.
10. Not listening to music regularly: I manage to fit this into lots of blogs because it’s that important. How do you expect to get motivated if you don’t listen to music? What if you listen to a new genre of guitar music and discover an obsession with learning it! Buy CDs, explore samples on iTunes or seek out Internet radio stations where you can choose what genre you want to hear.
11. Not buying my rhythm guitar poster. Because I created it with an awesome graphic designer, so it will teach you cool guitar while looking great on your wall. And you get to support an artist in his unique arts & crafts thing… 😉