By Jamie Andreas

February 22, 2023 minutes read


5 biggest mistakes all guitar students make

1) Practicing Guitar Too Fast

Virtually all guitar students practice everything at a speed that makes it impossible for their muscles to work in a relaxed fashion. Unknown to students, their muscles are in a state of chronic tension during the whole time they are practicing.

This tension stays in the muscles due to the power of “muscle memory”. Because of this, the student will be placing a severe limit on their guitar abilities. Everything will feel difficult, because the hands, arms, and body have a level of tension during movements that simply does not allow for smooth action. The real secret is a super slow type of practicing called “no tempo practice”. It has the power to unlock the professional level ability in any player.

Take The Tension Test!
Find out how much tension YOU are playing with!

take the tension test on guitar

2) Not Paying Attention To The Body During Practice

We play the guitar with the body. That is a central fact that cannot be ignored. Students who have “natural talent” tend to pay more attention to what their body feels like when they practice and play. The majority of students are busy thinking and worrying during practice, and have no idea what the muscles they are trying to use are really feeling like.

So, they allow crippling tension to be present during all the movements. Advanced players never allow this and they are always on the lookout for body tension.

We must pay absolute attention to the whole body during practice, especially the shoulders, arms and hands. This is called "Whole Body Awareness".

Shoulder tension is the biggest cause of finger problems. However, playing the guitar does require effort. One of the keys to making progress is learning the difference between necessary effort and unnecessary effort.

3) Lack Of Knowledge Of How The Body Learns

There is an entire science of how the body learns new movements. It is called “motor control learning”, or just “body learning”. It is important to understand that there are definite laws of how the body learns new movements. When we follow these laws during practice, we will be successful; it is as simple as that!

The reason people struggle with guitar is because they have never been taught these laws, or principles, of body learning. Anyone can learn them, use them, and be successful with guitar. They are taught in "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar".

4) Beginning At The “First” Fret

All guitar methods begin by teaching students to play at the “first fret”. This is wrong, because the first fret is the hardest place to play. It causes great tension (even strain) in the arms and hands of a beginner. Also, the frets are furthest apart at the first fret, forcing the untrained fingers to strain in order to stretch into difficult chords and notes.

All of this immediately points the student in the wrong direction, away from developing true guitar ability. Because of the extra burden placed on the fingers, hands, arms and shoulders, the majority of people who try to learn guitar fail.

The first place a student should learn to play, in order to develop perfect and relaxed control of the fingers, is higher up on the neck, where a beginner can learn to move the fingers in a relaxed way and without strain. Gradually, the student can move down the neck fret by fret, learning to be relaxed at each fret.

You should not start guitar at the first fret. The first fret is the hardest place for the fingers to play!

If you start there, you will lock in great tension in the fingers which will make all future movements more difficult. 

Learn guitar up the neck first

You should start left hand training up the neck, not at the first fret. 

5) Fighting The Energy Of The String Instead of Using It

Once all these bad things have happened (and they happen to some degree in virtually all students) the student will actually be learning to “fight the guitar”, not “play the guitar”.

With every note that is played, the body will tense more and more, and that tension will be locked in to the muscles, and be considered “normal” by the student. Some students with a lot of stamina will learn to play up to a point, but they will not play anywhere near as well as they could if all these bad things were prevented from happening.

Great players, who have learned to relax while playing, are actually using the energy of the strings as they play, in the same way that a great diver uses the energy of the diving board to gain spring and power, or basketball players use the energy of the basketball to control how they dribble the ball.

In all these cases, the guitar, diving, and basketball, force is being applied to a flexible medium. An expert in all these fields knows how to make their body “one” with the object they are applying force to. Then, they combine their own energy with the object in order to achieve their goal.

The unskilled player of any sport, or any instrument is not becoming one with the object they are using; instead, they are fighting it. An unskilled guitar player is actually fighting the strings instead of using the string’s energy.

This is why great players make it look easy, because it IS easy when you are using the energy of the string itself to help make the necessary movements. Other players look like they are having a hard time because they ARE having a hard time.

They must learn why and how they have made it so hard. When they do, they can begin to undo all their playing problems and start to enjoy the wonderful feeling of playing the guitar easily. Anyone can do this, and become as good as they wish to be on the guitar!

Jamie Andreas

About the author

Jamie Andreas has one goal: to make sure that everyone who wants to learn guitar is successful. After her first 25 years of teaching, she wrote the world acclaimed method for guitar "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". She put everything into this method that was essential for success on guitar.
Called "The Holy Grail" of guitar books, the Principles has enabled thousands of students who tried and failed to play guitar for years or even decades, to become real guitar players.

In 2012 Jamie was profiled in "Guitar Zero" (Penguin Press 2012), a study of how adults learn to play guitar. Jamie was interviewed along with some of the worlds leading guitarist/teachers, including jazz legend Pat Martino and Tom Morello ("Rage Against The Machine").

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