Best Way To Learn Guitar: 7 Critical Things You Need To Know (To Avoid Failure)

Discover the most common mistakes to avoid when palying the guitar to help you improve fast

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You want to know the truth?

It's not just beginner guitarists who make mistakes. Guys and gals who've been playing the guitar for years also make common blunders. 

But fear not. I'm about to share with you the seven most important things you need to know about playing the guitar that'll help you swerve disaster and reach your playing goals faster.

Put it this way: I wish I'd been told these pieces of advice when I started to play guitar. 

How To Learn Guitar Tips Infographic

Advice if you're thinking of taking guitar lessons

First off, I want to say well done if you're one of the guitar players who made the clever move to start guitar lessons.

Many guitarists who try to go it alone end up hitting a brick wall and struggle to stay motivated and progress.

But fair warning:

You need to know that starting lessons with a good guitar teacher or following some online tuition course is roughly only 30% of the story.

You see, how great your playing becomes is ultimately down to you – and not just how much you practice, but how you practice. Read on for more tips.

1. Sometimes it’s going to be much trickier than you think, but it’s just about building up muscle memory

Learning guitar, like any instrument, is an intricate skill that relies on lots of practice to hear an improvement. Don't expect to get better overnight, is what I'm saying.

Never say you're 'struggling' at something new you're practising either. It's just the natural process of learning - you just have to build up muscle memory which develops quickly with determined and consistent practice.

Think of any skill you now possess that once seemed tricky. This could be any life or work-related skill, from learning to drive a car, communicating with people around you, and tying your shoelace.

These abilities once felt challenging until you got used to them over time. Heck, it took most of us, on average, between 14-17 months to get the hang of walking on two feet!

It seems pretty mad when you think that now you walk without a second thought.

So think of learning guitar this way. Be it a chord change, strumming rhythm or solo technique, whatever new thing you're learning that feels hard, you'll eventually nail it after enough practice. Soon you'll find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.

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2. Focus on good technique: it's the difference between a great and a bad player

Always remember: You need to focus on learning how to play the guitar before you can play songs. This one piece of advice is so important, I'll say it again: 

" You need to learn how to play the guitar before you can play songs."

And this is where so many guitar players go dismally wrong. They don't realise (or they do but choose to ignore it) that the bulk of practise should be about developing and honing good playing technique.

What exactly is good technique? In a nutshell, 'good technique' includes the proven surefire best ways to play your instrument. You've noticed how pro guitar players from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jo Satriani make it look so effortless? It's because they're executing good technique they consciously worked on from day one.

No short-cuts. As that wise saying goes: If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done. If you're tired of struggling to improvise or you're fed up with your slow chord changes - do something you've never done: dedicate quality time practising your technique.

Many self-taught guitar players are plagued with ingrained bad playing habits that are difficult to get rid of.

Don't fall into this trap. Be it perfect alternate picking, effortless strumming, or vibrato so earth-shatteringly sublime it could peel an orange, your new mantra is this:

good technique = great guitar playing.

3. Make every practise session goal based

We've all been there. Aimlessly messing about on guitar, and by the time you put it down, you've moved on no more than when you picked it up.

Stop that.

It's time to get a good practice strategy underway. As humans, we are predisposed to be goal-based. We are teleological organisms. When we set goals to achieve something, we focus on delivering. And what's even better, no matter how big or small the achieved goal, we feel gratified. So make your practice sessions have a purpose.

If you're finding that your motivation to play has stalled, first, don't be hard on yourself. This is a familiar problem guitar players come across when they have no structure to their practice. You can overcome this annoying hurdle by setting playing goals.

Guitar practice goal examples:

a) Are all melody and chord notes crystal clear with no mutes or buzzes? Goal: banish messy muted notes.

b) Are my chord changes and/or note changes clear and flowing? Goal: get chord transitions smooth and clean.

c) Is my timing good? Goal: develop a feel for perfect and consistent timing in everything I play. Don't speed up and slow down. All notes and chords should change consistently and in time (see tip No 4).

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The 80/20 Approach

Think of the 80/20 approach to practice: 80% of the time, make your rehearsal session structured with specific goals in mind; the remaining 20% of the time, you're free to noodle.

Because one of the most motivating and gratifying things about learning to play the guitar is to be able to play songs (who'd have thought), a smart move would be to make one of your primary long-term goals to play your first three songs all the way through.

4. Always use a metronome (+ other practice tools such as a timer and recorder)

Good timing and feel are essential codependent skills every guitarist needs to master. If you don't build up a good feel for timing from day one, playing out of time is a rather tricky bad habit to shake off.

Avoid this pitfall by always practising with a metronome.

It's a fact: If you don't use a metronome, your timing will never improve. And as you know, a guitar player with lousy timing who speeds up and slows down doesn't sound that impressive.

Nobody cares how many different licks you know or how fast you can play them if your timing is inconsistent and chaotic. It's better to play four notes perfectly in time than forty out of time.

Best Way To Learn Guitar Use A Metronome

Other invaluable practice tools include a recording device and timer you should use, along with a metronome. Record frequent progress clips during each practice session on your phone or tablet. Watch them back and critique yourself.

Don’t worry if it sounds “bad” or “ropey”, this is the whole point - you want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. This way you can quickly improve instead of making the same old mistakes over and over.

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5. Practice can get frustrating, but the rewards are worth it

You know the drill to get good at anything; it's about repetition and practice. I'm not going to sugar-coat it: practice can sometimes get frustrating or plain old boring.

Here's the deal: you have to have the right mindset to learn guitar to even a half-decent standard. In a nutshell, you have to be determined, focused and motivated. And don't fall into the trap of thinking, "Well, I'm only learning for me… for enjoyment… I don't want to play professionally or anything".

Remember this: you only start enjoying playing once you see and hear you're getting better. So, regardless of if you plan on playing on stage or to your cat at home, the more you practice, the better you sound. The better you sound, the more you love playing and banish frustration. Keeping this in mind will help you seriously improve your guitar playing.

Stick at it. Sometimes certain things can take longer than others to perfect. I promise you that you'll get there with proper practice methods. Keep the faith.

6. To learn quickly, slow down

It's not a race! If I had a dime for every time I said "slow down" to a pupil during a lesson, I'd be living on my superyacht in Monaco by now.

To play your favourite lick or song, you have to build up to it and play slowly at first. Remember, it's about how clean and clear the notes sound, not just getting all the notes played regardless of how perfect they are.

One of the best methods to follow to help you stop playing too quickly is using a metronome and practising varying between three speeds:

Slow, moderate, and faster. Most untrained guitar players think it's all about trying to play at blisteringly fast speeds. It's not.

You need to realise that it's harder to play slowly with good technique. This is because you need strength, control and finger independence (the core characteristics of good technique) to play slowly and make it sound good.

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7. You secret weapon to fast improvement are scales  

Best way To Learn Guitar Practice Scales G Major Pentatonic

Scales are a fantastic tool to help your playing improve quickly. Scales are a set pattern of notes and are the foundation to everything you play on guitar – without scales, we wouldn't have solos, melodies, and even chords. You can't get away from it. Scales are an essential part of guitar playing.

There are many benefits to playing scales. They help you build up finger strength, sharpen your ear training, learn songs faster and perfect your timing. But the good stuff doesn't happen overnight. You have to make scale exercises a regular part of your practice sessions.

Practice suggestion: always warm up with scales and have at least one session per week where you're practising only scales and nothing else. This becomes a piece of cake the more consistent you are.

Bonus Tip No 8: Don't force practice

Sometimes if you feel exhausted after a hard day's work or study and don't feel like practising, don't. You might have had a hectic family schedule, and picking up your guitar after being rushed off your feet all day is the last thing on your mind.

Sometimes it is better to take a break than to force yourself to pick up your guitar. We all have good and not so good practice weeks. Sometimes life gets in the way.

Don't beat yourself up. Just get back into it the next day/week and practice a little longer to make up for it if you feel especially guilty.

Summing It Up

So there you have it.

The bottom line is, there's lots of common mistakes you can make when learning the guitar. But you don't have to make the same mistakes other guitar players have before you.  

Re-read this invaluable list once in a while and you'll be armed with the right winning attitude and mindset that’ll ensure you get the most out of learning guitar.

So grab your guitar, and let’s get to it.

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