Top 5 Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid

When you’re just starting out learning and loving to play guitar, your mind is racing with all sorts of new information and new things to remember.  How to position your guitar, how to read sheet music or tab, how to play a G chord……. the list is seemingly endless.  While it’s important to remember that there is tremendous fun and excitement about all of this newness, it’s also very common for new guitarists to pick up some bad habits that can slow down or limit your progress.  Your friends at Learn Love Guitar would hate to see you stumble into any of these common pitfalls, so this blog is intended to share our Top 5 Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid, including:

  1. Not Tuning Your Guitar Before Playing
  2. Holding Your Guitar Pick Improperly
  3. Having a Poor Practice Routine
  4. Not Recording Yourself Playing
  5. Not Developing Rhythm or Timing

Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid #1:  Not Tuning Your Guitar Before Playing

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “there are two certain things in life….death and taxes”.  Well for guitar players, there is a third certainty: tuning your guitar.  Unlike death or taxes, this is not something to be fearful of because tuning your guitar is very easy and only takes about a minute or so.

I strongly recommend that you make it a firm habit to quickly tune your guitar each and every time you pick it up to play.  Guitars usually don’t go out of tune too quickly.  So if you play frequently, you may find that only a couple strings need a minor adjustment before you’re ready to play.

Playing in tune will simply make your guitar sound how it was designed to perform.  The pitches of the notes and chords you play will have the opportunity to sound how you expect them to.  And this will help you to develop a better sense of your notes being played correctly or incorrectly.

There are many different tools available to tune your guitar, and none of them are bad choices.  The four most common methods are:

  • Built-in tuners on acoustic-electric guitars
  • Stomp-box style pedal tuners for electric guitars
  • Clip-on tuners for any type of guitar
  • Digital tuner apps available in any smartphone or tablet

Check out my article on guitar accessories which covers each of these tuners in greater detail.  And my accessories gear guide provides recommendations on my favorite tuners in both pedals and clip-on varieties.

Learn.Love.Guitar. Recommendation:  When tuning any string on your guitar, always start by bringing the note flat (down in pitch), and then raising the pitch up until the correct tuning is found.  This method of “tuning up” will help to ensure greater longevity of your strings staying in tune.


Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid #2:  Holding Your Guitar Pick Improperly

how to hold a pick to play guitar

As the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words.  The image above shows you the proper way to hold a pick.  A few key points to take away from the image are:

  • Only use your thumb and index finger to hold the pick
  • Only the pointy end of the pick should be protruding from your fingers
  • The tip of the pick should be pointing roughly perpendicular to your thumb and directly toward the strings

Learn.Love.Guitar. Recommendation:  Try to follow these rules closely.  I’ve seen too many guitar players use three fingers to hold a pick, or hold it in a different orientation because they think it feels more comfortable.  While it may feel more natural at first to break the guidelines provided, it will eventually limit your ability to progress, specifically in terms of picking speed.


Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid #3:  Having a Poor Practice Routine

To become a proficient guitar player, lots of things have to come together.  Your finger dexterity and strength needs to improve, you must learn how to read basic standard music and guitar tablature notation and you have to have the eye-hand coordination to read the notes with your eyes while playing the strings with your fingers at the same time.

All of these skills will put your brain and body on sensory overload, so it’s best to attack the process in frequent short bursts of effort rather than infrequent long marathons. In other words, practicing for 20 minutes a day 6 days a week will end up producing far better results than playing for 120 minutes once a week.  It’s the same number of minutes, but your brain can only process so much information at one time.  After a while the additional time you’re putting in is no longer “sinking in” and if you wait a long time between practice sessions, you have to “re-learn” for a time just to get back to the point where you left off.

It is also important to remember that 10 minutes of focused practice is more effective than 20 minutes of distracted practice.  So when you do sit down to play, give the session your undivided attention.

Learn.Love.Guitar. Recommendation:  Another effective technique is to mix-up the type of guitar playing during each practice session.  So instead of working exclusively on strumming patterns one day, and then single note scales on another day, you’re much better off practicing strumming for 10 minutes, then moving into scales for another ten minutes during the same session. The same principle of additional effort not sinking-in described above applies even within a single practice session.


Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid #4:  Not Recording Yourself Playing

When playing a scale or a song, your ears are listening to the music in real-time and your brain is imagining the correct tones that are supposed to be coming from your guitar. This can lead to a biased impression of how good (or not so good) your sounding.

With the smartphone that is either in your pocket or within arms reach, use it to record yourself playing guitar.  Then listen to what you recorded with a critical ear.  Are all of the notes ringing out clearly?  Are the pitches of the notes being played correctly?  Is the music being played keeping time with the beat?

Learn.Love.Guitar Recommendation:  You might be surprised and/or disappointed by what you hear, but it will give you some clues as to what skills you need to work on.  And trust me, bruising your ego will be well worth it when your able to correct your flaws and improve your sound!


Beginner Guitar Mistakes to Avoid #5:  Not Developing Rhythm or Timing

Speaking of keeping time with the beat, it is very important for beginning guitar players is to work on their timing.  Even if you’re able to easily snap your fingers or tap your foot to the beat of a song, it’s a whole different story when you’re the one making the music.

Playing chords, scales or melodies along with a song that has a defined beat is a good place to start. You might find for example that it is really hard to make the necessary chord changes in time to stay on the beat. This is a very common issue for beginner guitarists and usually gets better with improved finger dexterity and muscle memory.

Learn.Love.Guitar. Recommendation:  When you’re just practicing guitar by yourself with no other accompaniment, consider a metronome to help you improve the timing and precision of your internal clock.  Once again, your smartphone is a great tool to use in assisting you in keeping time. There are dozens of free and perfectly functional metronome apps to choose from.

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