5 Common Beginner Guitar Mistakes | tonebase Tips

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” — Zig Ziglar

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5 min readMar 5, 2020

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Being a beginner at anything is an exciting but scary prospect. We are suddenly delving into a world that we know we know nothing about, often not even where to start!

But being a beginner doesn’t have to be a negative, this is a period in our lives where we are most open to new information and most likely to learn good habits. Hopefully this post can help you avoid 5 common mistakes and get you started on the right track!

Mistake #1: Not being open to all methods

Every teacher has their system, things that they have tried and tested and eventually settled on because it worked for them, but we must remember to be open to all methods that are available to us.

Be it learning scores and tablature even though your teacher says its only important to focus on reading scores, learning to read music and to play music by ear, even though your teacher says you won’t need to use your ear, to sight read and to improvise even though your teacher says those situations won’t come up.

Developing skills for ourselves is so important in our musical journey, we need to know what is out there instead of just following what our teacher says. We must listen carefully and trust the person who is guiding our learning, but ultimately we must find out for ourselves the systems that work for us.

Mistake #2: Not being vocal about personal goals

As a teacher, it’s our job to help a student get where they want to be with an instrument. But the most common situation, and one that makes teaching so difficult, is that students don’t let on about their personal goals for fear of them being silly and instead expect the teacher to lead their progress without any hints at possible dreams.

Lots of us have been culprits of this — “I’ve been playing guitar for a year now and I still can’t play X” — when probably we have never even mentioned to our teacher that ‘X’ is what we want to play, or at least work towards.

Allowing your teacher to be totally responsible for your trajectory is only fine if you really don’t have any idea what you want to learn aside from the instrument. But if you have any piece/event/goal in mind at all then don’t be afraid to mention this in the beginning so that your teacher can help you work towards it!

It makes your life and the teacher’s life a lot easier, and avoids future resentments and regrets.

Mistake #3: Feeling shy about asking questions

I’m sure we have all fallen victim to the fear of asking a question in case it makes us appear stupid, but get in the habit of asking questions when you are at the beginning of your journey.

It makes your teacher’s life easier because they can get a better idea at the things you need more explanation/help on and it sets you up early with good habits and develops your muscle for curiosity.

However silly you feel your question might be, just remember, your teacher has been at the beginning once as well, they know what it feels like to be completely new to something, they aren’t there to judge you.

Mistake #4: Falling into traditional practice habits

When we first start playing an instrument, we may well be aware of one of the major questions that people ask musicians around us — ‘how many hours a day do you practice?’ usually met with a laugh, smile and the answer ‘around 4/5 hours’.

The time issue is so strange, our own teachers may even prescribe a timed amount of practice to us — ‘I want you to work for thirty minutes a day on this’ — but in reality, timed practice is one of the worst habits we can get into, especially when we are starting out.

We should learn to work towards little goals, perhaps a passage that needs cleaning up, a certain finger movement that we can’t get to grips with, a piece that we want to be a certain speed.

Goal based practice perhaps doesn’t feel that important when you first start playing an instrument and just want to enjoy the feeling of playing, but try to incorporate efficient practice into your schedule early on to save yourself amazing amounts of time later on.

Mistake #5: Playing through pain

We may have seen the calloused fingers of other players around us and thought ‘wow they really must be dedicated’ but we should learn early on in our playing life that pain is not an indicator of good work.

In fact, at even the hint of pain or fatigue in a hand, finger or any other part of the body we should stop playing and take rest.

Pain is an indicator of technique that isn’t working for us, and pushing through that pain to keep playing is only cementing the habit and opening us up for serious injury.

If you have just started you may often feel fatigue in your hands, but listen to your body, playing through fatigue is a sure fire way to develop unhealthy habits that could also lead to major injury.

Develop your playing length slowly without pushing through fatigue. A lot of playing music is dealing with intricate movements that your body has not had to produce previous to this, so take care of yourself and trust that your muscles are developing without you having to force it!

After all, playing music should be a totally enjoyable experience. We need to set ourselves up in the best way so that we can have as much fun as possible!

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About The Writer — Rosie Bennet

Born in London in 1996, Rosie started playing guitar at age seven. She received her early musical education at The Yehudi Menuhin School of Music and went on to study with Zoran Dukic (The Hague, NL), Johan Fostier (Tilburg, NL), Rene Izquierdo (Milwaukee, USA) and Raphaella Smits (Leuven, BE). She has performed in festivals all over Europe, including Open Guitar Festival in Křivoklát, Czech Republic, Glasgow’s Big Guitar Weekend, Scotland, Porziano Music Festival, Italy and the West Dean guitar Festival, UK. Highlights of her concert career include performances at Wigmore Hall, London, The North Wall, Oxford and concerts given on El Camino De Santiago.