12 Things That Could Be Harming Your Playing

guitar playing

It’s good to take a step back once in a while and be objective about your playing so here’s a list of things that may be stopping you from achieving greatness on the guitar, or at least slowing you up a little.

1. Compulsive Purchasing of Instructional Material

If you have enough instructional material to fill a small village library, something’s not quite right. At the end of the day there’ll be certain books or videos that you’ll come back to again and again; these are the keepers. Sell the rest on eBay as those shiny, seductive covers will only distract you from the books you’ll actually get something out of; TAB books are probably the worst distractors of all as in the long-run your valuable practice time will be better spent learning to play the guitar and developing your own style, unless you need to play covers on a regular basis.

What’s the damage? Too much material and too little learning going on.

2. Compulsive Purchasing of Gear

No amount of gear will make you sound like your guitar heroes and besides, gear is superfluous to the sound coming from your fingers. If you want to work on your sound, work on your technique. I used to revel in the challenge of getting a good sound out a cheap and nasty guitar. So next time you see a battered up, bargain bin guitar with the strings a full inch off the fretboard, shell out for that instead of spending your hard-earned cash on yet more gear.

What’s the damage? Not working on the most fundamental area of your sound: your fingers.

3. Playing Everything You Know Instead of Practicing

You know the situation: you pick up your guitar with best of intentions to learn something new and you end up going on a voyage of self-indulgence; don’t feel too guilty, it’s okay to do this from time to time, especially if you’re not gigging regularly. Two things that shape and focus your practice time are: having long and short-term goals or having a project or upcoming gig to prepare for.

What’s the damage? Great for the ego but not so great for learning.

4. Choosing Inappropriate Material to Learn

Choose material that is a little bit above your current level as if it’s too easy you’ll get bored, and if it’s too hard you’ll get frustrated. Commit to seeing a piece through to the end, in other words, start what you finish. Don’t be one of those guitarists that can only play the first four bars of anything.

What’s the damage? Unfinished projects, frustration and a lack of achievement.

5. Too Much Lead Guitar

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years it’s that great lead players are also great rhythm players. Developing a good sense of rhythm will give your lead playing a wider dynamic range and far greater control. Moreover, rhythm playing inevitably involves chords and will help draw your fingers to chord tones much more easily when soloing.

What’s the damage? Unbalanced playing and a lack of skills in an area of guitar playing you’ll be doing 90% of the time.

6. Listening to Only One Genre

Even if you’re a die-hard fan of one genre it’s good to listen to others as they can be a great source of inspiration. I’m not really into country guitar playing but I’ve swiped countless licks from this genre, the great thing being that when put in a rock or blues context, they don’t sound country at all.

What’s the damage? Narrow-minded perspective on music.

7. How Low Can You Go

Having the guitar slung at about knee height may look cool but does untold damage, especially to your wrist and back. I find the ideal strap length is just a little shorter than you think, or where the muscles in both your picking and fretting hands are relaxed and comfortable.

What’s the damage? Unnecessary strain on the back and wrist.

8. Tune Your Guitar

This goes without saying but you’d be surprised at how many gigs I’ve been to where the guitarist hasn’t actually tuned his guitar properly – don’t be that guy.

What’s the damage? Your audience reaching for their coats.

9. Slowly does it

When learning something new it’s essential that you play it at a speed where you’re not making even the slightest mistake and gradually build it up. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re learning a fast passage, but it pays dividends in the long run as what you’re really developing here is control.

What’s the damage? Sloppy technique.

10. Distortion on 11

Having the distortion set to where even a gentle breeze causes scandalous amounts of feedback is not advisable. If you need a ton of distortion by all means crank it up but try controlling it with the volume knob on your guitar as this will all but eliminate any unwanted noise.

What’s the damage? Feedback and general unwanted squealing noises.

11. Never Practicing Lines

This is something that’s often misunderstood by guitarists especially. If you already know the scale pattern, stop playing it as a scale and start playing some lines. Once you have the pattern off of the page and into your head it’s time to make some music; if not it becomes merely a technical exercise and you begin to develop muscle memory and consequently ruts start to appear in your playing. I created the 2 Position System with this in mind as with only two patterns per scale to learn, you get to the making music part faster.

What’s the damage? Improvisations that sound like scale patterns.

12. Overplaying

All guitar players are guilty of this to some extent. A good way to know if you’re overplaying is to go by the expression on the bass player’s face; if there’s wincing or frowning going on then you know you need to tone it down a little.

What’s the damage? Not contributing to the tune and probably not listening to your band-mates.

Please leave a comment below to add to the list.

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