Bad habits are a major pain for every student who is learning guitar on their own. Unfortunately, the "Bad Habits" are too often going to be difficult to notice until they become so ingrained in your playing that it’s a struggle to remove them...
Everybody will make mistakes along the way, (nobody is born knowing exactly how to play guitar), so read through this article to make sure you aren't guilty of any of these bad guitar playing habits...
FRETTING-HAND THUMB POSITION:
This is the most common issue among beginner guitarists. Holding the guitar for the first time is awkward and it isn’t obvious at first how you should hold it. If you are a right-hander, your left hand thumb's "pad" should be placed around the middle of the back of the neck pointing upwards... generally speaking.
The issue here is that there are also times when holding the thumb in this position won't work. It could be for techniques, (like bending), or for when players are using the open position chords. In these cases, players will have the thumb reaching over the top of the neck - just slightly - to create leverage, or to compensate for the cut of the head-stock at the first position.
Other times, players will have their thumb pointing to the left along the neck of the guitar. This may occur when the player is reaching greatly along the neck (for a large stretch).
It cannot be overstated how much the thumb position will impact your ability to play guitar. When you reach your thumb over the neck as shown in the above photo you limit your hand’s ability to reach around the neck to the correct position. This makes it almost impossible to play certain chords, but allows for increased leverage when it comes to bending technique. Bringing the thumb down to the correct position gives you more room to stretch your fingers around the neck, but you loose the leverage for bends and certain vibratos.
Try holding both positions and notice how it affects the room you have to move when you reach your thumb over the neck. Whenever you hold the guitar, take a look at your left hand and make sure your thumb is the right position for the techniques you're using.
Keep checking over and over again because it can be easy to slip into an incorrect position and not even realize it.
The hardest stage in learning guitar is the very start. This period can really discourage some people from practicing and they put it off regularly. Instead of having regular times to practice, some people will only practice when ‘they feel like it’ – which is never that often.
Even short practice sessions 5-10 minutes every day will have a huge impact on how fast you learn. If you only practice once a week by the time you get to the next session you will have forgotten most of what you did last time.
Becoming a great guitarist is all about repetition: repeating exercises, drills, scales, chords, improvising, etc. over and over again until it becomes second nature. It’s impossible to memorize a song or a scale if you only practice once a week.
Pick a time everyday to practice and stick to it. If you struggle to sit still for half an hour before getting bored then start out with very short sessions. Even if you only can practice for 5 minutes a day, you will start to see progress and will start to enjoy guitar more and will want to practice more.
NEVER PLAY ON AN OUT OF TUNE GUITAR:
Most beginners don’t know how to tune their guitar properly and end up practicing with it out of tune. It could be just one string out of tune or all the strings. The problem is most beginners won’t even notice if the guitar is out of tune and will continue to practice without fixing it.
There are a couple reasons why this is bad for your progress and can develop into a very bad habit. Firstly, every time you play something your brain is going to try to remember it and learn to do it again. If you play with a guitar in tune it will remember the pitch of the notes and will learn to recognize whenever a note is out and you will be able to correct it.
On the other hand, if the guitar is out of tune your brain will start to think that the sound is right and won’t learn to recognize the real pitches. Ever heard a guitarist play something horribly out of tune and the player was the only person not cringing at the sound? That’s what happens when you don’t learn to play in tune all the time.
Another reason is that an out of tune guitar can quickly discourage you from practicing and slow-down or even halt progress. A player who plays out of tune will hear other guitarists play in tune and think to themselves “why can’t I sound as good as them?” Many players give up guitar for this reason alone.
Before you play anything on guitar, make sure it is in tune. Buy a guitar tuner and use it. Check and double check your tuning and then check it again later on. If you don’t know how to tune the guitar yet, make it a goal to learn how to as soon as possible.
It may seem strange to have ‘rushing’ as a bad habit but this is a big one for so many new players. They get so excited at the thought of playing all their favorite songs that they rush through all the essential techniques so they can get to the ‘good stuff’.
Unfortunately you can’t skip through all the essentials and expect to play what you want to play. When beginners first try to learn chords they often don’t spend the time needed to learn the chord properly before moving on to the next chord. Over time these small mistakes turn into very sloppy playing.
How good of a guitarist you become in the future completely depends on how you practice now. If you rush through your exercises, or don’t play any exercises at all, you won’t be able to develop fully as a guitarist. You may not want to learn about scales, chords or exercises when you’re starting out but ask any accomplished guitarist how important these are and you will find out they are essential.
Learning a new instrument is very exciting but you need to control yourself. Don’t skip what you think is the ‘boring stuff’ so you can get to the ‘good stuff’ because you need the ‘boring stuff’ to get there.
Take your time when learning a song and don’t try to do too much at once. Learn one bar at a time and make sure you perfect it before moving on to the next bar. A rushing player will get nowhere fast.
PRACTICE AGAINST A PULSE /BEAT:
A sense of rhythm is essential for every guitarist no matter what you do. Playing ‘out of time’ can bring many problems if the skill isn’t fixed. An out of time guitarist will never sound good no matter how good their other skills may be. Some people have trouble hearing and playing along with a beat and others don’t even think about it when playing.
Whether you want to play in a band, a duo or even just play stand-alone while you sing, you must be able to stay in time. A band will quickly become sick of you if you always lose track of where you are or don’t sync up with the other members. Even if you play guitar on your own, anybody with a decent musical sense listening will have a hard time enjoying the music if you cannot keep a steady pace.
Learning to follow a beat and play in time is a skill that is actually quite easy to learn. There are countless tools and lessons out there to help you develop this ability. The simplest tool to use is a metronome. Using this tool regularly when practicing will develop your rhythm ability until you can count the beat in your head perfectly while playing.
Spend some time every practice period that you sit down and work on rhythm skills and playing along with a metronome. Everything becomes a whole lot easier when you can follow a beat properly.
If you know what habits you need to avoid, learning guitar becomes a little bit easier. Next time you notice your thumb is in the wrong area of the neck, or you think your guitar is out of tune, you can straight away fix the mistake before it develops into a habit.
The saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ applies to guitar habits. Avoid all bad habits whenever you can. There are many more bad habits you need to watch out for but they are never as common or as severe as the five listed above. Remove these from your playing and you’re already ahead of the game.
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