How To Solve Your Guitar Playing Problems Easily And With Minimum Frustration

by Tom Hess


How-To-Solve-Guitar-Playing-ProblemsOne of the most frustrating experiences you can go through as a guitarist is to realize that your guitar playing problems are caused by years of incorrect practicing, bad guitar instruction and bad habits.

The second most frustrating thing is to begin learning a new technique or concept that changes everything about how you play guitar and makes you feel like you must ‘start over’ with many aspects of your playing.

Bad news: If you’ve hit a long-term plateau in your guitar playing, it’s likely that you WILL need to go through the above experiences (often more than once) in the process of getting your guitar playing back on track towards acheiving your musical goals. This is particularly common among self-taught guitarists who are most likely to develop bad habits without realizing it (since they have the worst and the least experienced teacher guiding them - themselves!). I see it all the time among new guitar students who come to me for lessons after trying to teach themselves for years.

Good news: You can GREATLY minimize the frustration involved in going through the process above by changing the way you think about fixing bad guitar playing habits and applying the concepts I describe for you below.

Having taught thousands of guitar students over the last 25+ years, I’ve seen (and helped my students overcome) just about every guitar playing problem imaginable. Here are a few examples of bad habits (and the guitar playing problems that result from them) that I helped many of my students solve:

  1. Highly ineffective practicing approaches that make the process of learning guitar so much more difficult than it should be and often make it impossible to reach your goals fully. I discuss what some of those bad practice approaches are (and how to fix them) in this guitar practice video.
  2. Horribly inefficient picking hand technique - either resulting from years of training sloppy picking hand movements or using an inferior picking system for playing guitar (or both). See an example of this in this video about increasing guitar speed.
  3. Using terribly crippling approaches to visualizing the guitar fretboard, such as the CAGED method - the worst possible system for learning scales and chords on guitar. All the problems caused by CAGED are too numerous to list here, but in virtually all cases this system puts severe limitations on your ability to improvise and be creative when soloing. It’s extremely frustrating for students (and for me as their teacher) to have to spend so much time undoing these very preventable foundational problems, but once it is done, my students always THANK me for helping them become vastly better musicians.
  4. Untangling a knot of sloppy guitar technique habits that develop from spending decades playing with excessive tension and lack of finger independence in the fretting hand.

Although the above problems are just ‘examples’ and the specific problems you may have in your playing could be totally different, there are several common things that everyone must do while attempting to fix any bad habits in their guitar playing. These steps will ensure that you go through this process with the least amount of frustration and get back on track towards your guitar playing goals as quickly as possible.

Here is what you need to do:

1. Get excited as soon as you become aware of a deeply-rooted problem in your guitar playing, because you are about to become a better guitar player! Even if part of you is now depressed because whatever you ‘thought’ you knew about playing guitar turned out to be wrong, realize that at this point your musical skills have nowhere else to go but UP. Instead of settling for mediocre guitar playing or hopelessly wondering why you are not progressing as fast as you want, all you need to do is fix the specific issue(s) you have identified and your playing will improve with 100% certainty. That is cause for celebration!

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2. Get very specific. To completely eliminate a foundational problem in your guitar playing, you must:

  1. Identify ‘clearly’ what the problem is (take these guitar playing assessments to get clear on the most important problems that exist in your guitar playing)
  2. Understand Why the problem or bad habit is holding back your guitar playing
  3. Know what specific steps you must take to fix the problem
  4. Understand how/why the steps needed to fix the problem will ‘actually’ solve it
  5. Visualize how much better of a guitar player you will become once the problem is solved

All 5 points above are critically important (and the assessments mentioned above will help you to get clarity on all of them). In order for you to become motivated to go through the work involved to fix a deeply-ingrained bad habit, it’s critical to understand not only ‘what’ the problem is but also WHY it is preventing you from making more progress on guitar. In addition, visualizing how much better your guitar playing will become after the problem is solved is key to ‘sustaining’ your motivation through the process of reaching that goal.

Most guitarists only attempt to focus on points A and C above, ignoring B, D and E - making it more likely for themselves to burn out long before completely reversing their bad guitar playing habits. Read this article about musical burnout to learn more about this issue (and find out how to prevent it from happening in your guitar playing).

3. Work on one problem at a time. It is common to feel ‘mentally paralyzed’ if you suddenly discover that you have a number of bad habits that you never realized you had and it may feel like you need to ‘start over’ with your guitar playing in order to solve them. This is not true and there is no reason to feel this way.

Going back to point 1, remember that becoming aware of a problem in your playing simply tells you the exact things you should do to become a much better guitarist. This is true even if the problems you have are severe and are deeply ingrained in your technique/practicing habits. So instead of feeling helpless and mentally paralyzed, simply get organized, create a highly effective practice schedule (use this guitar practice schedule generator if you need help with this) and treat the process of reversing your guitar playing habits in the same way you would approach learning any new skill in your guitar playing.

This leads to my next point:

4. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to fix all your problems/bad guitar playing habits immediately. This means do NOT put all of your other guitar skills ‘on hold’ while you work on fixing a certain problem or correcting a bad habit in your guitar playing. Doing so is a hugely common mistake that I see guitarists make all the time. Instead, set aside a portion of your practice time to improve whatever area(s) of your playing need to be improved, but continue to develop your other musical skills during the rest of your guitar practice time. To learn more about why it’s a huge mistake to focus ‘too much’ on any one area of guitar playing, read this article about making more progress on guitar.

5. Don't try to overcome your bad guitar playing habits on your own. It should be obvious that if you didn’t have enough experience to foresee and prevent bad habits from developing in the first place, you also lack the knowledge needed to effectively fix them yourself. Find a truly experienced guitar teacher - one who knows how to help guitarists like you to reach their guitar playing goals and study under his guidance to improve your guitar playing. Read this guide for choosing a guitar teacher to learn how to do this.

6. Surround yourself by a support group of guitar players who will assist you through the process of transforming your guitar playing. In addition to the obvious support you will receive from such a peer group, such an environment will increase your own intrinsic motivation and put greater positive pressure on you to fix your bad habits and improve your musical skills much faster. I know this to be true because I have seen this happen hundreds of times on my own private student forum where my students interact with each other in just such a network.

7. Stay patient and persevere. When you first begin the process of reversing deeply ingrained bad guitar playing habits, your body and your mind will try to pull you back into the old/comfortable way of playing and practicing guitar that resulted in the exact problems you are facing right now. To avoid this, you must focus on the end result you want to achieve in your guitar playing at all times. (This is another reason why it’s critical to have the clarity I described in point 2 above.) Read this article about perseverance for guitarists to learn more about this issue.

Now that you understand more about how to transform deeply ingrained bad habits in your playing, take these guitar playing assessments to identify the most pressing problems that hold back your musical progress. After doing this, begin to follow the process described in this article to solve them. As you begin to apply these steps to your practicing and see results from them, you will feel a much greater sense of empowerment to achieve any goal you want in your guitar playing!


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