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How To Practice Guitar: Eliminating Mistakes

Tom HessRegardless of how good of a guitarist you are, you share the same common objective with all other players while practicing: ‘To get it right’. When you are practicing guitar correctly, you will eventually gain the ability to play things exactly as you want. This will make you feel a rush of excitement – which is awesome – except for one thing… as you become a better guitarist, this excitement will often transform into fear. When you want to take your guitar playing to the next level (such as playing on stage) you become scared of making mistakes. This is when major issues begin…

It’s an unusual, but frequent occurrence that a guitarist who has made huge improvements to reach a high level in his playing is ‘afraid’ of making mistakes rather than ‘excited’ become an even better player. These devastating guitar playing anxieties discourage intermediate guitarists from working hard to take their skills to another level. These same anxieties can even ruin the potentially successful music careers of really great guitar players.

For example, I have a student I’ve been helping develop a music career who just got the opportunity to be part of a band and tour throughout many countries in Europe. Until recently, he had been preparing his whole life for this exact situation, but he almost missed out due to a fear of not being ‘good enough’. Once I confronted him on this issue, he began to understand the reasons why he felt the fear that he did. I then trained him to practice guitar in a much more effective manner than how he had been practicing before. I’m glad to say that he overcame his fears, met with the band and has been having the time of his life on tour while becoming the ‘rock star’ he always dreamed of becoming.

So how was he able to overcome his fears and succeed? And how can YOU do the same so that you get better and become a great musician?

The reason why guitar players become insecure about their playing as they advance is because they practice with the mindset of ‘playing things right’, vs. to ‘never play them wrong’. Here is how these two mindsets differ and what it means for your guitar playing:

Practicing To ‘Get It Right’ – everyone must go through this phase while working on something new. At first, your goal is to merely learn the notes and gain confidence in your ability to play everything correctly. The majority of guitarists get ‘stuck’ in this phase of practicing and think all their mistakes will just go away on their own after a while. This simply is NOT the case! You will only master something in your playing once you take it to a higher level of practice, such as the following:

Practicing To Never Get It Wrong’ – After you learn to play something in sterile isolation (such as in the sterile environment of your practice room), you must start practicing ‘for the real world’. To do this, you must become ready to perform on stage, make recordings of yourself and mix various guitar playing skills together. Once you are able to play something ‘right’ you need to ask yourself: “In what situation do I want to use this new skill?” This answer will help you understand how you should be practicing to fully master the skill you are working on and ‘never play it wrong’.

Here are some examples of how to practice guitar in this way:

Practice Guitar For Playing Great On Stage:

To become a great live guitarist, you must be familiar with the scenarios that occur most often while playing on stage and prepare for them in your guitar practice time. Common examples include: standing up and moving around while playing, playing without being able to see your instrument, playing with distractions, staying in control of your playing without worrying about making mistakes in front of others, playing guitar in different types of weather and playing with equipment you aren’t accustomed to. Of course, this does not cover everything – simply use these ideas to make your own list to work on while practicing.

When you take anything you can ‘play right’ and try to play it in any of the situations above, you will usually crack under the pressure. It’s great for this to happen during your practice, because then you know precisely what needs to be improved in your playing so that you never get it wrong in the actual situation.

As you practice, repeatedly put yourself in the scenarios above and start building your confidence to make your playing become more reliable.

Practice ‘Recording’ As A Separate Skill:

Most guitar players never work to improve their recording skills because they hate hearing themselves make mistakes over and over (causing them to lose confidence in their playing abilities). As soon as you ‘thought’ you learned how to play a lick, recording yourself will expose all kinds of mistakes that you usually weren’t aware of. Everyone goes through this, you’re not the only one.

To improve your recording skills, you need to do the following: Start working on ‘recording’ as a separate skill to be mastered in your guitar practice time (record using both audio and video). Work on playing/recording something ‘perfectly’ in only a few tries. This will drastically improve your ability to perform well in recording situations.

Additionally, learn all the ins and outs of making a great recording by mastering all the subtle nuances that most people don’t pay attention to. I explain these guitar playing nuances in detail in this free guitar player recording guide. Study it, and work to improve these areas on a continual basis.

Practice Integrating Your Musical Skills

Even if you aren’t going to be playing live or recording anytime soon, you still need to work on using your skills with other techniques as well as in ‘musical’ situations (such as guitar solos, songs, etc.). To do this, you need to stop practicing skills in isolation and start combining them together with other techniques. For instance, after you learn a new scale sequence, you should be practicing it together with other techniques, fast and slow, and with a variety of different rhythms. You also need to learn the best way to apply these sequences into a musical context. Study the ideas in this video about the best way to practice guitar to learn more about this process.

Depending on your unique goals with each item in your guitar practice routine, you will have to practice it in each situation above or perhaps just one or two.

How To Use This Information:

Here are the steps you must follow to integrate the above elements of effective guitar practicing into your playing:

Step One: Clearly understand your medium and long term guitar playing goals. Get started on this by reading this article about building musical goals.

Step Two: Understand how everything you practice helps you reach your ultimate goals. (use this article about choosing the right guitar exercises for help on this) Don’t waste time practicing things that don’t really matter!

Step Three: Don’t work without using a guitar practice schedule that will help you get the very most out of your practice time. Use this guitar practice routine generator.

Step Four: Always seek the answer to this question: “What is the main objective/scenario in which I will use this practice item or music in my guitar playing?” This will keep your guitar practice in line with your highest goals and help you make the transition from ‘playing it right’ to ‘never playing it wrong’.

When you integrate the ideas in this article into your guitar practice on a regular basis, you will stop being afraid of making mistakes and start practicing with confidence and excitement as you begin realizing your ultimate musical goals.

Learn how to use a guitar practice routine generator to get the greatest benefit from the time you spend practicing.


About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional recording artist, composer, and expert guitar instructor. He teaches and trains guitarists on how to create a guitar practice schedule and helps them become great musicians in his online rock guitar lessons. Visit to receive additional free guitar playing resources and read more guitar articles.

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