Play it nice and slowly, both hands feeling relaxed, using just enough tension to get the notes ringing out cleanly.
Now pick is as fast and as aggressively as possible. Did you find that your fretting hand tensed up too? This an example of what is called sympathetic muscle tension. This is something that needs to be controlled. When you are playing in the future, try to be aware of different parts of your body (legs, back, neck, shoulders etc) unnecessarily tensing up. When you spot it, try and stop it.
This is such an important and often overlooked topic that all students at the West London School of Guitar are given an 18 week course on how to master this aspect of their guitar playing with only 5 minutes a day of practice.
Mistake 2 - Moving onto something new too quickly
Properly mastering an exercise that you are working on takes time. I find that with the exercises I work on, it can take me 2 months or more of consistent practice on the same exercise to be able to get it flowing at a tempo that I am happy with. If every time you sit down to practice, you are practicing something new, you are doing it wrong! You need to give yourself time to be able to master an exercise. Don’t be in too much of a rush to move on to something new and different just for the sake of it.
Mistake 3 - Planning your practice linearly rather than geometrically
Sometimes, some people like to try and master one subject at 100% before moving onto the next. For the guitar, this is completely the wrong approach to take. While we do want to take the time to work towards mastering an exercise, it is also important to realize that the exercise is not the be all and end all of guitar playing (unless that is the only thing you ever want to play…). This leads us nicely onto the next two mistakes…
Mistake 4 - Working on one area of your guitar playing at a time
This is a problem that arises from not understanding the difference between linear and geometric learning. There are a lot of different areas of playing the guitar that need to be worked on in order to be able to play well. You can think of it like building a house. You don’t build one wall at a time; you work on all four walls at once. A similar concept applies to learning to play guitar. To take an extreme example to illustrate the point, let us compare the practice plans of two guitar players, Shredlord A and Shredlord B:
Month 1 Directional picking
Month 2 Directional picking
Month 3 Directional picking
Month 4 Fretboard knowledge
Month 5 Chord knowledge
Month 1 Directional picking Vibrato Fretboard knowledge
Month 2 Directional picking Vibrato Chord knowledge
Month 3 Directional picking Sweep picking Chord knowledge
Month 4 Rhythm playing Sweep picking Theory
Month 5 Rhythm playing Scale knowledge Integration
Compare the two plans, and assuming that both guitar players are spending the same amount of time, focus and have the same environment (and whatever other variables you can keep the same), who do you think will be the better guitar player?
We want to simultaneously be working on a few areas of our playing.
Mistake 5 - Staying on a single exercise / topic for too long
When you sit down to practice, it is quite tempting to work on your favourite exercise for 30 minutes, then spend five minutes on the three other exercises that you don’t enjoy as much. I know I’ve slipped into doing this more than once. However, it is important to keep balance and keep your eyes on the long term prize (being an awesome guitar player). Set time limits for how long you will spend on each exercise and stick to them when you are practicing.
The only exception I would make for this is if you are “in the zone” and you’re confident that you are going to smash a new personal best for the exercise you are working on. When that happens it can be worth blowing the rest of your schedule and really going for it to make a leap in your ability. However this is the exception!
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Are you guilty of making any of these guitar playing mistakes?
Mistake 1 - Sympathetic muscle tension
Try out this exercise quickly: