Not Getting Better at Guitar? Avoid These Traps
If you feel like you’re not getting better at guitar, it can quickly drain your motivation.
While making sure you follow best practices is important, it’s also important you avoid traps and mistakes that can hold your development back.
In this guide, let’s look at some of the most common traps guitarists fall into and how they can stop you from improving your guitar skills.
After you make sure you avoid these traps, read this guide for 16 ways to get better at guitar.
Trap: Playing Without Purpose
This is one of the most common traps guitarists fall into and most guitarists don’t even realize they’ve fallen for it.
Its the mindset of “just play”.
A lot of guitarists think that just picking up the guitar and jamming is enough to improve their skills.
If your idea of practicing is playing through songs you’ve already learned and loosely jamming for a bit, then don’t expect to get better over time.
Some guitarists will pick up the guitar and noodle around while sitting on the couch watching TV. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this for a bit of fun, it won’t help you get better.
How to Avoid this Trap
It’s perfectly fine to pick up your guitar and just have fun. Just don’t count that time as time spent practicing.
Practicing is when you focus on developing specific skills and overcoming weaknesses in your playing.
Set aside time for a dedicated practice where you focus on specific skills or topics.
By the end of a real practice session, it should almost feel like a workout for your mind. You should feel a bit tired from all the concentration and focus.
If you really want to get better at guitar, only focused practice will work.
Trap: Comparing Yourself to YouTubers
YouTube is a great source of helpful lessons, useful insights, and great covers. While you can learn a lot from YouTube, it can quickly turn into a trap that can ruin your motivation.
Comparing your guitar skills to what you see on YouTube is becoming one of the most common reasons why beginners and intermediate guitarists give up.
I’ve had new students over the years come to me after being frustrated that they couldn’t play a song as well as their YouTube idols. Even advanced guitarists would fall into this trap and feel like they sucked at guitar because their technique wasn’t as clean as what they’ve seen from people on YouTube.
At the same time, I’ve seen guitarists who feel that they’re superior because they can play a song better than somebody on YouTube. That’s just as bad because it stops you from pushing yourself forward.
If you want to get better at guitar, you need to stop comparing yourself to YouTubers.
It doesn’t matter if there is a 9-year-old Chinese girl who can shred better than you (there is). That’s great for her and it should motivate you to keep practicing.
It also doesn’t matter if you can play something better than a popular YouTuber. A big ego will definitely stop you from improving (covered later).
There are two extra reasons why you shouldn’t compare yourself to YouTubers:
1. YouTubers don’t show the bad takes or hours of dedicated practice
When you see a video of a song playthrough, keep in mind that you’re seeing the best take (or takes). You don’t see the countless times the person had to stop and start again due to a mistake.
Most YouTubers want to show videos of flawless technique, so they carefully edit and choose the footage that paints them in the best light.
Many ‘playthrough’ videos are actually multiple takes edited together to look like one take.
This is a problem for anybody watching because it suggests that they always play with flawless technique.
You also don’t see the countless hours of working on a song before their technique is polished enough to record it.
Key point: the videos you see on YouTube are the end result of a lot of hidden work and practice.
2. Some YouTubers ‘Fake’ it
While this has been going on for a long time, in 2019 a lot of drama broke out about ‘fake’ videos as people started realizing that quite a lot of YouTubers use editing tricks to make themselves look better than they really are.
Some of the editing tricks YouTubers use include:
- Recording the song at a slower tempo and speeding it up in editing
- Recording multiple takes and camera angles and editing it together to look like it was one take
- Exporting Audio from Guitar Pro and miming
- Miming along with a previously recorded take
The point to keep in mind is that a lot of the performance videos you see on YouTube aren’t completely genuine.
If you compare your skills against one of these videos, you’re going to feel discouraged.
Key point: don’t compare yourself against YouTube performances. A lot of the time you’re not seeing an authentic performance.
Trap: Not Working on the Boring Bits
Everybody wants to jump right into playing songs and ripping up impressive solos.
Who would want to spend time working on boring finger exercises, learning about music theory, or memorizing new scales?
An important part of becoming a great guitarist is to recognize that not everything you should practice will be fun.
If something is important, you should work on it – even if it’s not fun.
A lot of beginners put off learning scales because it’s boring to learn. The problem is, by putting off learning scales, it slows your progress down.
If you avoid learning scales, you’ll struggle to learn to improvise, write melodies, or learn songs that rely heavily on specific scales.
I’ve had students over the years who have come to me asking for help because they plateaued.
When I would ask them what their practice routine looks like, there were always big gaps. When I asked them why they didn’t cover certain things (eg: practicing scales), they would reply “oh I don’t want to learn that stuff”.
The things you avoid working on may be exactly what is holding you back.
How to Avoid This Trap
Think about the topics, techniques, or skills you don’t want to work on or avoid for any reason.
Now put your reasons for avoiding those topics to the side and think about what the potential benefits could be if you worked on them.
Here are some examples of common topics some guitarists avoid and reasons why they’re worth learning:
- Scales: makes improvising easier, helps you learn solos faster. Scales give you more freedom over the fretboard
- Barre chords: allows you to play a large number of chords all over the fretboard without memorizing a lot of chord shapes. A lot of songs can only be played using barre chords
- Music theory: helps you understand music in a deeper way. Gives you useful tools you can use to write your own music
- Finger exercises: improves your finger dexterity and ability to stretch. Speeds up how quickly you can learn complicated riffs or solos
You can avoid this trap by focusing on the benefits of working on any boring topic.
If you’ve been avoiding something, try to forget about how boring it is and focus on what it can do for your abilities.
Trap: Developing an Ego
Guitarists tend to be competitive. Get a bunch of guitarists in a room and you’ll quickly see people comparing skills.
The upside of being competitive is that it can fuel you to practice harder. I know when I was a teenager that part of the reason why I practiced so hard was due to being competitive.
But there’s a downside to being competitive.
If you let your competitive nature let you develop an ego, it’s game over for your future progress.
A guitarist who feels they’re better than everybody else has little motivation to keep pushing themselves forward.
Why bother practicing hard for hours when you’re already better than everybody else?
This is a common trap for advanced guitarists. I’ve seen some advanced students hit a plateau without realizing it. They start to think that they’ve mastered the guitar and stop practicing.
Then their skills start to degrade and they become sloppy.
How to Avoid This Trap
If you ever catch yourself comparing yourself to another guitarist and you feel you’re better than them, take it as a warning sign.
As soon as you start to feel like you’re better than other people, it can quickly turn into a roadblock for your future progress.
It doesn’t matter if you’re better than 80% of guitarists. Your only real competition is yourself.
Be better than you were yesterday and aim to be better again tomorrow.
Trap: Not Having a Plan
It might sound cliché, but if you don’t have a plan, how are you expected to improve?
If you don’t feel like you’re improving, then ask yourself whether you know what you should be working on.
If you know what you should be working on, then the problem is motivation. If you can figure out how to motivate yourself to practice, you’ll improve.
If you don’t know what you should be working on, then the problem is that you don’t have a plan.
A lot of guitarists plateau because they don’t have a plan on how to keep improving.
How to Overcome This Trap
You don’t need to have a detailed plan to become a better guitarist. You only need a basic plan that helps you work towards your goals.
To figure out a plan, start by looking at what you want to be able to do on guitar.
If your goal is to play a certain song, start by taking a look at the chords, scales, and techniques used in the song.
Then you can figure out which techniques you already know and which you need to learn or improve.
Work backward and you can figure out a plan on what you should work on to help you learn that song.
If you don’t know what you want to be able to do on guitar, take a wider look at different guitarists or music genres and pick out different things that interest you.
Once you know what you want to be able to do as a guitarist, you can work backward to figure out what needs to be done.
Trap: Avoiding Other Styles of Music
One of the reasons many guitarists get stuck in a rut is because they strictly limit themselves to one style of music.
While there isn’t anything wrong with really liking one style of music, it can quickly become a problem if you’re trying to improve as a guitarist.
I briefly experienced this trap when I was a teenager. I would only listen to and learn metal songs. I mistakenly thought that if I focused completely on one style of music, I would master it.
After reading a lot of interviews from metal guitarists that inspired me, it became obvious that all of them were inspired by guitarists across a lot of styles of music that weren’t metal.
Once I started opening myself up to other styles of music, my metal songwriting skills improved.
I became a better metal guitarist once I started to listen to other styles of music.
How to Overcome This Trap
If you currently only listen to one style of music or you dismiss other genres as trash, then you’re missing out.
There’s something we can learn from every style of music. One style of music isn’t superior to another.
To overcome this trap, start by finding out what styles of music your idols appreciate. Listen to interviews and you might be surprised by some of the outside influences that formed a key part of the music you listen to.
Allow yourself to listen to other styles of music with an open mind and try to find something you can learn from other styles of music.
Listen to songs from blues, country, metal, classical, pop, jazz, funk, and other styles and try to find something from each style you can take any apply to your preferred style of music.
If you give this a try with a truly open mind, you might be surprised by what you can learn from other styles of music.
Trap: Not Practicing Regularly
Your practice habits play a massive role in your progress as a guitarist.
It’s probably no surprise that if you don’t practice, you won’t improve.
So all you need to do is rack up the hours spent practicing and you’ll improve, right?
As explained in this guide on how long should you practice guitar, the way you practice makes a big difference in your progress.
Some guitarists will have a big 3+ hour practice session once a week, then wonder why they’re not improving.
Other guitarists will practice for only 10 minutes every day and make massive improvements over time.
The biggest mistake you can make if you want to improve as a guitarist is to not practice regularly. If you only practice once every few days, you’re not going to be able to improve.
Now that you know what common traps to avoid, read this guide for 16 ways to get better at guitar.
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