TOP 3 MISTAKES THAT SELF-TAUGHT GUITAR PLAYERS MAKE AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

 

By Jon Chorba

 


If you are a self-taught guitar player and are feeling frustrated but don’t know why, or if you are trying to decide whether or not you should try to teach yourself guitar, I understand your situation completely and would like to help you understand the reasons why you are frustrated (or what you should be cautious of if you decide to teach yourself guitar) and to help you overcome them.


When I first started playing the guitar and for many years after, I was a self-taught player. I had a cool older brother, who taught himself to play and he had a band that was ripping out Metallica and Guns N Roses like it was nobody’s business. It was the epitome of cool and I wanted it, so I followed the same self-taught path he did. I had also heard that a lot of famous guitar players teach themselves, so I just assumed that’s how everybody does it. I spent the first few years picking up bits of information from various sources. I’d learn a lick from a magazine, a song from a friend, a scale from a video, etc. I thought I was getting pretty good until I started jamming with other musicians who were way better than me, but yet had been playing for a similar length of time. Feeling the need to improve so that I may match my peers, I started to practice really hard. I was devouring guitar magazines and tabs left and right and was staying up all night playing until my fingers bled! No joke, there was bloodshed! A few months went by and I did not feel as if I was getting any better despite putting in a lot of hours in the woodshed. While I was obviously frustrated at my lack of improvement I was even more frustrated with the fact that I had absolutely no idea why the things I were working on didn’t improve my guitar skills. It wasn’t until I started studying with a great guitar teacher that my past frustrations became evident and now that I teach a lot of former self-taught players, I am much clearer as to why these frustrations occur and how to avoid them. Here is what I have learned.

 

1) Not Knowing Where to Begin or What to Work On

BEGINNERS: The path of frustration for the beginner self-taught player begins with the question, “where do I start?” I recently asked a few of my students who started out as self-taught players what their biggest concern was when they began to teach themselves and about 90% of them said that it was their complete cluelessness on where to begin! Chords or finger exercises? How about learning songs, could you do that right away? Which songs are easy and which are hard? Do I need to be able to read sheet music? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

 

WHAT TO DO: In all honesty, my best advice is to save yourself a whole lot of time and frustration and look for the best guitar teacher in your local area. If you are that stubborn, however, and you are dead serious on teaching yourself and are not entertaining the thought of getting a good teacher, then I would recommend for you to get a remedial understanding of how to read Guitar Tablature (you can learn here) and then start learning simple melodies and riffs from some of your favorite bands. Some examples of easy melodies and riffs are:

 

Come As You Are - Nirvana
Ode to Joy – Beethoven
Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple

 

INERMEDIATE/ADVANCED: The intermediate/advanced self-taught guitar player usually reaches this first point of frustration when they examine their current playing ability and come to the conclusion that it is lacking in some way. So, they decide to really buckle down and get better. The problem here is that the self-taught player typically picks a very broad topic to improve on, like “getting better at soloing” and they think that improving that very broad skill involves one or two specific exercises. What they are missing is that a topic like that has many aspects to it and improving upon it can’t be boiled down to one specific exercise to work on.

 

WHAT TO DO: Write down your goal and then below it, write down all of the things that you can think of that go into that skill. For instance, if your goal was to improve your soloing you may need to work on the following areas:

-Left and right hand technique
-Memorizing Scales and Scale Sequences
-Fretboard memorization
-Music Theory
-Vibrato
-Ear Training
-Application of licks/scale sequences over chord progressions/backing tracks

 

2) Not Knowing How To Practice Effectively

Once you have a clearer picture on what you need to work on, the next step is organizing your practice sessions. A key thing to remember is there is a MAJOR difference between playing your guitar and practicing guitar. When you play your guitar, you are doing it for fun. You may noodle around, play along with songs you know, improvise some riffs and basically just wander from one thing to the next. (I know that when I was teaching myself, I just did whatever I felt like when I “practiced”). When you practice the guitar, you have a plan laid out for what techniques/skills to work on, how long to work on each technique/skill, and what goals you want/need to accomplish for that practice session.


Think about any sports team from high school to professional. Do they just show up to practice, wander around aimlessly, and work on “whatever they feel like?” Of course not! The most successful teams have regimented practices with crystal clear objectives that will give them the best chance to win when it comes time to play. Approaching your guitar practicing with that kind of mindset sets you up to win. Winning in this case means accomplishing your guitar playing goals.


WHAT TO DO: Break down your goals into 2 categories: Short Term Goals and Long Term Goals. Then, highlight which areas of each list you are strongest in and which areas you are weakest.

From your list, create an alternating daily schedule that allows you to work on your short and long-term goals simultaneously, while making your weak areas strong and your strong areas super strong. I suggest an approximate 60-40% split between your short-term and long-term goals. An example 1 hour schedule of the above may look something like this:

 
 
 
 

Short Term Goals

 
 
 

Long Term Goals

 
 
 
 
  1. 1)  Improve Sweep Picking

  2. 2)  Improve Legato

  3. 3)  Improve Rhythm Guitar

 
 

1) Songwriting 2) Improvising

 

 
 
 
 

Day 1

 
 
 
 

Day 2

 
 
 
 
 

Day 3

 
 
 
 
 

Day 4

 
 
 
 
 

Day 5

 
 
 
 
 

Day 6

 
 
 

Day 7

 

Sweep Picking

 
 

20min

 

20min

 
 

20min

 

20min

 
 

30min

 

Legato

 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 

Rhythm Guitar

 
 

20min

 
 

20min

 
 

20min

 

20min

 
 

Songwriting

 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 

20min

 

Improvising

 

20min

 
 
 

20min

 
 
 
 

20min

 
 

30min

 

TIP: Don’t like regimentation? Add 10% of Free Time into each day of practice. You could save that free time as a reward for yourself at the end of each practice or you can split it up in-between each exercise to keep it fun and fresh.

3) Lack of Perseverance and Not Tracking Your Progress