8 habits to avoid when learning to play guitar


After 15+ years of playing and learning the guitar, I’ve come across certain habits that can limit your musical growth. Sometimes you simply don’t know what you don’t know and it’s helpful to hear it from someone who has gone through the mistakes.

This post covers 8 habits you want to avoid when learning to play guitar so that you’re able to make effective progress moving forward. Let’s get right into it!

1. Not learning new material

One common habit that can hinder our growth is getting stuck playing the same things over and over. Although it’s good to have material that we know well, it’s important to step out of our comfort zone to something new.

Learning new material takes more effort and time but it’s what revitalizes your playing and takes you to the next level. There is always something new that we can learn and get better at.

Whether it’s learning chords or scales, find some areas that you want to improve in and focus on them during your practice time.

Do some research to find fun, interesting material or songs that make you want to learn them on guitar.

2. Not having a structured practice routine

If you’ve tried learning guitar using different sources online, it can seem overwhelming to know what to practice on guitar. When you’re not following a plan, it can be confusing to understand how some information or concepts relate to another.

I suggest you put together a group of concepts to work on based on your skill level. Structuring your practice routine this way will help you connect the dots between different music concepts so you can see the bigger picture.

For example, you can use a format like the one mentioned in the 7-minute practice routine. I also suggest more practice routine recommendations in this free guitar guide.

3. Neglecting music theory 

Learning music theory can seem like an intimidating subject to tackle and is often neglected when learning guitar.

In the early learning stages, it may be more beneficial to work on things like technique, and learning chords or melodies. But at a certain point, learning music theory will help you understand why things work and how to navigate through different musical situations.

Being able to play music by ear is certainly good things to aim for but I believe that understanding music theory can only unlock more possibilities for musical ideas and confidence in what you are playing.

Some people may find music theory to be boring but I think that’s because they might not see how they can apply it in their playing.

To learn more, check out this post on how to learn music theory.

4. Not having an end goal in mind

Having short and long term musical goals of where we want to be can help us focus on what is important and what isn’t. Also, you may only have a limited time to practice depending on your schedule, so clarifying your goals will help you use your time wisely.

For example, if your short term goal is to learn a certain guitar arrangement, you can cut some time down working on scales. Or if your goal is to learn to improvise over a blues progression, then maybe working on sight-reading is not the priority at the moment. 

It’s good to be specific about what it is that you want to learn. Take some time to think about this and write it down to help you head in the right direction.

As much as we may want to master a variety of skills on the guitar, we have limited time and energy. Zone in on very specific areas that you want to improve in to get the results that you are looking for.

5. Getting ahead of yourself

If you get ahead of yourself by moving on to new material too quickly or that is too advanced for your current level, you may find yourself feeling frustrated. This can also lead to not giving yourself enough time to know how to apply the information on your instrument.

Especially if you’re in the beginning stages of learning guitar, you don’t want to be rushing through and missing out on developing the fundamental skills.

Be honest with where you are at and take your time to absorb new learning material before moving on to something new.

It helps to follow structured learning material like an ebook or course so that you know what the next best thing to practice is rather than working on something that is beyond your skill level.

6. Not learning entire songs

Although it’s common to learn bits and pieces of songs, we ultimately want to be able to play full songs. When the opportunity arises, it’s nice to know a full song we can share at any given moment. 

Although developing skills such as technique, chords or scales is important, it doesn’t mean much if we don’t know songs to apply them.

If you want to learn some new songs, here is a link to sheet music with guitar tabs.

7. Not reviewing material

As you continue to learn material it may be just as helpful to review older material. 

When reviewing older material, you’ll often find new things to learn from it or hear things in a new way after you’ve progressed in your music skills. 

Although it’s helpful to have a compilation of resources that you’ve saved and are looking forward to learning later, also make an effort to review older material, whether it’s an improvisational concept or a song you learned a while ago.

8. Comparing yourself to others

It’s great to learn from other musicians and hear how they come up with their ideas. This should motivate us to develop our craft and get inspiration. We don’t have to get discouraged by comparing our learning journey with someone else’s. On the contrary, I would encourage you to learn and play with people that are better than you.

At the same time, we don’t want to think we are better than someone else and when possible, we should share with others who want to learn from what we do.

We aren’t running a race or competing with other musicians. We can simply stick to how we can improve and enjoy the process of playing and learning at our own pace.

Wrapping up

Avoiding these habits is easier said than done but it’s good to be aware of them so that you don’t waste your time on the path to getting better. Here is a recap of the 8 habits you want to avoid when learning guitar:

  1. Not learning new material
  2. Not having a structured practice routine
  3. Neglecting music theory
  4. Not having an end goal in mind
  5. Getting ahead of yourself
  6. Not learning entire songs
  7. Not reviewing material
  8. Comparing yourself to others

You may also want to check out these 6 tips to improve your guitar playing.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best, 

JG

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