Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced guitarist you always practice to 'get it right'. When you use an effective guitar practice approach, you gain a lot of confidence and excitement for your improvement. However, if you are like most guitarists, this excitement fades over time and is replaced with a fear of making mistakes once you are faced with the challenge of playing on stage or recording your own music. This is when you get into trouble.
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 guitar player anxieties keep good guitarists from pushing through to the next level to become 'great'. 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.
How was he able to move beyond his fears? More importantly, how can you do the same to become a better guitarist and take your musical skills to the next level?
Guitar players frequently feel 'more' insecurity in their playing as they become more advanced because they continually practice in order to 'get it right' rather than 'never get it wrong'. Here is the difference between these two types of practice and how it affects 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 this:
Regardless of whether or not you plan on playing live or recording, you still need to integrate the skills you learn together with other techniques so you can use them to do things like play great solos, create songs, etc. You must stop practicing things in total isolation (a common practice mistake made by most guitarists), and start creatively combining them together with other techniques. For example, once you learned a new rhythm guitar riff, you should practice using it in combination with other techniques in a variety of musical scenarios (using different rhythms, tempos, harmony, etc.). You also need to know the best way to use this riff in an actual musical context vs. just as an exercise. Learn how by watching this video about the best approach to guitar practice.
Note: You might have to practice a specific item in each of the above contexts (or possible just one or two) depending on your unique goals with each item in your practicing routine.
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 small details in this free recording guide for guitarists. Study it, and work to improve these areas on a continual basis.
To practice guitar for live performance, you need to prepare for the scenarios that occur most during your live shows by simulating them in your practice. Some of the most common things to prepare for include: playing while walking around, playing in dim/no lighting, tuning out distractions, playing while others watch you, playing outdoors and playing on with various types of guitars and amps. Of course, there are more things that can be added to this list. Once you've made your own list, incorporate it into your practicing time.
When you take anything that you've merely learned to 'play right' and played it in the scenarios mentioned above, you will often begin making mistakes. This is a good thing, because it helps you understand what you should be working on in your playing to 'never play it wrong' in any given situation.
Practice putting yourself into each of the scenarios above and so you can gain confidence playing in them. The more you practice in this way, the better you will get at it.
Here are the steps you must follow to integrate the above elements of effective guitar practicing into your playing:
Step One: Clearly understand your biggest musical goals. Don't put this off! Start now by reading this article about how to achieve musical goals.
Step Two: Find out how everything you practice takes you closer to your ultimate goals. (for help, use this article about choosing the best guitar practice exercises) 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. Learn how to organize guitar practice.
Step Four: Constantly ask the question: "What is the main goal or scenario in which I will use this skill or music in my guitar playing?" so you can move towards your goals and go beyond playing something 'right' to 'never playing it wrong'.
Once you have applied the above steps into your guitar practice routine on a consistent basis, your fear of making mistakes will vanish. In its place will be a greater level of self-confidence and enthusiasm as you get closer and closer to reaching your ultimate musical goals.
Learn how to organize guitar practice to get big results in your playing.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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