What To Do When Your Guitar Playing Hits A Wall

How To Overcome Guitar Practice Challenges

One of the most common situations you will find yourself in during the process of improving your musical skills is the scenario of facing a certain obstacle in your guitar playing and feeling clueless on how to overcome it. Your ability to find a solution to the problems you face in your guitar practicing will make all the difference between you becoming the guitar player you want to be and you joining the unfortunate majority of guitarists who either give up playing their instrument completely or settle for being less than they can be as musicians.

The good news is that if you have both of your hands operating properly it means that you can learn to solve any guitar playing problems you encounter. Although it isn't realistic to suggest a single cookie-cutter method for overcoming all conceivable problems on guitar, there ‘are' some proven steps you can take that will get you closer to finding the solution that you need for the problem at hand. The next time you feel your guitar playing becoming stuck, apply the 5 steps listed below to jump start your progress:

1. Get Specific
In order to effectively approach any guitar problem or challenge you must first get crystal clear on exactly WHAT it is you need to fix. As common-sense as this advice sounds, I get daily emails from guitar players who describe their guitar challenges with vague phrases such as: "I am bad at improvising" or "I can't improve my speed" or "I need help with rhythm guitar". Until you learn to get A LOT more specific in pinpointing exactly where and how your problem appears in your guitar playing there is virtually no chance for you to correctly fix it. In addition to the obvious reason for needing to know "what" the problem is in order to work on it, breaking down a much bigger issue (such as general difficulty with improvising) into a series of specific and smaller tasks will make it a lot less overwhelming to practice towards mastering them. When doing this step in the process of solving your guitar problems, fill in the blanks of the following sentence: I have difficulties with (put guitar/music skill here) whenever I (describe a precise musical situation here).

2. Magnify the difficulty
A seemingly counterintuitive problem solving technique for guitar (which is nonetheless HIGHLY effective) involves taking a challenge that you find difficult to overcome and think of a way to make the difficulty even greater. What this will do is force you to pay greater attention to coming up with the most effective way of solving this issue and most importantly it will make the original problem feel much easier than ever before (by comparison).

Doing this involves being creative to think of how to place extra restrictions or difficulties upon the passage you are trying to play that isolate the main problem you are facing. To check out several specific ways of applying this practicing technique into your guitar playing, watch this free video about practicing guitar correctly.

3. Put Your Thinking Cap On
Even though we typically think about music as a creative art, the process of improving your ‘guitar playing' (especially in the area of guitar technique) is largely dependent on the foundational laws of physics, body mechanics and common sense. Quite often you might face what appears to be a total inability to play something on guitar that can easily be solved by paying attention to notice a single ‘minor' adjustment needed in your technique. Even the more creative aspects of your musical development can be broken down into sets of concrete skills that can be analyzed and improved by thinking through the problems you have in each one.

As an example, if you are practicing a lead guitar phrase that you are not able to play cleanly, consider how each of your hand moves (and how it ‘should' move), find the breakdown in the efficiency of your technique and analyze the picking and fretting hand motions. Use your common sense to determine how your hands need to move in order to avoid a specific mistake or to make your guitar playing sound clean. If you want to see how this technique can be applied to an actual guitar playing/musical example, check out this free video about playing chord changes on guitar.

All of that being said, it would be a mistake to fall into the extreme of "overthinking" the issue at hand. Some guitar players fall into the self-imposed trap of analyzing a certain detail of their technique to the point where they become so paralyzed that their practicing becomes counterproductive. Keep in mind that your actual objective is to be able to play what you want to play (first and foremost) rather than making your guitar playing ‘perfect'. As long as you are able to make your guitar playing sound the way you want, then your practicing efforts are successful.

4. Put your guitar playing challenges into appropriate categories
It is important to realize that not all of your guitar playing problems need to (or can) be solved immediately. As a result, it is best to place them into 3 general categories so that you can use your limited guitar practice time most effectively. These categories can be labeled similar to the following: "Immediate Action" (referring to problems that you can completely solve ‘right now'), "Intermediate Term" (indicating that you can take action on the problem but you won't be able to solve it in its entirety right now) and "Problems To Deal With Later" (meaning that a particular guitar playing problem is a long term one and it isn't possible to try to fix it right now, since your current musical skill level will not allow you to solve it).

Set aside the majority of your practice time into focusing on the guitar challenges placed into the "Immediate Action" and the "Intermediate Term" categories. At the same time, continuously work on learning more about practicing and playing guitar in order to advance your general skill level as a guitarist so that you can transition to working on the items in the "Problems To Deal With Later" category and completely remove them from your guitar playing for good.

5. Believe in your potential and refuse to give up
Always remember that the greatest musicians managed to successfully solve their guitar challenges NOT due to being born with better "guitar playing genetics" but rather because of their habits of consistently applying the techniques listed throughout this article. When your guitar playing seems to be improving slowly, always remember that your next powerful burst of progress may only be 1 or 2 guitar practice sessions away from where you are now. All it takes is for you to not give up and have the courage to take one more step while applying the most effective guitar practicing approaches (such as the ones I shared with you here). If you study with a guitar teacher or use another very effective and proven resource for learning guitar, your rate of progress will become even faster and more predictable.

When you consistently follow all of the tools that I shared with you in this article (and in the included video demonstrations at the links above) you will find yourself feeling a lot more confident about your potential to become the guitarist you want to be and you will enjoy the process of reaching your goals a lot more along the way.

Mike Philippov is a professional guitar player, recording artist and guitar/music teacher. His guitar practice columns about learning to play guitar are read by guitarists worldwide.

His instructional music web site PracticeGuitarNow.com contains advice for guitar players on overcoming the most common problems faced when learning to play guitar.

Mike Philippov