Learning to play an instrument well is a challenging endeavor, but it is within your grasp. While there is no short cut to overnight success, there are longer and shorter paths. Take note of the common pitfalls below in order to steer toward the shorter paths.
1. The “roadrunner” trap – if there is any one thing I could wave a magic wand and change, it would be to magically require you to slow down during practice. I mean this in two regards. One is to physically slow down your hand motions during practice, to a point that you can play whatever you are practicing well. The other regard is from attempting for instance complex solo phrasing that is beyond your current ability to manage the mental aspects of complex phrasing. Many aspiring guitarists tend to attempt exercises at speeds that are beyond their capabilities. Remember, you are going to play what you practice. Sloppy practice = sloppy playing. Practice slowly with good note articulation, two-hand coordination, and mental focus. Speed up as your increased mastery permits you to play accurately and intelligently at higher speeds. Sometimes it is needful to focus specifically on speed, and at those times it is useful to attempt speeds beyond your current skills. At all other times, practice within a tempo that allows you to play well!
2. The “review” trap – one of the most prominent challenges of mastering a musical instrument or even a specific song is simply remembering all of the information. However, remember you must if you wish to make progress. I spend a lot of teaching time reviewing previously taught concepts because I cannot move forward until the previous material is sufficiently mastered, since the new material builds on the old. Review is an essential part of learning, but it can become excessive and even predominant if a student is constantly forgetting previously covered material. The easiest way to avoid this trap is for you to do review on your own. If it is on your practice schedule or in your lesson materials, make sure you know it by routinely reviewing it during your practice time.
3. The “half-done” trap – one of my former teachers Tom Hess was fond of quoting this old musician’s maxim: “Amateurs practice enough to get it right. Pros practice enough to never get it wrong.” When it is time to play you will need all of your mental focus on playing. If you are struggling with simply remembering the next chord, the timing of the next chord change, the next phrase in the solo, or getting your hands to make the required movements. then you will be distracted from the constant application of finesse that you need to make great music. So learn the chords and scales for whatever type of music you wish to play, memorize the songs you wish to play, and practice the required physical techniques until they work. Granted, this is easier said than done, but you can speed up the process by focused repetition. If you are a hobbyist musician then you may not have time to practice until you “never get it wrong”, so you will have to strike a balance. Then focus on a clearly defined set of goals and do all you can to master the things required to meet those goals.
4. The “overplaying” trap – for intermediate level guitarists one of the most common areas of weakness is the tendency to want to throw everything they know, and at supersonic speeds, at every solo. Some of the most widely acclaimed guitar solos are also quite simple. For example, many guitarists regard David Gilmour’s second solo on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” as one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded. This solo consists of slow to medium tempo Minor Pentatonic scales with a lot of repetition, yet it does indeed sound fantastic. It is a great example of playing to fit the context. When you are developing your solo phrasing do not strive for maximum speed. Instead, strive for maximum impact of every note. Practice simple eighth note phrases with good timing relative to the song rhythm, good resolving choices, well-executed bends, and a carefully controlled vibrato. When you can do these things fluently then you will be ready to move on to more complex phrasings. Until then … less is more!
If you suspect you are struggling in any of these areas then take some time during your next practice session to adjust your routine so that you avoid these common barriers to progress.