4 Pitfalls to Avoid When Learning Guitar

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Learning how to play the guitar is a blast! Everything is a mystery and every day is a new revelation!

guy with guitar at laptop

But learning and practicing guitar can also be frustrating. We need to understand that frustration is not something external, we create it ourselves. If we can create it, then we can surely beat it too. You can call it lack of patience or in some cases lack of dedication. As guitar players, we find ourselves stuck, some days it feels good while on other days it just doesn’t. Most beginners love their weekend practice sessions, until they realize after a few weeks that they are not making any progress, that they lack focus and decide to call it quits.

It’s because they forget their last lessons easily and the techniques learned never become second nature which leads to boredom and frustration. Some of them call it quits while others continue to follow the pattern.

Here are 4 frustrating pitfalls that you should avoid:

  • Don’t try to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Trying to learn too many things will psychologically mess you up. Instead, make sure you fully learn something before moving on. The thing you are learning (barre chords, scales, licks) should be second nature.
  • Don’t learn from guitar teachers or players that are only interested in showing off their skills. Guitar is not a competition. And these people will make you feel like it is. Which will make you feel bad about your playing and start the cycle all over again.
  • Don’t continue with the weekend sessions. Most beginners start that way and it is just not good enough. You must practice daily. No excuses. Otherwise you will lose interest, forget what you learned prior to last week, skip a session or two and all this will lead to inconsistency. Being inconsistent will lead to frustration. Fight it with passion. Don’t let that fire die down.
  • Stop comparing yourselves to others, especially your chosen idol. People like to talk about their skills and this can demotivate you or worse, frustrate you. Understand that everybody has to start somewhere, each one of us has a different learning speed, not all are made equal and you are not Slash! So take it easy on yourself and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

What you should do instead:

girl learning guitarPlaying and practicing are not the same. You may think you’re putting in a lot of hours on the guitar. But the real question is – are you really practicing or are you just playing? You might know what I am talking about here. Playing guitar is just that – you play your guitar without learning new techniques or developing new skills. You just kind of refresh your old licks and songs. Practicing on the other hand is when you learn something new, refine or rediscover something old; find a new meaning out of a long forgotten lick or perfecting that trick you picked up some time back. The idea is to keep moving forward.

(Quick Tip For Beginners: Your fingers are going to hurt and hurt like hell. But this is ok. This is normal. After sometime the skin will toughen up and your hands will get used to the pain. This is also called muscle memory. The human body is incredible!)

What is important is to remember why you are here. Is it because you eat, drink, and sleep music? Are you learning guitar to impress other people or are you learning to just get better? Don’t lose sight of your goals. Always have a plan. This will help you fight frustration like nothing else. It will motivate you to work not only harder but also smarter. And working smarter is the key to progressing faster on guitar!

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These Might Just Be The Best 10 Tips For Guitar Players Ever

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In my capacity as a guitar teacher I hear lots of excuses, including the time-worn “I don’t have the talent.” Talent, schmalent. While we can’t all be Hendrix, you can get pretty damn close if you follow these basic guidelines:

1. Learn the notes on the fretboard

There’s a lot of them but you don’t have to memorize them all at once. Start with the open strings – EADGBE (top to bottom) — and use a mnemonic trick. I like “Eddie and Dave Got Bad Eggs.” If you go from bottom to top, try “Every Bad Girl Deserves an Eggplant.” Once you’ve got that, move on to the first four frets on each string. Play each string slowly and say each note out loud, from the top (bass) string to the bottom. After those are memorized, you can move to the next four frets. This chart will help:

Why learn the notes? For a myriad of reasons, Grasshopper.

  • You can communicate better with other musicians.
  • You’ll understand theory better.
  • Most importantly, you’ll play in tune.

If you’re playing an F note in your solo and the song is in the key of G, your audience’s ears will bleed. If you know the names of the notes, you’ll know where that pesky F lives so you can avoid it and save the hearing of millions of people.

2. Learn the sound of chord types

Start with the difference between a major and a minor chord. You can hear the difference between an A minor and an A, right? Without diving into too much theory, I’ll tell you that a minor chord has a flatted third. That’s what gives it that dark sound, perfect for a change in mood. Other chords have their own associations. A seventh chord has a blues feel. They also sound great at the end of a phrase, especially if you go to a major chord after that. Ninth chords are perfect in jazz and sometimes as a transition in other styles.


If you usually play a minor chord in a song, what happens when you substitute a major? Ninth? Becoming familiar with different chord types will help you figure out the chords to a favorite song. It’s also a great tool for songwriters.

3. Listen to a variety of styles for inspiration

Okay, you’re a metal head. Did you know that Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne) studied classical music? Maybe you’re into classic rock – did you know that in the early days the Beatles were a skiffle band, a form of folk music? That’s where that picking pattern in “Blackbird” comes from. So, raid your little sister’s music collection and play along to that Shawn Mendes tune. You don’t have to love it and I’ll bet you’ll learn something. Or see what your girlfriend’s Bob Marley mix has to offer you. What happens when you play a reggae strum for a pop song?

Magic, that’s what.

4. Learn how to hum and play simple melodies

Ignore the advice you got for grade school choir. Ear training is possible for even the most tuneless singer. Start by playing one note and singing it. Once that sounds pretty good – and it may take a few tries — try for two notes, then for more. Record yourself and see how you’re doing. Have someone with a good ear listen to you. Once you’re better at singing a melody you’ll be able to look at that challenging section of a guitar solo. Hum it slowly and match the notes on the guitar. It can also help you compose an original lead part or figure out what chords go behind a melody. I once worked with a record producer who sang the bass player his notes (albeit in a different octave); we ended up with great arrangements. Keep in mind that being able to sing doesn’t mean you have to be your band’s lead singer, it’s simply a tool.

5. Play music and not just scale exercises

If you’re a soccer player, you don’t want to spend hours kicking the ball into the net. Yawn. Same thing for guitar. Find a song you really want to learn and even if you can’t yet play all the riffs, slow it down and figure it out. Or learn from one of the great teachers at JamPlay. Or, if you’re a songwriter, write a song you can hear in your head but can’t quite play. It’s one of the ways I became a better guitar player — I kept writing songs I couldn’t play. Scales are still good but learning within the context of a song will make you remember why you picked up the guitar in the first place.

6. Learn to play slowly and in time

If I had a nickel for every time a student came to me and played too fast and with lots of mistakes, I could retire to a villa in the South of France and fly in Bonnie Raitt for private lessons. When you play too fast, you’ll make mistakes. Guaranteed. And muscle memory is a pesky thing — your fingers will play those mistakes over and over again. Play the piece slowly and correctly. Play it with a metronome on snail speed. Once you’ve mastered that, kick it up a couple of notches. Play it again. Keep playing it at increasing speed until the mistakes start to creep in, then stop. The next time you practice, do it again, starting at something slightly above the snail setting. While I’m yammering on about rhythm, I’ll tell you that it’s important to play with a metronome. No one wants to hear a guitarist who speeds up and slows down. Your fans will love you and your band’s drummer will quit throwing her sticks at you.

7. Learn songs in different keys

I once wrote a country song in the key of F, unusual for that genre (unless you’re playing with a capo). While I hated myself for the first few weeks, I got really good at a barred B flat. Expanding your chord knowledge will make you a better player. No one wants to jam with a guitarist who can only play in C.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others

Everyone’s seen that video of the little Korean kids playing the complicated classical piece. Don’t look at that and throw up your hands. You don’t know what torment those kids endured. And likewise, don’t watch a great Jeff Beck solo and think, Why even try? Maybe you should start on something more accessible. There are lots of JamPlay videos that can help you with that. At some point, maybe you can tackle that Beck solo and if you don’t, the world won’t end. Pardon me while I give the special snowflake speech but you are unique. No one plays exactly like you.

9. Record your practice sessions and listen back to them

What we hear in our head is not always what actually comes out. If you’ve ever been in a recording studio, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I once recorded with a guitar player who was a half beat behind everyone else and we didn’t notice it until it was time to mix. Expensive mistake. If you record your practice sessions, especially if you can do it with a metronome, you can better evaluate your timing. It’ll also help you remember that improvised solo that was so good in the moment. And you can mark your progress. Listen to that recording from six months ago and pat yourself on the back because you finally mastered those Stevie Ray Vaughan licks.

10. Learn something new every day

If you’ve been playing the Beatles for thirty years, it’s time to branch out, even if it’s learning one new chord. Are you mostly a country player? Look up ninth chords. They’re fun and who knows, they might sound good in that Dolly Parton song you just learned. Are you a rocker who can’t fingerpick? Learn one fingerpicking pattern. Just one. Practice it every day and soon, you’ll be playing “Blackbird.” And yeah, I’m back to the Beatles but maybe it’s time to try that new distortion pedal — what would “Blackbird” sound like with that? All right, Hendrix Junior, follow these tips and quick coming to me and whining about talent. With enough sweat and stellar attitude, you’ll master whatever you want on the guitar.

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Barre Chords Unlock 1000s of Songs on Guitar

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Quick! Play a G sharp chord. I’ll wait …

It’s easy to come up with a G chord but sharp chords can be more elusive unless you know barre chords.

Before you run screaming from the room, stay with me.

Barre chords are gifts from the gods and they can really benefit your playing. And it’s like anything else with guitar – start slowly, practice, and keep an open mind.

I’m a 58 year old woman with arthritis and I can play a barre chord. Not to shame anyone but if I can do it, so can you.

Follow this list and I guarantee before long you’ll be making barre chords like a rock star.

1. Pick out a song you already know that has a G chord

(we’ll deal with that sharp chord later). You probably already know this G chord – it’s an open chord:


Now we’ll move on to a G barre chord. Here’s the shape. You’ll notice it looks like an E chord only you’re using your index finger like a capo. Put this shape on the third fret:


2. At first, the barre chord will sound like crap.

Be okay with crap. Be one with the crap because eventually, your hand will become stronger and more flexible and that chord will sound clear.

3. Now play that song with the G.

Every time that chord rolls around, play the barre chord. It may take you a few seconds to get the shape, just breathe and do it. It’s not super hero time – you don’t have to play the entire song with barre chords, just the G.

4. It may be uncomfortable but it shouldn’t hurt.

If it does hurt, stop and play something else for a while, then go back to it. If it still hurts, go pet the dog, read your email, and try again. Breaks are good, especially when you’re asking your hands to do something they’ve never done.

5. Practice. Rinse and repeat.

6. Now to that G sharp – use the same shape and move it to the fourth fret.

Voila! G sharp. It works for lots of other chords, too.


7. You can also do cool muting and other rhythm tricks with barre chords.

Jim Deeming explains how to play barre chords with very little finger pressure in this video:

These chord shapes unlock thousands of songs on guitar because you can play 120 chords with just 10 shapes.

Now go to it, rock star.

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Are You Making These Guitar Practice Mistakes?

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There’s a big lie that guitar players tell themselves.

Have you ever gone to play something on guitar that you could play a few days ago but it sounds like complete crap now? … like you can’t even play guitar.

It’s depressing. And nothing will de-motivate you more than feeling like you aren’t making progress. Newbies love noodling on their guitar without focus for hours… until they realize they’re going nowhere. Then they tend to give up.

Good guitar players know that not all time spent playing guitar is equal.

2 hours of random noodling on Saturday is NOT the same as 20 minutes a day of focused practice. I’ll confess… I used to be a weekend noodler too. I think most self-taught players are… and it’s because no one ever told us the truth …

Here’s What Not To do…

Some guitar players think that learning as much as you can about HOW to do things is how you get good. Of course, the more techniques, licks, and songs you know… the more well-rounded you’ll be. But as a beginner or intermediate player, you don’t have that luxury. You’ll end up taking a very long time to be the jack of all trades, master of none. Guthrie Govan says “Whatever you’ve learned becomes truly useful to you only once it has become second nature.” It’s that second nature part that most people never get to because they move on to the next thing too soon. Like I mentioned earlier, I struggled for years with practice and wondering why I couldn’t progress past a certain point. Then in 2008 I took a job at JamPlay and my eyes were forced open.

What working for a guitar education publishing company has taught me…

The late night noodle fests, long weekend sessions were not what these guys did to get to a world-class level. It had been there all along and I just couldn’t see it because of how stubborn I was. There were fundamental things they did that I did not do. And once I started doing what they did, that’s when the magic started happening. I learned that getting a goal and purpose forces you to focus on solving problems systematically. And that solving problems in your playing is the only way to progress fast. For example, in the past I would play a solo I learned all the way through and gloss over the fast ascending run at the end. I could play 80% of the solo note-for-note but the problem was the fast bit.

Now, I understand that I don’t need to practice 80% of a song or solo, just the trouble spots. So instead of practicing the entire solo over and over for 20 minutes, I now just practice the trouble spot for that 20 minutes. Can you see how that forces you to improve? It’s not something that only elite guitar players understand. There’s an old principle I recently learned about. It’s known by a few different names … the “80/20 rule” or the lesser known “Pareto Principle” (learn about it on Wikipedia).

Basically it states that 80% of the benefits comes from 20% of the effort. It applies to most things in life including guitar playing. “Practice your worst skill until it’s your strongest … and your playing will improve drastically” -Steve Eulberg

It’s important that you always remember that your practice sessions aren’t supposed to be jammed full of every technique and concept under the sun. They should be systematically upgrading specific skills to accomplish your goals. Focused DAILY PRACTICE, not weekend marathons is the best way to get good at guitar.


Action Steps:

  • Avoid procrastination by getting a solid goal with your guitar playing.
  • Once have learned something, master it by using focused practice.
  • Focus your practice by working on problem areas and weaknesses that are holding you back.
  • Avoid noodling and limit practicing things that you’ve already mastered.
  • Hold yourself accountable by tracking your progress. (Download our free practice template here.)
  • Don’t just learn songs and move on. Use the 80/20 principle and hone in on the trouble spots.

If you do these things you will see a big difference in your playing in a short amount of time. And that progress will keep you motivated to continue practicing… which is how you get really REALLY good at guitar.

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3 Ways to Effortlessly Transition Chords: Guitar 101

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In order to effortlessly transition chords you need to do 3 things:

1) Change your mindset on guitar chord fingerings. There usually is more than one way to finger a chord and you’ll need to memorize the common ones. These alternate fingerings help you with the next part which is…

2) Understand that it’s these alternate fingerings of chords that allow you to switch chords with the least amount of finger movement. That’s the trick to chord changes.

3) Taking a few minutes to observe a given chord progression you’re working on. Now you can strategically choose the appropriate chord fingerings for maximum efficiency of movement. Orville gives a few examples in the video.

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Guitar Lesson: Doobie Brothers Long Train Runnin’

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JamPlay instructor DJ Phillips breaks down the individual guitar parts, as well as the harmonica solo for this classic tune. In this video, DJ will demonstrate how to play the main electric guitar part of the song. To learn the transcribed harmonica solo as well as the acoustic accompaniments, check out the lesson on JamPlay linked below.

Main Riff For Long Train Runnin'
Main Riff For Long Train Runnin’

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Guitar Lesson: Learn a Blues Turnaround in 2 Minutes!

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Learn how to play blues guitar with this simple 2 minute lesson on the most used turnaround in blues! Download and print the guitar tabs below for even more variations!

Blues Turnaround Possibilities

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How To Read Guitar Tab

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What Is Tablature?

Tablature (tab) is a system of writing music for the guitar. It makes reading music easier and more convenient for guitarists than standard notation. On the guitar there are many different frets that will produce the same pitch, so when reading standard notation there can be some ambiguity on how to play a written part. Tablature shows the player exactly where to play a given note on the guitar.

How to Read Tablature

There are six horizontal lines written. Each line represents a string on the guitar. The top line represents the 1st string and the bottom line represents the 6th string. When there is a number written on the line, it represents a fret. Play the fret corresponding to the number on the string corresponding to the line. For example, if a there is a 5 on the top line, it is referencing the 5th fret on the 1st string. If there is a 0 on the line, it means to play the open string. Chords can be written by stacking numbers on multiple lines in the same spot.

Note Variation

There are different ‘effects’ that can be given to notes you play on the guitar, and there are ways to indicate different effects for a note in tablature.

Vibrato is when you wobble your finger to make a vibrating effect on the note you are playing. The tablature symbol for vibrato is:

Vibrato Symbol
You may also see it written as a series of connected ‘v’s.

To bend a string, play a note and then push/pull the string to the side with the finger that is holding the note. This will smoothly increase the pitch a small amount. The tablature symbol for a bend is:

Bend Symbol
You may also see it written as “b”.,,

A pre-bend is when you bend the string and then play the note. A release is when you smoothly move the string back to the original position, like a reverse bend. This technique is notated as:

Your Turn

It is very important to practice and become skilled at reading and writing tablature. To start, play a random sequence of notes and then write them down in tablature. It doesn’t matter if the notes sound musical or not. The goal is just to develop a better understanding of how tablature works. After you have practiced writing notes you have played, do the opposite. Write a random sequence of notes in tablature and then play them on your instrument.

How to read Guitar Tab

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