Are you a beginner on the guitar? Did you start at 0 recently, or have you been playing for a very short time? Then keep reading, that this article can be very useful for you.
- 5 Technique Errors Every Guitar Beginner Should Avoid
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- Mistake #1: Turning the fingers of the left hand unnecessarily
- Mistake #2: Pushing the strings when you step on them
- Mistake #3: Sticking your hand on the lid of the guitar
- Mistake #4: Tilting the hand up
- Mistake #5: Tilting the tone down too much
5 Technique Errors Every Guitar Beginner Should Avoid
I have been offering guitar lessons to students of various ages – from children to seniors – for nearly 20 years. Each type of student is a world apart; no two are exactly alike. However, despite the fact that each student has different needs, I have been able to detect a number of technical errors that are often repeated in many of my beginning students.
On the other hand, I know that many of the readers of this blog are self-taught guitar students. Although it would be ideal to have the personal assistance of a teacher, many people are not able to do so for a variety of reasons.
For those reasons, today I want to share with you the 5 most common technical mistakes that, from experience, I have seen in beginner students. If you are just starting with the guitar, and you are on your own, I think it will help you a lot to know these mistakes, so that you don’t make them.
Ready? Then let’s go to the mambo.
Note: When I use the terms “left” and “right” when talking about hands, I do so by taking a student whose dominant hand is the right one as a model. If you are a lefty, remember to reverse the terms when reading this article.
I will start with 2 very common mistakes in the left hand.
Mistake #1: Turning the fingers of the left hand unnecessarily
I decided to start with this mistake because it’s the one I find most often among beginners. It consists of playing with the fingers of the left hand (the hand that steps on the strings on the fingerboard) turned or leaning towards the body of the guitar.
Mistake #1 Fingers turned or tilted
What is the problem with this position?
That by tilting your fingers like that, you’re taking away extension from fingers #3 and #4 (ring and little finger). Therefore, you will have to make a sudden change of position if you need to use those fingers to play notes on the thicker strings (for example, a note on the 5th or 6th string with the little finger, which is not very efficient.
And I’m going to go further with this.
Some students have been playing like this for so long that they get used to not using their little fingers. Why? Because with their fingers bent over, they find it more difficult to use the little finger, as it is further away from the strings than the others. Therefore, they avoid -consciously or unconsciously- using it when playing.
And by not using it, the finger does not develop strength. It is common sense: if you do not exercise it enough, it will not have the necessary agility when you need it. After all, we guitar players are athletes too – our sport is to move our fingers.
How can you correct this problem?
At first glance, the solution may seem obvious and simple: straighten your fingers when you touch. And yes, that’s part of the answer, but there’s another detail you should consider.
In most cases that I have seen, the problem with finger position is not in the fingers that step on the strings, but in the thumb – a finger that supports them behind the neck. If the thumb is not in the right place, this can cause the fingers that step on the strings to lean.
The thumb is the #1 cause of finger bending when playing.
How should you place your thumb? Many guitarists say that the thumb should not stick out of the neck. However, in my opinion, this is not necessarily true.
There are several factors to consider in the matter of thumb position when playing the guitar. I have already discussed this issue extensively in this lesson on the correct position of the left thumb when playing the guitar. I invite you to read it if you have not already done so.
In many cases, by placing the thumb in a proper position, the position of the fingers on the fretboard is corrected almost automatically without requiring much effort. But in other cases, it is necessary to make a conscious effort to correct the position of the fingers when stepping.
Some recommendations that can help you:
Remember to be aware of the position every time you play. At first, it will be an inconvenience – I know; I went through when I was a student – but you’ll gradually get used to it until you reach the point where you do it automatically.
Practicing scales is ideal for correcting the position of your fingers. But be sure to use all your fingers when you touch them. If you avoid using your little finger, you will not get the maximum benefit from doing them.
Another resource that can help a lot is the set of 24 exercises for finger independence. Pay special attention to the exercises that begin with finger #4 (little finger), because they force you to straighten your fingers and assume the correct position in order to have the necessary extension and execute the exercise.
To finish this section, it is important to mention that there are exceptional cases in which it is acceptable to have your fingers bent over.
- if you are playing in the high register of the guitar.
- if you are doing an aggressive bending or vibrato on the guitar.
- In other words, I’m not saying play with your fingers bent. What I’m saying is don’t play with your fingers bent unless you have to. Make sure that your default position is to have your fingers straight, and bend them when there is a need to do so.
Mistake #2: Pushing the strings when you step on them
This error is also quite common among beginners, especially when they start playing their first capo chords. It involves pushing the strings (usually down) when stepping on the strings to play a chord or a note.
What is the problem with this? That when you push the string, you’re going off-key. In addition to this, it is likely that if you push too hard, you will come into contact with an adjacent string, which may prevent it from emitting its sound.
In my opinion, this problem occurs because of a lack of strength and control in the fingers. The beginner guitarist usually does not have enough strength in his fingers to step on the note. Therefore, he compensates by putting in more effort than he needs and in the process pushes the string out of place.
If this happens to you, don’t worry. When practicing chords or single notes, try not to push the string up or down when stepping. Use only enough force to make the note sound clear. Over time, you will find that you can step on the note with more control, and it will feel very easy as if you were not making any effort at all.
For the next 3 mistakes, let’s focus on the right hand (the one that strikes the strings to make the sound).
Mistake #3: Sticking your hand on the lid of the guitar
This error is very common in students who start practicing fingerstyle or taking classical guitar lessons. It consists of gluing or anchoring the edge of the palm to the lid of the guitar.
The problem with this position is that it seriously restricts the movement of the fingers of the right hand. This prevents the hand from assuming an optimal position to make a good sound.
It also produces another problem: not having enough space to move the fingers, the student compensates by constantly moving the wrist. This destabilizes the right hand.
It should be remembered that, when playing in the fingerstyle or classical style, the movement to produce the sound is not in the wrist, but in the knuckles and fingers. The hand must remain in a neutral and immobile position.
To achieve this, instead of anchoring the hand to the lid of the guitar, it is necessary to place it in a floating position, allowing the fingers to fall naturally onto the strings.
If you have any doubts, watch the video of this lesson (it is at the end, below). There I demonstrate the correct position when playing fingerstyle or classical guitar.
Although this mistake is not as common as others, I have had a good group of students with this problem. It consists of placing the right hand on the ropes so that the palm of the hand is facing upwards.
Mistake #4: Tilting the hand up
The problem with this position is that it leaves less room for movement for the ring and little fingers. As a result, you will get weaker, unbalanced sound. In other cases, it also causes a very explosive sound, because of the tendency to pull the string with fingers (instead of pressing it).
When playing fingerstyle or classical style, the palm of the hand should face the guitar and not up. This way all fingers will have the same space to move, making it easier to produce a more balanced sound.
Mistake #5: Tilting the tone down too much
This is another common mistake in beginners who are just starting to practice using the plectrum (nail, quill, straw, plectrum, pick… or whatever they call it in your country ). It is, so to speak, the equivalent of error #4 when using a plectrum, and it consists of tilting it too much (almost always downwards) when pressing the string.
This position causes 2 main problems:
By tilting the spike downwards, you will naturally favor downstrokes. This causes the sound of downstrokes to be louder – sometimes even explosive – while upstrokes will be weaker. Logically, the product will be an unbalanced sound.
It will be much more difficult to execute even rhythms (for example, quaver and semiquaver rhythms). The downward tilt of the plectrum offers great ease for downward movements but offers resistance to upward movements. You will feel that when you attack the string upwards it “sticks” to the plectrum. Consequently, notes struck downwards will be longer than those struck upwards.
Correct position of the plectrum
I also recommend rotating the plectrum a little bit, so that instead of being flat against the string, it enters at an angle of approximately 45 degrees (in the photo above it is illustrated). This will allow the plectrum to cross more easily through the string and not get stuck, which will produce a rounder sound and allow you to play more agility.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having good technique and position when learning to play the guitar. If you get used to doing it right from the beginning, you will save yourself from having to correct “bad habits” later on.
Believe me: it is much more difficult to correct an inappropriate technique if you have been doing it that way for several years. It’s not impossible – I’ve had students who’ve done it – but it’s “uphill”. If you correct these problems from the beginning, the road will be easier.
I leave you with these recommendations. I hope they will be useful in your guitar study.
And finally, tell me: have you been making any of these mistakes while playing? How have you corrected them? On the other hand, do you know of any other mistakes that I haven’t mentioned, and that every beginner guitarist should avoid? Mention it in the comments.
Success in your musical studies!