How Beginner Guitar Players Should Practice, Part 1

Want to learn guitar the right way?  Read more . . .

This series of blog posts will focus on the psychological aspects of learning guitar.  There can be mental blocks that can slow down a beginner guitar player’s progress, and these blocks can be overcome by just being aware of your mental state, and recognizing how they are interfering with your practice.

The Learning Process – there are  3 steps


Before you attempt to play any song or part of a song, you have to either watch someone else play the song, read the sheet music, or listen to the recording.

One common problem these days is that students don’t make any attempt to memorize anything, and they try to play parts of songs while looking at the sheet music without actually sight-reading it.  Often I catch students playing stuff over and over again while looking at the music, and they’re not really reading it, they’re just kind of staring at it without actually trying to read the notes.  It’s better to memorize small parts of the song and then try to play it while watching either the left hand or the right hand.


Once you’ve done enough observation, you can attempt to perform the song/composition you would like to play.


After performing the song, you now need to ask yourself if you actually played it correctly, or listen to a recording of yourself playing the song.

Problems arise when the 3 steps are not done in succession

This all sounds very obvious, and many of you will read this and say, “Well duh, everyone knows this!”  The question you have to ask yourself is, “Are you really paying attention to what you’re doing and making sure you’re not actually engaging in these bad habits without realizing it?”  The answer for a lot of people will be a resounding “NO!” if you take a cold hard look at how you practice.

Performing while Observing

This happens a lot during the lesson.  The student will try to play a strumming pattern while watching me do it instead of watching me, and then attempting to play it.   The student has not actually memorized the strumming pattern, and doesn’t actually know what to play, yet is making an attempt to play the pattern without having memorized what he or she needs to play.

Performing while Evaluating

This is less common, but often happens with adult students.  While they are trying to play a section of a song, there is a voice inside their head criticizing what they are doing or how they are playing.  This causes them to make mistakes they would not otherwise make if their mind was clear.  It’s very important to  clear your mind of any negative thoughts about your ability to play your instrument.

Observing while Evaluating

This is even less common, but sometimes students will be distracted while observing their teacher with thoughts about how they can’t possibly perform a song.  Those thoughts need to either be shut out, or acted upon.  If the student definitely thinks he or she cannot perform a piece the teacher is presenting to him or her, then it should be talked about.  Otherwise, that thought needs to be suppressed so the student can focus his or her attention on what notes or chords need to be played.

These are all things that I have seen in the course of teaching private guitar lessons.  These are somewhat vague concepts, but it is important to ask yourself if you are thinking this way while practicing.  Your mental state, if unbalanced, can have a hugely negative effect on how you play a musical instrument, and I feel like this is an overlooked topic.  One of my vocal teachers once told me that what every singer needs to think while singing is “Relax, then breathe.”  She was absolutely right, and what she said applies to guitar players as well.  This is an elaboration on that thought.