5 Beginner Mistakes You Should Avoid

5 Beginner Mistakes You Should Avoid (If You Want Fast Progress)



Mistake Nr.1: Not following instructions

I often notice that many students are not following simple instructions. They might immediately try to change a scale or chord fingering to make it feel more “natural” or “effective” and come up with many other ideas that do more harm than good.

Let´s address the urge to make movements feel more “natural” aspect:

If you learn a new sport, an instrument or take up dancing, it does not make sense to look for movements that feel natural when you are just starting out, because nothing feels natural in the beginning and all new movements feel alien to the body. So it´s not about making movements feel a certain way – it´s simply about learning them. They would only feel familiar if you could already perform them well.

Think about this: Would you take a tango class and immediately try to improve on the first shown movements to make them feel more natural, asking the teacher if you can do X, Y, and Z instead? No! Why not? Because you have no clue what you are doing! It´s the teacher´s job to get you the result you want, so simply follow the instructions to a T, to make the process as fast as possible. Don´t change anything, simply do it to the best of your ability. If something needs to be adapted or changed, the teacher will tell you. Simply accept that new movements do not feel natural and stop constantly evaluating and analyzing how something feels – give your body time to adapt to the new movements.

Let´s now address the “making things more effective” idea:

Altering things for effectiveness also makes zero sense from a beginner´s standpoint.

Again: you have no clue, that´s why you are a beginner. Whatever you deem is more effective right now, might create a huge roadblock later for you down the road – a road which you have never traveled and are not familiar with. So stop creating roadmaps for unfamiliar roads and trust the driver who has been there before to help you avoid pitfalls.

Remember: Teaching is a great skill, but being teachable goes right along with it. It will be much more difficult for you and your teacher to get results if you don´t let go of control and open yourself be taught without altering the instructions (even in small ways). Every time you ignore this, it will cost you and your teacher valuable time. Time that could have been better spent to help you reach your goals faster.



Mistake Nr.2: Not getting items under control first

Creativity needs to be trained early on, but what I often notice is that a student just learned a new chord and immediately starts combining it with all kinds of other things without even having the fingering under control.

It´s true that we should get creative with new items and integrate them with other stuff we already know as fast as possible, but doing this when you don´t even have the movements down is a recipe for frustration. You are stacking challenges on top of each other and will end up with a huge train wreck instead of getting better. You first need to have some control over an element, get the fingering and movements in place and ONLY then start to get creative when the foundation is in place.

Remember: Getting creative is a separate step that takes place AFTER we have learned an item sufficiently. It does NOT occur at the same time when we first start to practice the item. Your teacher will tell you when the time has come, so trust him on this.



Mistake Nr.3: Looking up songs on the internet before it´s time

 If you want to play your favorite songs fast, simply do this: Put a big amount of effort into the things your guitar teacher gives you. That´s it.

Stop asking continuously when the time will come when you can play X, Y and Z – and instead, invest that time into practicing the items you are already working on. The more you can stick to this without constantly being distracted by other stuff, the faster you will get there. The more you try out stuff on your own, because you don´t have the patience, the longer it will take! You constantly create detours for yourself in this way. Your teacher has your goals in mind and has a plan to help you reach them in the fastest time possible, so again – trust him. It sounds so simple and yet it´s incredibly difficult for students to follow. I often get questions from students on how to play this or that – in most cases beyond their level and all leading to frustration.

Remember: It makes no sense to be able to play your favorite song in a way that sounds barely recognizable. Playing a horrible version of it will impress nobody.

You want to be able to play it well.



Mistake Nr.4: Playing Way Too Fast

 The next mistake I constantly witness is, that many beginners are trying to play way too fast. They practice a new piece, turn up the metronome and show me how fast they can do it. Afterwards, they look at me with this look: Wasn´t that great (that I can do it that fast)?

Well, no, because the technique was a disaster, the timing was totally off and no single note sounded good.

If the student had taken the time to practice the piece slowly, with attention to detail, got the speed right and had some good notes in there – that would have really impressed me.

Remember: Playing fast means nothing if it´s not played well, it will just sound like a sloppy mess. As a beginner, you should focus on playing the notes right before the frets with your fingertips, playing in time with the metronome and getting the notes to sound good at a speed where you have control over what you do. Speed is not a priority when starting out.



Mistake Nr.5: Only playing stuff that´s fun

 Learning notes on the fretboard is boring and learning new theory can be tedious – we all know that, but giving in to your impulse to only play stuff that is fun, will halt all your progress and lock you into a prison of only playing a few open chords and not even knowing what you are doing.

Imagine signing up for a gym, because you want a better body and then pulling on this machine for a bit, then doing five sit-ups, then trying out the bike for two minutes, then the treadmill – where do you think this will take you? Exactly. Nowhere.

It might be great fun, yes, but you will never get the body you want because this result demands detailed planning and focused work over long periods of time. If you can´t commit to that, you simply will never be able to get the body you want. Simple as that.

Of course, we can´t just grind day after day and need a balance of what helps our development the most and what we enjoy. So, try to balance those aspects in your practice schedule.


Remember: Always looking for the next fun thing to play will halt your progress, because as soon as something gets difficult it will not be fun anymore. Instead: Learn to have fun embracing challenges and pushing yourself – then you´re in a great spot to develop rapidly!


About the author:

Derk Stiepelmann is a professional musician and guitar instructor living in Dortmund, Germany. If you are looking for guitar lessons in Dortmund, you can contact him by clicking the linked text!