How Making Fast Progress Can Hold You Back As A Guitar Player

Author: Tom Hess

Author: Tom Hess

If you are like the majority of guitarists, you think that becoming an incredible player means making very fast progress. Truth is, this mindset can actually slow you down and prevent you from quickly reaching your musical goals. In many cases, guitar players will ruin their potential for growth by unintentionally progressing ‘too fast’ in some areas of their playing and ‘not enough’ in other (critical) areas. To illustrate this, imagine you were driving in your car extremely fast down a mountain with winding roads and no safety fences. Eventually, you would fly off the side of the mountain because your speed would cause you to lose control. ‘Control’ is very important for your progress on guitar. If you do not properly manage and control your progress, you are much more likely to ‘fly off the side of the mountain’ and never reach your intended destination (your musical goals).

Why Uncontrolled/Mismanaged Progress Is Destructive For Guitar Playing:

Unbalanced guitar skills are caused directly by making progress too quickly in one area of your playing while ignoring other (important) areas. After teaching guitar for many years, countless guitar players have come to me with ‘unbalanced’ skills and expressed great frustration because they were unable to be fully creative in their playing. In most cases, players focus primarily on improving technique and speed while ignoring improvisation, ear training and other important skills. As a result, the guitarist is unable to ‘think’ as fast as he can play, leading to unbalanced overall playing, and a glaring weakness in overall musical creativity. In the end, they are held back by their weaknesses – unable to fully reach their highest guitar playing goals and take advantage of their main strengths. This is like fixing-up an old car and investing all of your money into purchasing the most high-powered engine you can find while completely ignoring the fact that the brake pads are worn down, the tires are bald and the suspension is terrible. This will obviously lead to issues in your car’s performance and you will not get the maximum benefit from your engine until these other factors are taken care of.

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Here are the most common reasons why unmanaged/out of control progress happens for many guitarists:

Reason One:

In most cases, guitar players falsely believe that certain skills must be mastered before mastery of other skills can even be attempted. They put all of their time and energy into practicing in a few areas of their playing and end up becoming unbalanced players because of it. Every year I take in tons of new guitar students who suffer because of this belief and I have to help them change it so they can become better guitar players. Here are a couple of frequent examples that I see:

Example One: Guitarists use up every moment of their practice schedule to focus on increasing speed/building technique and learning about music theory, trying to master these things before they begin integrating them into their improvisation and songwriting. These players may increase their ability to play with good technique and understand concepts in music theory, but they will remain a novice when it comes to applying their skills in any kind of self-expressive manner. Truth is, improvising requires practice of a very specific set of skills at the same time that you work to improve your general guitar playing. There is almost nothing more disappointing than having to start from square one after spending countless hours building your skills in a totally unbalanced manner.

Example Two: A guitar player who has the goal of becoming great at improvising thinks he needs to memorize the name of every note on the fretboard before he can begin practicing improvisation. This belief leads him to spend weeks mapping out the fretboard and memorizing all of the note names as fast as he can before he starts working to improve his improvising skills. Then, once he has finally done this he immediately experiences great frustration when he tries to improvise, because a) he feels like a complete novice in this area of his playing, and b) being able to remember note names alone will not help him to improvise unless he also learned how each pitch expresses specific emotions over specific chords. Again, a mismanagement of progress causes the player to become ‘out of control’ and takes him far away from his desired goals.

To get a better picture of how the approaches mentioned above will affect your playing for the worse (plus how to avoid this problem), watch this free guitar practice video.

Reason Two:

In some cases, guitar players seem to ‘naturally’ make progress faster with specific guitar skills while struggling to improve in other areas of their playing. This situation occurs because the practicing approaches in their weaker areas are nowhere near as effective as the ones they use with their strengths. This commonly happens with guitarists who learn guitar on their own OR with people who take lessons with guitar teachers who have not helped tons of other guitarists reach their goals.

What Should You Do To Solve This?

Before I give you the solution to preventing the problems above, you must understand two additional mistakes that need to be avoided:

1. ‘Practicing everything for an equal amount of time’: You might believe that the solution to becoming a balanced guitarist is to equally divide your practice time among your practice items (using a calculator or an Excel spreadsheet). This is a HUGE mistake! Fact is, your guitar playing skills will not all improve in the same manner at the same rate. When you evenly distribute practice time to all areas of your playing, this does not ‘solve’ the problem of unbalanced skills, it ‘creates’ it.

2. ‘Practicing EVERYTHING so you don’t have any weaknesses’: Before you consider using this bad approach to practice, consider the fact that all of your favorite guitar players have major weaknesses in tons of areas that are outside of their particular playing style. That said, although their playing suffers from these weaknesses, it doesn’t matter for them because these ‘weaknesses’ have nothing to do with the kind of music they like to play. They have mastered the strengths that matter most for their musical goals. For example, top-notch metal guitar players are usually unable to play fingerstyle passages on a nylon-stringed classical guitar. Blues players usually have no ability to transcribe and play Paganini compositions for guitar. However, these players fully understand the difference between ‘weaknesses that matter’ (that keep them from reaching their musical goals) and ‘weaknesses that don’t matter’ (that have nothing to do with their musical goals). The weaknesses that are most relevant MUST be improved upon in order to achieve your musical goals. Any other weaknesses can be overlooked.

To ensure that you don’t have issues with mismanaged guitar playing progress, follow these 5 steps:

1. Use the information on this page about accomplishing musical goals to learn what guitar skills you should work on.

2. Find out how to build a guitar practice routine that effectively allocates the right amount of time to each practice item you need to work on. Then take action to use your routine and make steady progress to become the player you want to be. Use this guitar practice assessment to test your ability to create effective practice schedules.

3. Don’t fall for the trap of only practicing what you are good at while not practicing in areas where you are weak. Your (‘relevant’) weaknesses will always hold you back from achieving your ultimate goals – you must fix them first before you can fully use your musical strengths.

4. Don’t assume that some musical skills need to be fully mastered before you can even begin working to improve in other areas of your playing. Get clarity about how you should develop different areas of your guitar playing by watching this free guitar practice video.

5. Find a guitar instructor who has already helped many other guitarists reach their highest musical goals to become great players. Once you have found this instructor, work with this person until you have reached your specific goals. Get help for locating a great guitar instructor by downloading this free resource about finding a guitar teacher.

After completing the five steps above, you will avoid the common issue of developing into an unbalanced guitar player and start heading down the right path toward reaching your greatest musical goals in very little time.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, songwriter and a pro guitarist. He uses the best online guitar lessons to train guitar players to reach their musical goals. Go to to get more guitar playing resources, guitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.

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Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and virtuoso guitar player.
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