How To Solve Problems In Your Guitar Playing

Author: Ed Cupler

Guitarist - Instructor Mike PhilippovDo you wish you had the tools needed to solve any problem you face in your guitar playing? Most guitarists would nod “yes” to this rhetorical question and yet most still continue practicing in the same ineffective way year after year, only feeling more and more frustrated when they realize that all of their practicing efforts are not helping them to progress. As a consequence, many simply stop playing guitar altogether or continue sticking to it, hoping that someday their progress will improve.

Fortunately, this does not have to be the reality for you. More to the point, anybody with a fully functioning body has the potential to develop into a highly advanced guitar player with the right training and tools for reaching this goal. Obviously it is not realistic to suggest a magical guitar practice routine that will work for every person who reads this article, however there ARE several critical steps that all great guitarists use when solving their guitar challenges in order to consistently make progress in their musical skills. What follows below is the list of these steps and an explanation of how to best apply them to your guitar practicing every time you face a difficult problem in your musical development:

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1. Find out EXACTLY what is causing your problem

For you to have a chance of successfully overcoming the guitar playing challenge in front of you, it is necessary to know EXACTLY what the problem is. Although this seems exceedingly simple, you would be surprised how many guitar players are not able to accurately define WHAT is giving them trouble in their guitar playing beyond highly vague descriptions similar to: “I can’t play rhythm guitar” or “My speed is slow” or “I can’t write songs”. Fact is, such general statements will do little or nothing to help you find the solution you need to take your guitar playing to the next level. In contrast, the best guitar players observe what is happening in their playing every time they have trouble and then define their challenge by completing some variation of the following sentence: “I struggle with (insert skill here), when I (describe the situation here).”

2. Use your mind to solve the puzzle

The steps of learning to play guitar (especially the body mechanics involved in practicing for guitar technique) obey the basic principles of physics and logic. Knowing this means that many guitar playing problems can often be solved by using your powers of observation and common sense. In a lot of cases, even what seems like a ‘big’ problem or challenge in your guitar playing can be solved with a very simple adjustment to your guitar technique (or by using your ears to notice something that you did not detect before).

To give you a specific example, when you are faced with an issue in your guitar technique of not being able to perform a certain phrase or solo without mistakes, analyze the notes around the part where the mistakes are happening. What is it that’s happening in the picking hand or the fretting hand that is giving you trouble? Perhaps you are not clear on the fingering to use or your picking hand efficiency is not as good as it could be. Performing this analysis will help you to get to the root of the problem.
To see a live example of this step of the process applied to a real guitar playing scenario, study this free video lesson on playing chords on guitar.

With all of that in mind, I want to also caution you against “thinking too much” to the point where your analysis paralyzes you into a complete stupor and inaction. This happens to a lot people with a perfectionist mentality and such an approach will hurt your guitar progress more than it will help. Remember at all times that your primary objective is to “make your guitar playing sound good” and the technique and practicing approaches you use are only the “means” towards reaching that goal. So only apply this analysis for as long as it takes for you to learn to play the music you want to play and then move on to another area of your practicing.

3. Prioritize The Problems In Your Guitar Playing

Your guitar challenges are not created the same and to solve them successfully you should separate them into 3 levels: “Immediately Solvable” (things you can take action to completely resolve right away), “Medium Term” (such as problems you can begin to solve now but won’t be able to completely overcome in a short time) and problems that are “currently” unsolvable (in other words, given your current skill level it is impossible to take action to solve them “right now”). Allocate the bulk of your guitar practice time to working on the “Immediately Solvable” and “Medium Term” level problems so that you can fix them as quickly as possible. As your general guitar playing improves, you will also find that the problems that were previously unsolvable will transition into the realm of “Medium Term” problems (and from there – into “Immediately Solvable” issues) so that you can get closer to completely removing them from your guitar playing.

4. Increase The Challenge

A very unusual (and highly effective) way of making your guitar playing problems start to feel easier involves intentionally increasing the challenge you are facing in your practicing. This can be done mainly by introducing new and more challenging demands on your playing that didn’t exist in the original version of the music. Be creative to design several ways of doing this. To see some very specific examples of how to use this technique to solve your guitar playing problems, study this video about improving your guitar playing.
To make this technique work in the best way possible, you must already have it crystal clear in your mind what specific challenges you need to overcome in your playing.

5. Believe in your potential and refuse to give up

Always remember that the greatest musicians managed to successfully solve their guitar challenges NOT due to being born with better “guitar playing genetics” but rather because of their habits of consistently applying the techniques listed throughout this article. When your guitar playing seems to be improving slowly, always remember that your next powerful burst of progress may only be 1 or 2 guitar practice sessions away from where you are now. All it takes is for you to not give up and have the courage to take one more step while applying the most effective guitar practicing approaches (such as the ones I shared with you here). If you study with a guitar teacher or use another very effective and proven resource for learning guitar, your rate of progress will become even faster and more predictable.

About the author:

Mike Philippov is a professional guitar player, recording artist and guitar/music teacher. His guitar practice columns about learning to play guitar are read by guitarists worldwide. His instructional music website contains advice for guitar players on overcoming the most common problems faced when learning to play guitar.

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