So you’ve broken through that beginner barrier but still feel like there are newbie elements in your playing?
Welcome to the “I’m never good enough” nature of being a guitarist.
- Don’t worry! Every guitar player has areas they need to work on – it’s neverending.
- The key is to identify our mistakes and weak spots, so that we can fix them.
That drive for perfection will carry you to guitar greatness, so put the self-loathing aside and embrace the joy of correcting those mistakes!
In this article we’ll look at 5 common mistakes that intermediate guitarists make and do our best give you some tips on how to fix them.
#1 – Undisciplined fingers
Have you ever been playing guitar, and watched in awe as your pinky finger does its best impression of a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man? If your answer is yes – it might be time to work on some finger independence exercises.
Not having complete control over your finger movements can cause a bunch of unwanted side effects:
- Unwanted string noise
- Lack of accuracy
- Uneven dynamics when playing legato (using hammer-ons and pull-offs)
Finger dexterity exercise for guitar
Here’s a great way to build finger independence – plus it’s also an awesome warm-up exercise!
- Put your index finger on the 5th fret of the low E string and play the note.
- Now staying on the same string, add the middle finger above on the 6th fret (don’t release your index finger).
*At this point you’ll notice the ring and pinky finger trying to move away from the fretboard – focus on keeping them controlled.
- Add the ring finger to the 7th fret (still with the index and middle pressed down)
- After that, put that rebellious pinky on the 8th fret – that’s the first stage of the exercise complete – Well done!
- Now move your index finger across to the A string on the 5th fret (keeping all the other fingers in place on the E string)
- Slowly bring each finger over to the A string, one at a time. Make sure each note rings clearly.
*Pay close attention to how certain fingers interact with each other – often the pinky will try to move with the ring finger – concentrate on minimizing this.
- Keep working your way across all the strings following this pattern.
- When you get to the high e string reverse the pattern and go back down.
Remember to do this exercise as slowly as possible, focusing on accuracy, control, and clean-sounding notes.
Staying as close as possible to the metal fret (just slightly behind it) will give the purest note and require the least pressure.
#2 – Poor string control
Now that our fingers are starting to behave themselves we can use them to help keep those strings in line!
The two main areas of string control we’ll focus on are muting and bending – improving these will instantly level up your playing.
It doesn’t matter how good your chops are – if there’s unwanted string noise, it’s going to make everything you play sound amateurish.
- Many intermediate players underutilize the fretting hand as a muting tool.
- When playing single notes, you can use the index finger to mute strings on either side of the one you’re playing.
- For example, if you’re playing the G string with your index finger, let the tip overhang slightly to mute the D string.
- Keeping the index finger relatively flat and allowing it to rest on the higher strings (in this example B and e) will help reduce unwanted noise too.
Although it's a common technique that we learn quite early on, many of us don’t give it the attention it deserves.
You can tell a lot about the skill level and experience of a guitarist from the quality of their bends, so let’s look at a couple of ways to make your technique sound more professional.
A bend is not just forcing the string up, we should always be aiming for a specific pitch.
Practice half-bends and full-bends by first fretting the target note so you have a reference point.
- Play the fret above to hear the correct note for a half-bend.
- Play the note two frets up to hear the full-bend pitch.
- Once you’ve heard the target note, go back and try to bend up perfectly to that pitch – and hold it there!
Make sure you practice this on different strings and in different positions on the neck as the force required varies depending on where you are.
A common mistake is bending up and then letting it choke or fall out of tune as you move on to the next note.
- Learning to cleanly cut the bend out at the desired moment makes your licks sound tighter and more professional.
- Making use of both hands to mute will stop the bend quickly.
Palm mute with your picking hand while simultaneously taking pressure off the string with your fretting hand (don’t lift it off completely, your fretting hand should still be making contact with the string)
#3 – Not getting the most out of your gear
When you’re first starting out, gear is not massively important – if the guitar has six strings and is relatively in tune it will serve its purpose. But as our playing gets more advanced and precise, our instruments and equipment need to reflect that.
If your instrument hasn’t been properly set up, it could make playing considerably more difficult.
- The action (height of the string from the fretboard) has a huge impact on a guitar's playability.
- Uneven frets or improper neck relief can cause certain areas of the neck to buzz or choke notes.
- The bridge saddles need to be adjusted correctly for even intonation across the neck (if your chords sound out of tune higher up the neck, this could be why).
- Get the right strings for you and change them regularly. Check out our string guide for more.
- Try out different picks. The type you started out with might have been good for strumming chords but as your playing style develops you may need something different.
- Be cautious with effects. It’s easy to get carried away and effects can mask a lot of sins – so try to keep them to a minimum when practicing.
#4 – Staying in the comfort zone
One of the many reasons people lose interest in guitar after a while is because they get comfortable – and comfortable gets boring!
Do any of these sound familiar?
- You only focus on one genre of music.
- Your licks all exist within the pentatonic box of doom!
- You usually only learn one shape for each chord or scale.
If you can relate, it’s time to take action and push yourself into more unfamiliar territory!
- It's totally fine to be obsessed with one genre of music. But as a guitarist, you’ll benefit by expanding your musical horizons and exploring new styles.
- The CAGED system is a great way to build fretboard knowledge and escape those restrictive boxes.
- Learning chords and scales in different positions will give you a newfound sense of freedom – allowing you to explore and play all over the neck.
Getting out of that comfort zone isn’t always easy, it requires some planning and dedication – you also need to develop a good practice routine…
#5 – Bad practice routine
Well that linked nicely, didn’t it?
Once we break past that beginner barrier, it gets less obvious what we should be working on.
Finding the best guitar practice routine for yourself is essential for growth – without structure, your playing will stagnate.
What are some good guitar practice habits to develop?
Practice to (the right) tempo
This is one of those things that’s so obvious most guitarists overlook it – don’t be one of them!
- Timing is so important, make sure to play to a metronome or backing track as much as possible.
- Even running up and down scales should be done to a set tempo – slow to begin with, faster as you get more comfortable.
“Half the battle is just showing up”
- Being consistent is what turns a novice into a virtuoso.
- There’s truly no substitute for committing the time – the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
- By simply creating a practice schedule and sticking to it, you’ll advance faster than most other guitarists.
“But Pickup, I’m 100% committed – I just don’t know what to practice!”
Knowing what to practice
You need a clear idea of what you want to achieve within a certain timeframe, and a specific pathway to get you there.
It just so happens that we’ve got a bunch of awesome learning pathways for you to check out – in our totally unbiased opinion, they’re the best thing to happen to guitar since Hendrix.
The only way you can challenge that outrageous claim is by signing up and seeing for yourself. 😏
Author: Richard Spooner
Intermediate Learning Pathway
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