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7 Ways To Fix That Thing You Always Play Wrong

Every guitar player gets stuck sometimes. It’s part of getting better at guitar, and even trips up experienced pros from time to time.

But nothing is more frustrating than that one problem that just won’t… go… away! It keeps popping up and throwing a wrench into your playing, sometimes at unexpected times.

What separates the average player from somebody who can really dominate the fretboard is the ability to overcome the problems that are holding them back from their full guitar playing potential.

But how do you actually fix those problems and become a better guitarist?

Here are seven ways you can finally overcome roadblocks in your playing and fix that thing you always seem to play wrong:

1) Identify The Problem

This first step is also the most important step.

If you don’t know what’s causing the problem, you can’t fix the problem. And if you don’t identify the underlying cause, you could waste hours of your precious time practicing the wrong thing.

You won’t be any closer to fixing the problem, despite having put the time in – and that’s frustrating.

To help you out, here’s a short list of things to check for when you’re struggling with repeated mistakes and persistent roadblocks in your playing. This is not a complete list, but it should give you place to start:

● Proper positioning of the guitar itself (how you hold the guitar)
● Position of the fretting hand (both the fingers, and the thumb)
● Position of the picking hand
● Correct pick grip
● Correct picking motion
● Efficiency of motion in the fretting hand fingers
● Efficiency of picking motion
● Finger independence in the fretting hand
● Consistency in playing (do you always use the same picking pattern when playing a specific passage? Are you using the same fingering every time you play that scale or chord?)
● Two-hand synchronisation
● Excess tension (this could be located anywhere in your body – your hands, wrists, shoulders, legs… Even clenching your jaw can contribute negatively to your playing).

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify exactly what is holding you back in your guitar playing if you don’t know what to look for.

That’s why the best solution is to find a qualified guitar teacher who has received specific training in identifying and overcoming guitar playing problems. They’ll be able to identify the stumbling blocks in your playing, and provide solutions to your unique problems.

2) Isolate
Once you’ve identified the source of the problem, it’s time to isolate it so you can focus on it.

As an example, let’s take a look at this passage:


For the sake of our example, let’s assume that you make a mistake every time you move from the 10th fret on the first string back to the 13th fret on the second string, and that the mistake is being caused by an incorrect picking motion (highlighted):


To isolate the problem, you want to play just those two notes on their own, using the correct picking motion. Like this:


3) Expand

Once you have practiced the problem in isolation, the next step is to integrate that part into the rest of the passage. You do this by expanding the length of passage you are playing.

Note that I did NOT say to play the full passage from the beginning. In fact, you can expand as little as one note, on either side of the isolated part:

Expanding in front:


Expanding behind:


Expanding on both sides:


Once you have expanded the section, you can go back and forth between Isolate and Expand to re-focus on the initial problem, and then integrate it into the passage.

I frequently repeat the mantra “isolate and expand” to my students. It works wonders for their playing both in-class, and at home.

4) No-Tempo Practice

It is common for guitar players, both inexperienced and experienced, to play too quickly when trying to correct playing problems.

An excellent tool to combat this is “no-tempo practice”. This means you’re not using a metronome… In fact, you’re not even trying to keep time!

The goal here is to have complete control over your playing to make sure your hands do what you want them to do–and nothing else. If that means playing slower than a snail in a snowbank to get your hands to do exactly what you want, so be it.

This is an excellent approach to use when trying to correct bad habits in your technique.

The name of the game here is discipline – you have to resist the urge to play too fast, sacrificing your control. Take a breath and do it again. If you’re doing it right, this will be more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

Use No-Tempo Practice in conjunction with Isolation for a powerful one-two punch to those playing problems.

5) Slow-Tempo Practice

Once you’ve spent time training your fingers to do what you want them to do, it’s time to add rhythm back into the equation.

You cannot, and should not, play entirely without a metronome. In the long run this will do more damage to your playing as you’ll lack the rhythmic consistency required to play in time.

So–you guessed it–grab your metronome and set that puppy low.

Then, repeat the section you’re playing using the metronome, ensuring you are playing in time and with the correct rhythm.

You can use this on isolated sections, expanded sections, and full passages you are playing.

6) Tempo Variation

A common problem that I’ve seen with every student I’ve taught–not to mention, experienced myself–is being able to take a passage that is perfect when played slowly, and be able to play it at the desired speed.

To help with this, you can use Tempo Variation. Here’s how it works:

1) Find your top speed at which you can play the problematic section cleanly without mistakes. Do this with a metronome, and make sure to write down the current speed.
2) Lower the speed slightly (5-10 bpm) , and play at that tempo for 2-3 repetitions.
3) Raise the speed slightly above your current top speed (3-5 bpm), and play 1-2 reps at that tempo.
4) Repeat steps 2-3.

This tool works wonders for increasing your playing speed, and can be applied to all parts of your playing (chord changes, licks, etc).

7) Focus Rotation

When it comes to playing problems, there’s usually more than one thing contributing to the overall issue. You may have excess tension in your fretting hand, and an inefficient picking motion both working against you.

The best way to address multiple technique deficiencies is to use Focus Rotation.

Focus Rotation is where you focus specifically on ONE element of your playing at a time – and temporarily ignore other problems while you do so.

The human brain is awful at multitasking, but great at convincing ourselves that we’re good at it.

The reality is that if you try to fix too many things at one time, you’re going to fix very little (or nothing at all) by the end of your practice session.

Focus Rotation allows you to throw your entire mental power at fixing one problem, before moving on to the next one. Then, you can come back to the first one and continue to rotate.

To use our example from above:

1) Focus on improving the efficiency of your picking motion for 10 repetitions.
2) Focus on releasing the excess tension in your fretting for 10 repetitions.
3) Play the passage normally for 5 repetitions, and monitor for improvement.
4) Repeat steps 1-3 three times.

Here’s where the brilliance of focus rotation really comes in–assuming you followed the instructions above, you will have actually played:

● 30 repetitions focused on picking motion
● 30 repetitions focused on excess tension
● 15 repetitions monitoring for improvement

For a grand total of 75 REPETITIONS of the same passage!

This actually will make you improve faster, because even when you’re not focused one one problem – you’re still doing additional repetitions of the same passage.

Elements of your playing technique are all connected, and those repetitions still count towards improving your guitar playing.

In my experience, I find my students are able to remain better focused, more engaged, and practice for much longer than if they were trying to tackle all the problems simultaneously. It’s less overwhelming, and way more fun.

To recap, here’s 7 ways you can tackle your guitar playing problems:

1) Identify The Problem
2) Isolate
3) Expand
4) No-Tempo Practice
5) Slow-Tempo Practice
6) Tempo Variation
7) Focus Rotation

There you have it! Put these to use and you’ll be surprised at how effectively you can fix those pesky pain points in your guitar playing.

As I mentioned before, this can be a daunting task if you’re not sure what’s causing the problems, or how to play it correctly.

If that’s the case, do yourself a huge favour and find a qualified guitar teacher to help you. When you see and hear the results in your own playing, and really play the way you’ve always wanted, you’ll be glad you did.

Jordon Brosseau is a professional Canadian musician and guitar teacher. He is an avid reader and a vinyl enthusiast. If you are looking for guitar lessons in London, Ontario, be sure to give him a call!