Stop Bad Habits from Sticking Around

Most of you probably want to have a perfect performance: a magic few minutes where everything fits together and your audience leaves astounded.

Well, that’s probably not going to happen. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they’re actual flukes, and sometimes they are a direct result of bad practicing.

If you’re a beginner, you have it especially difficult. Your technique is not consistent enough to play perfectly every time, and you probably have a few bad habits.

Perfect Guitar Technique

There is no such thing as perfect guitar technique.

One of the dangers of the massive amount of information online, including the classical guitar blog, is that people are often caught up in analysis paralysis. That is, you might not want to practice something because you’re afraid that you’ll use the wrong technique or make a poor choice.

What you should know, however, is that there’s no such thing as perfect guitar technique. Your technique and musicianship is constantly being shaped, changing with every piece, and moving towards a better, more efficient usage of your hands and brain.

Beginner Guitarists Make Mistakes

The truth of the matter is that beginner guitarists will make mistakes. They’ll develop bad habits that their guitar teacher, if they have one, will correct.

Over time, those mistakes, awkward movement patterns, and weird sense of phrasing will be shaped into a solid, but probably not perfect, technique. It’s a journey.

Move Forward, Not Sideways

If there’s one thing to learn from college music programs, it’s that undergraduate and graduate guitarists burn through repertoire like there’s no tomorrow. They grab pieces work on them for a while, then move on. Recital after recital has to be all new music, so a new program gets learned every year.

Contrast this with the average self-taught beginner: they probably have a few new things and a lot of old warhorses that they’ve been working on for months if not years.

Pieces that you learn early on will always have that bad technique built in. It’s muscle memory. Unless you give those pieces a rest and let your hands “forget” them, you’ll probably be using those bad habits forever. You’re not moving forward as a guitarist and a musician, you’re moving sideways. Not really getting better at the old pieces, but sort of getting more familiar with them.

Two Tips for Better Guitar Playing

First, work with a good guitar teacher in your area, or consider taking webcam guitar lessons. Beginners should work with a teacher in person. I don’t take absolute beginner guitarists, but I’m happy to help them find a teacher.

Second, don’t be afraid to move on before a piece is perfect. Move forward, not sideways. Sometimes a break from a piece for a few months (or years) is what it needs. That said, know when to stick with it. Sometimes what a piece really needs to become perfect is better practicing. How do you tell the difference? Ask your teacher. Experiment. Take notes. Be analytical about it, and see what happens. That’s the best way to learn.

Posted on in Classical Guitar Practice Tips


  • Larry Deack

    “I don’t take absolute beginner guitarists, but I’m happy to help them find a teacher.”

    I take beginners. I have learned a lot from them. Is there some reason why you exclude them from your studio?

    I know I’m bias because education has been a long time passion/obsession. When I taught at university I was struck by the bad study habits of most of the students, in all subjects. I’ve taught beginners of all ages and I’m still learning a lot from them, even after several decades of teaching.

  • chad henry
    chad henry

    I’m coming back to guitar after a few years. I never got too far into classical guitar, but I’d like to move forward, at age 65. I have problems with muscle tension–right shoulder, right mid-back, and my left thumb keep riding up due to years of playing steel string acoustic. I’m reading “The Natural Classical Guitar” by Lee Ryan and trying to incorporate some of his ideas, but some of this tension seems to be really rooted in. Maybe if I can get back to studying with a teacher he or she will have some ideas.

    Know of any good teachers for adult beginners-2nd year in the Denver CO area?