June 28th, 2016

Top 5 Bad Habits of Self-Taught Guitarists

by Eric Bourassa

One of the perks of being a
guitar teacher in the Fort Worth area is I get to meet a lot of different kinds of people. One of the challenges, however, is I also meet a lot of self-taught guitarists who painfully tried to go their own way for too many years. Here are the top 5 bad habits I’ve experienced with self-taught guys over the years. 

1. Strumming Hand String-Muting. And by “string-muting,” I mean “lack thereof."


These guys have focused so much on getting the right notes and developing speed that they failed to pay attention to the way their strumming hand mutes the unplayed strings. The result is disastrous when an electric guitar is plugged into an amplifier. All the unplayed strings begin to have sympathetic vibrations, which is where the unplayed strings match the frequency of the played strings on some level and begin to ring without being played. On an acoustic guitar, the noise is subtle. On a clean electric, it’s noticeable. With overdrive or distortion, however, it’s really ugly. 


The solution: rest the back side of your picking hand against all strings that are thicker than the one(s) you are currently playing. Allow your hand to slide vertically with the movement of your fretting hand to always mute all thicker strings. 

3. Fret-Hand Wrist Position. Bending the fretting hand wrist while playing not only makes playing well harder, it actually can end your playing career for good. 


The solution: Always strive to keep a straight wrist. There are some instances where you have to bend it slightly, but remember, the solution to correctly playing a chord or scale (or anything!) clearly is not to push your hand forward and bend the wrist; it’s the opposite- pull your elbow back without raising your shoulder and focus more on your thumb position. 

2. Fretting Hand String-Muting. I’ve met some guitarists who had the strumming hand muting under control but were taught by classical guitar teachers to curl the fretting hand fingers no matter what. This may work in classical guitar (which is a totally different beast), but in every other style, if the right hand is responsible for muting all thicker strings than the one  or ones being played, then the left hand is responsible for muting all thinner strings. 


The solution: flatten the played finger to lay with a slight arc against all strings thinner than the played string so that it gently touches all of them, or mute with the index finger behind the finger being used. Apply pressure only with the tip of the finger rather than the whole finger. 

4. Not Actually Knowing A Song Beginning To End. At a new guitar student’s first lesson, I always ask them to play something for me if they already know how to play. The most common response I get is a slightly fearful look of, “Wait, you want me to play something for you? I didn’t know I was going to have to do that!” They then struggle to find a song or solo or snippet of something to demonstrate their current skill level, then give up with a sigh and say, “You know, I know how to play, I just don’t really know anything all the way through!” 
The solution: Stop trying to entertain yourself with new YouTube videos and tabs each time you play. Instead, write down exactly what it is you want to learn and commit to it. Do not start learning something else because you got bored or it got too hard. Commit. 

5. Vibrato. Most self-taught guys have horrendous vibrato and have no idea how to actually do it. They just guessed by watching BB King shake his wrist. 
The solution: Treat vibrato like bending. Do not shake your wrist. Make a slow, small bend on a note and repeat three times. Keep doing it slowly, 5 minutes a day, and watch as your control and speed of the vibrato improve drastically. Do not focus on speed, just focus on control. 

Still struggling to teach yourself guitar? Call Ridglea School of Music at (817)420-6462 or email us at info@ridgleaschoolofmusic.com to set up a free introductory lesson where we’ll solve any one of these problems for you (many times in about 5 minutes), or any other guitar-playing problem you may be having.