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Top 5 Mistakes Made When Learning a Song

by Larry

I’ve had many successes and failures in learning a new song on my guitar.  I don’t necessarily have a set procedure when learning a piece.  It depends on how much I like the song and/or how difficult it is.  I do make mistakes in my routine and in trying to address this, I have compiled a list of my top five.  All of these tend to create bad habits that impair my ability to learn and put the whole thing together into a successful performance. 

Top 5 Mistakes:

  1. I don’t sight read the whole piece when initially getting to know the song.  This keeps me from getting the full picture and I tend to have trouble putting it all together. I can’t tell you how many songs I learned where all I could perform was the first minute or so.
  2. Try to play it at full tempo too soon.  This tends to create mistakes or bad habits like poor fingering or timing issues.  I’m getting better at playing slower tempos and then working my way up but still “fall off the wagon” every once in a while.
  3. I don’t give it a rest when needed.  I get so obsessed with the song, I think the more I practice, the faster I learn and the better it will be.  I have found that the opposite can be true. Sometimes stepping away for a day or two gives me a fresh perspective and I tend to play the piece better when coming back.
  4. I focus on the “fun” or challenging parts or a piece but neglect the rest. The result is that I might be able to play certain parts well but the rest of the piece is sub par and in turn, the performance suffers.
  5. I don’t warm up properly.  I sometimes jump into the song without any warming up which can result in me playing like crap.  This is especially true when the song is technically difficult.

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MacNichol Guitars November 23, 2008 - 9:18 am

I relate and make all the above mistakes as well. How do you overcome #4? I’m currently working on a flatpick version of Bouree’ and there are two sections that I picked up quickly and love to play, but there’s one section that I’m still struggling with.

Larry November 23, 2008 - 12:24 pm

It depends on what is making me neglect a part. Sometimes, I don’t find a particular section interesting and I have to force myself to practice only that troubled part during a practice session, even if it’s only for a minute or two. I also find that the I have trouble because it might be just above my ability as a guitar player. If that is the case, I try to figure out what I’m lacking and then find exercises that will improve this skill.
Example: When I started learning Tommy Emmanuel songs, I could play them but not very well. I took a step back and realized that his songs require more flexibility in the left hand that what I had. I found some good warm-up/stretching exercises and now I can play the Tommy E. songs much better. It’s sometimes hard to figure this out on your own so it might be beneficial to have someone watch you play the troubled section and give their two cents.

I previously did a post on what I did to overcome my flexibility issues, link below.

AmishGuitar December 4, 2008 - 9:11 pm

Yep, yep, yep, yep and yep. I’ve done ’em all. And probably will again. Still, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

Thanks, Larry, for the reminder!

K. Jay


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