5 Mistakes Every Beginner Guitarist Makes

beginner guitar mistakes are easy to make
We all make mistakes, but you don’t want to be a guitarist who never learns from them. Sometimes the best thing to do is swallow your pride and accept that some of your guitar-related habits need to change.

I’ll admit that as a new player, I made just about every mistake in the book. That’s why, if I can help it, I’d rather have you steer clear of the following barriers to progress.

1) Keeping the Guitar Hidden Away

You’ve probably noticed that the more advanced the guitarist, the more their instrument is almost part of their body. They carry it everywhere they go, and whenever they go away, they always pack their guitar first.

When they’re home, they usually keep their guitar at arm’s length, even when they’re preoccupied with other things.

Beginners, on the other hand, tend to keep their guitars in the darkest, most God-forsaken corner of their unfinished basement, right beside a rack of dusty wine and a couple of creepy dolls that come to life at night. I shouldn’t have to explain why this isn’t a recipe for success.

Never underestimate the power of physical proximity to your instrument. By and large, the closer you are to your guitar most of the time, the better a player you’ll be. If you keep your guitar within arm’s reach, you’re much more likely to pick it up when you have a spare moment and play a riff or two.

If you’re guitar’s always locked away except during scheduled “Practice Time,” you’ll begin to think of your playing as work, and your enthusiasm will melt away.

Where’s the Best Place to Keep a Guitar?


Unfortunately, there’s no one-size fits all here. It all depends on your lifestyle. If you spend most of your free time watching TV in your living room, I’d just lean it on the wall next to the couch, easily accessible.

The rule of thumb is to keep it in your favorite room in the house, as close to you as possible.

Many guitarists believe you should always lock away your instrument in its case to protect it from exposure. There’s obviously some logic in that, but my two cents is that unless you have an unusually expensive guitar (and beginners rarely do), you should trade some extra wear and tear on a cheap instrument for greater ease of access.

I highly recommend a guitar stand of some sort, which allows you to keep your axe from falling while still keeping it within grabbing distance.

You could discipline yourself to practice an hour or two at the same time every day. But no one plays more than a guitarist who has no idea how much they practice, since they pick up their instrument and jam whenever they can, all throughout the day.

The takeaway: wherever you spend your free time, bring your guitar along.

2) Neglecting Music Theory

Being someone who reads a lot about guitar online, I get targeted for all sorts of guitar ads (they’ve got my number, right?). One of the most common ideas I see promoted to beginner guitarists is that music theory is either too hard, a waste of time, or somehow a big mistake to learn.

Would you ever want as your physician someone who “skipped” medical school?Or would you hire an electrician who “skipped” all the lessons they should have had on wires, circuits, and transistors? How about a lawyer who “skipped” their bar exam?

When you consider a parallel in nearly any other field, it becomes easy to see how silly the whole idea of “skipping” music theory is for anyone who’s serious about guitar.

The bad news is that you can’t skip theory, no matter how hard you try. If you want to learn any song you’ve ever heard, you’ll be using theory to do it. Many teachers will start new guitarists off by showing them a C chord or G chord. That’s theory!

So the real question isn’t whether you should learn theory or not, but whether you’re willing to learn more theory than you already know.

Given that you probably want to learn more guitar, it follows (for better or worse) that you need to learn more theory, so it’s time to embrace all the dots, lines, numbers, and letters that come with it.

How Should You Start Learning Theory?


If you’re the theory-averse type, the best approach is to learn a little at a time, never biting off more than you can chew.

Many guitarists search for videos on theory, or theory for guitarists specifically. The problem with the video method is that you’re going to find yourself hopping around aimlessly, always feeling like there’s no solid ground of understanding beneath you.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the best way for you to start learning theory is to either buy a basic theory book or get one from your local library.

A well-written introductory book will provide you with a logical and coherent structure that’s rare to find in online videos. If you’re the ultra-studious type, you might even take a look at what texts college- or graduate-level music theory courses are using.

If you’re looking for my short list of the best books for music theory, check out this post I wrote. You can also head to my recommendations page to see all of my favorite books for guitar players in general.

I won’t deny that music theory can be an intimidating topic for someone just starting out, but I promise that your hard work will be rewarded three-fold by the fresh knowledge you bring to your playing.

The good news about theory is that while you can definitely get bogged down in the details, the basic outline of how music works is actually pretty simple. You’ll get it before long, trust me!

3) Lacking Self-Belief

Guitar playing has an obvious physical component, but it’s also highly mental. A lot of beginner guitarists underestimate the extent to which their minds, as opposed to their fingers, are the true vehicle to progress.

In the early stages, every musician struggles with self-doubt. It doesn’t help that there’s a pervasive opinion in our culture that with regard to music, you either have “it,” or you don’t.

If you’re not a natural-born musician who takes to their instrument immediately, especially starting from a young age, then you’re destined to flounder forever, because you’re not one of the music god’s chosen ones.

I think this idea is complete nonsense. If you’re only going to take one thing from this post, let it be this:

It’s never too late for you to become the guitarist that you might have been. I’m 100% serious about this. If you love music and believe in yourself, you can become a terrific player in a short amount of time.

The key is to focus most on what’s going on in your mind, and less on what’s going on with your fingers. One of the most important mental factors that you need to address, especially as an adult beginner on the guitar, is the attitudes you form about your potential as a guitarist.

If your attitudes become primarily negative (“I’ll never be any good,” “I’m too old,” “I’m not a natural,” etc.), then your progress will suffer.

How to Develop Self-Belief


Nothing worth doing is ever easy, and that certainly applies to the consciousness-changing work of starting to believe in yourself as a guitarist. You may only have an hour a day to practice guitar, but the sort of mental work I’m discussing here is always being done, whether you’re doing it consciously or not.

We’re constantly experiencing some kind of thought-process, and sometimes your thoughts will turn to your music-making. Whenever that happens, try your best to think positively about your experience of playing the guitar, no matter what you think of the “reality.”

Critically examine your narratives. For instance, if you normally tell yourself that you’ll never master a certain song, try to start telling yourself that you’ll get it in no time.

These may seem like strange mind games to you, but I promise that they’ve worked wonders for me, and not only in the realm of guitar. If you put some effort into it, I guarantee that you’ll be able to influence the flow of your thoughts and convictions as they relate to the guitar.

Replace your unhelpful, stagnating narratives with uplifting, motivational ones, and you’ll find your playing will reflect the change.

Think about it. A person who always says to themselves that they can’t learn fingerstyle is going to give up on the technique without even trying. A person who is excited to explore the world of fingerstyle isn’t going to give up so easily.

They’re more likely to push through difficulty by enjoying the process, which is exactly what it takes to be on the road to mastery.

4) Worrying Too Much about Gear

I’m astonished to see many beginner and early-intermediate players more concerned with gear than they are with music!

This is the unfortunate result of our deep-seated capitalist mindset. We see ads everywhere, all of which try to persuade us that buying some new piece of equipment is the only thing that stands between us and our goals.

Advertisers get us to buy, and of course we don’t become better players. A fancy instrument doesn’t make you a good player any more than a cheap instrument makes you a bad player. I, for one, would rather listen to a homeless virtuoso on an $50 guitar than a rich amateur playing with $500,000 worth of equipment.

In fact, there was a middle-schooler in Seattle in the 1950s who spent an entire year playing “air guitar” with an old broomstick, carrying it with him wherever he went. Eventually, he found a one-string ukulele in a dumpster and began learning on it. He didn’t get his hands on a real guitar until he’d already been a musician for years. That boy’s name was Jimi Hendrix.

Music shouldn’t be about money, and the wonderful thing about guitar is that can be an inexpensive hobby. If you’re reading this article, you probably already have a guitar that’s good enough. Remember that you can become a stellar player on a very poor guitar. It’s seldom the gear that’s holding you back.

If you need a guitar as a beginner, I recommend you go to your local guitar store and buy the least expensive used instrument they sell. Anyone who says you need this or that to get started just wants your money.

When it’s time to upgrade, you’ll know it! (And when it is time to upgrade, check out my recommendations page!)

In short, music comes first, gear comes last.

5) Practicing in Long, Infrequent Sessions

Let me clarify this one, since long practice sessions can be effective for many players. For me, the problem comes because most beginners assume that you should play guitar like most people work out—in a single 1-2 hour session a few times a week. I believe this structure tends to lead guitarists astray.

For one thing, long sessions often feel tedious. If you tell yourself that you’re going to practice from 7-8:30 PM three times a week, your guitar time might start to feel like a chore.

We often overestimate our attention spans, thinking we can easily focus on something for an hour or two when we’re really only on track for thirty minutes or so.

For that reason, I highly recommend you adopt short, intense practice sessions—no more than 30 minutes, but ideally more like 15 minutes—and seek to do them frequently.

If you used to dedicate 3 hours to the guitar each week in three 1-hour sessions on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I urge you dedicate the same amount of time overall, but spread it more thinly. You might start doing 30-minute sessions six days a week, for instance.

The More Sessions, the Better


The name of the game is consistency, not total hours. You want guitar playing to become something you do all the time, at least daily, and ideally multiple times per day.

Remember how your teachers always encouraged you to study a little bit every day, rather than cramming the night before an exam? Studying guitar is much the same. A big leap comes from many small steps.

Another advantage of the short session is that it’s much more accommodating of a busy schedule. And who doesn’t have one of those? If you’re running from here to there all day, sitting down for a quiet hour or two at the guitar might feel like a pipe dream.

Fifteen minutes, on the other hand, will usually feel possible. I often sneak in a practice when I’m transitioning from one activity to the next. Even a 2-minute drill can be highly effective!

Example Practice Schedule


Here’s an example of how I’d have a student organize 1 hour of total practice time over the course of a day. In this case, I’ll imagine that they’re an adult working from 9-5 on the weekdays.

In the morning before work—15 minutes playing scales or other technical practice

Shortly after arriving home from work—15 minutes of sight-reading (more on sight-reading here)

After dinner—15 minutes of work on repertoire, playing slowly and isolating difficult passages

Before bed—15 minutes of sight-reading, especially pieces that are simple and fun


If you’re someone who wants to be a more confident guitarist, then I hope some of these thoughts will help you. We’ve all been through periods of struggle, where it seems impossible to improve, but things can always get better if you put in the effort.

The key is to keep picking up the guitar, day in and day out, and never stop listening to and loving the music.

I’ve been guilty of all five of these mistakes, plus so many others that I can’t begin to list them. What other mistakes have you made as a new guitarist?

Are you looking to upgrade your gear or browse some awesome guitar learning materials? Check out my recommendations page to see all my favorite stuff. 

Want to streamline your fingerstyle guitar progress? I just released my new ebook, Fingerstyle Fitness, which presents 10 easy exercises to quickly develop your fingerstyle chops. Grab it today!