Kicking the Habit

SMG_Kick_the_Habit

For several decades many scientific studies have been conducted to better understand what physically and neurologically forms a habit in one’s life. The majority of these studies say it takes at least 21 days to break a habit, so it will take at least that long to form a new one. Repeated actions build up a memory within your body’s muscles and neurological pathways and these sensations eventually become what we have come to know as a habit.

Whether it’s moving the fingers too far off of the neck, picking at an awkward angle, or trying to hit 1,000 notes a second while cramming your whole arm into it, every guitarist seems to have a nasty little habit when it comes to their playing. Once you can recognize a bad habit then you can address the problem and set daily goals for how you will avoid continuing your habit and furthermore start to implement positive changes that will break those negative habits and build new ones that will stay with you months and years down the road.

The first step is to define the problem. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you’d like to change about your playing, but becoming overwhelmed can also be a negative habit in itself. Instead, focus on the one thing that you most want to improve on. Don’t dwell on your shortcomings or wallow in insecurity, as doing so will just create more of the same. Don’t get distracted by the things you can’t change (for example: the size of your hands or the length of your fingers, which in the end has little to do with ones true ability to play guitar). Instead, analyze the problem thoughtfully, then concentrate on the steps you can take to better yourself as an artist.

Let’s take a few moments now to identify some of the most common habitual mistakes that guitarists make when trying to build articulation in their playing.

• Poor fingering technique – Many people overwork the fretting hand by pulling the fingers too far off of the neck when fingering licks, riffs, and scales. This extra motion creates unnecessary movement that adds unwanted seconds in between each note. Another aspect of poor fingering technique is improper placement of the thumb on the back of the neck. Many players tend to wrap the hand around the neck in a way that you wind up with your thumb resting on the top of the neck, which greatly decreases your range of motion and creates poor finger placement.

• Poor picking technique – Often a major setback is poor picking technique. This can range from holding the pick incorrectly, placing the pick too close to the bridge or neck, all the way to digging in too deep with each pick stroke. All of these setbacks will slow you down on your quest to play with accuracy.

• Playing with too much force – A BIG deterrent for many players is using too much force or overcompensating the energy that goes into each pick attack. Playing tightly requires using a very small and precise range of motion and this does not require one to put their whole arm into it or to flail the arm around like crazy stabbing out as many notes as you can.

• Over thinking – The biggest pitfall for any musician is thinking too much about the process. Playing doesn’t require a great deal of thought; it just takes technical control and diligent practice. By understanding the concepts behind the techniques you use to create precision in your playing, you then switch to implementing that knowledge into a practical application. Then you just perform and you just stop thinking about it from thereon.

• Believing that you suck – The last real pitfall to playing your best is carrying a belief that you can’t do something. Too often people say really negative things about their abilities. All of that negative thought energy is totally counter productive to not only musical growth but also personal growth and free expression as a whole. Believing in yourself and knowing in your heart that anything is possible, you will accomplish great things that you may have previously thought to be impossible.

So keep in mind that behind all bad habits lie the keys to unlock your highest potential!

  • Great post! You should see where my big ol’ left thumb rides 🙁
    I’ve been working on it.

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