Everyone was a beginner at first, and we all made mistakes. Sometimes we find out after years that we could and should have done something differently. This is most apparent when playing our first live shows. Trying to imitate the pros and learning songs note per note does not always work when you don’t have the necessary experience.
In this article, I want to guide you through 5 common mistakes beginner guitarists make when playing their first shows and how to avoid them.
Common Mistakes Beginner Gigging Guitarists Make
You might already know some of the mistakes and have corrected them; if so, great! If, however, you find yourself guilty of any of them, I added ways to correct or improve on them.
1 – Too much distortion and fx
The temptation of cracking up the distortion, delay, reverb, and other fx is high when you are starting. The guitars feel fuller, and it’s a joy to play. However, that tends to completely destroy the sound of the band.
Your purpose in the band is to serve the song and generally the vocals. You do that by keeping your place and merging your fx with the band at a level where everyone can be heard clearly. Even though you might think that’s the job of the sound engineer, it’s actually your responsibility to be restrained about your tone and understand that too much of anything will make the band sound bad.
If you are playing with a lot of fx in the mix, then you should adapt your playing to the fx, not vice-versa. Also, beware that too much distortion can completely ruin the dynamics of your playing.
2- Too much low end
This mistake is one we all did and probably did, even as intermediate players. The guitar feels better when it’s warm and bassy; however, it’s not the job of the guitar to hold the low end. The guitar lives in the mid-range, and that’s where you should be.
A great way to practice this is to listen to isolated tracks from songs you like. When you hear the isolated track, you will notice that guitars generally barely have any low end, especially when there’s more than one guitar player in the band. Make a habit of lowering the bass knob on your amp to just below what you think it’s right and listen to how it merges with the bass and guitar.
Guitar solos and fills are great, yet they might ruin the song if used without any restraint. The job of the rhythm guitar is to hold the foundation over which the lead vocals or instrument plays. You should lay a nice bed for another sound to lay over.
What beginners tend to do is break away from the groove very often and add guitar fills just because there is space to do it. A great piece of advice is to lock yourself in a groove and keep at that to create a hypnotic feel for the listeners. This way, when you not so often break out of it sounds outstanding and truly adds to the song.
If you are a lead guitarist, then try to find ‘singable’ thematic lines and not noodle all over the song. Guitar greats never noodle. They pick up a guitar and play music that doesn’t necessarily have to be dense and full of notes. Remember that rests are also part of music theory.
Rushing is embedded in every musician when they first start. It doesn’t matter how talented you are; most likely, you have the tendency to rush, both in time and in ideas. What I mean by that is both speeding up and not going from lick to lick without connecting them.
Being tight and in the groove is more important than finding the right notes all the time. Both a normal audience and an audience of musicians want to feel the groove, and you should not rush it. Actively listen to what other players are doing and follow their rhythm. A good trick is to follow the downbeat of the snare and figure out if you are playing in time with it or, as it mostly happens, ahead.
This is where the exercises with the metronome of scales and modes will really come in handy.
Regarding rushing ideas, the way to fix it is to think of a solo like a story with a beginning, development, and end. Start with a few ideas and continue on them, adding different techniques and licks that insist on the base melody.
5- Automatic Vibrato
The last point is the one that you can fix the fastest of all five. Beginners tend to use the same vibrato on almost every song or genre and on every note they play. Even though each player has a distinct vibrato, that is usually developed after years of playing different styles and fitting the vibrato to the song.
If for example, you are playing a slow ballad, the fast wild vibrato of the previous hard rock song you were playing on the set list won’t do. The way to work on this is to think of vibrato as an effect, not as a technique. Think when you play a note about how fast or slow your vibrato is and try to adapt it to the song.
When you play with yourself in your practice room, it might not seem that big of an issue; when on stage, however, every nuance is felt if it goes against what the song needs.
Final thoughts on becoming a better gigging guitarist
The final tip I will give you is to learn the fretboard as you would learn the notes of the open string. Being able to recognize intervals, chords, and all different fingerings on the spot instantly makes you a better live guitarist and expands your vocabulary. A good practice routine also comes in handy.
Our Free App might be of use to you if you really want to work on these aspects on the go. No signup, no download required. Just head to the drills page and start learning.
About The Writer
Altin is a session guitarist and music writer with over 100+ albums recorded. He is a self-taught musician with a modern, practical approach to teaching music concepts.