How many times have you been working on a chord progression to the point where you can play it really well… only to completely forget how you did it the next minute?
The guitar solo you love to play and most of the time you play it perfectly, but as soon as you think about where you fingers are meant to go they seem to fumble and fall over each other.
Or that song that you can play flawlessly on your own, but in front of someone else? That’s a whole different story…
No matter how long you’ve been playing guitar there is always times when that self doubt and over thinking can hold us back.
Think about a top athlete when they are ‘in the zone’.
There is nothing that can put them off their performance.
They are completely in the moment.
The same goes for great musicians. When they are performing they are so relax and sure of their ability that they are having fun. They even play around with lead parts and whole songs.
Now contrast these images with an athlete that is frustrated.
The tennis player that just keeps hitting the ball wide.
A footballer that has hit the post the last few attempts.
And unfortunately these frustrations usually lead to more mistakes.
This is the same for musicians. Once they have missed a chord or a note then the flow they had is ruined.
It is a very different picture.
Common problems of over thinking when playing the guitar
It’s very common to be nervous playing in front of someone – especially if you care about their opinion!
But it is these nerves and over thinking that tend to trip us up when performing or trying to get that new part down.
This leads to self doubt and psyching ourselves out (a not so fun combination).
It’s all going well and then you think to yourself “this is the chord change. Get ready for it! Concentrate as this is the part you usually screw up!”
And then we know what happens next… the clipped notes, fingers tripping over each other or even completely forgetting what was next even though you were just thinking about it a second ago!
4 ways to get over ‘over thinking’
1. Change your mindset when you are practising
With anything we really want to be able to do, it is really frustrating when we can’t. Especially if we have limited time to practice or to get it right before a performance.
“If I can just get these few notes together I can play the whole thing from start to finish… why can’t I do it?!”
Just like the athletes we talked about before, the more frustrated we get the more we are focused on ‘just getting the result’ rather than the process of getting there.
The fact that you can play the entire song bar these few notes is awesome! You have managed to play over 99% of the song. Give yourself credit for that.
Sure, it was hard in the beginning but listen to it now.
It’s so much better.
You’ve only got 1% to go. So instead of beating yourself up about the 1% you haven’t quite mastered yet, focus on what you’ve achieved.
Just a bit more practice and you’ll have it all together.
It’s a bit like (yeah, I know another sports analogy) giving up at the last hurdle. As a spectator it would be incredibly annoying to watch so don’t let your frustration get the better of you when you are so close.
2. Take a break
If you’ve been trying and trying sometimes you’re better off taking a break and coming back to it.
Play something else, go get a drink, whatever you like. Just take your mind off it.
You could also practice it a lot before you go to sleep and then come back to it in the morning. This lets your brain process what you are trying to do with much less stress.
3. Practice playing in front of others
It’s never too early to get over your fear of letting other people hear you play the guitar.
I don’t mean you have to go and play in front of an audience of 100 people after 3 hours of practice, but the more you get used to playing in front of people the easier it will be.
The fastest way of getting better is not being concerned about getting things wrong. I know this is a change in mindset as we are constantly expected to be good at things from the beginning. Especially as we get older. You’re learning so don’t try and get everything perfect. Who cares?
Playing in front of a good guitar teacher or a supportive friend or family member is a good way to start. They won’t laugh at you and you’ll learn not to worry about getting things wrong (which means you are less likely mess up in the first place).
4. Get feedback on your playing to build your confidence
Have you ever been working on a project and you are really finding it difficult, then someone just says “you’ve got to do it like this”.
They walk off without a second thought and you’re left thinking “why didn’t I think about that?”
Admittedly it’s kind of annoying at first – I’ve been struggling with this for hours and you rock up and fix it in 2 seconds! – but really this is a great thing to have as it saves us so much time.
I’m glad I had a guitar teacher when I was learning as some things really weren’t obvious to me, but to her it was ‘just how you play it’.
Find someone who can help you with the part you are finding difficult, you might be missing something which brings it all together.