5 Reasons Why Your Guitar Playing Doesn’t Sound Good Yet

A time comes, in the course of learning the guitar, where the student feels like he can play songs, riffs, licks and solos but for some reason, they don’t seem to sound good.

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Where he knows he’s hitting the right notes, but for some reason he couldn’t really put a finger on, the music just doesn’t sound right.

The following are some of the most common reasons why your guitar playing doesn’t sound right, even though you’re playing the right notes.

Unwanted string noise

The notes you’re hitting may be the right ones, but if sound is coming out from the strings you’re not hitting, or the ones you have just hit to play the previous notes, this sound will bleed in with that of the intended notes, and make everything sound messy.

If this is your problem, you need to develop the necessary left and right hand muting techniques to deaden the unwanted sound.

You’re not exactly on time

I became aware of this problem the first time I entered a studio to record a song.

During band rehearsals I wasn’t realizing that some of the time – especially during fast solos – I wasn’t being exactly on the beat.

When it came to recording those solos though, the producer kept telling me I was either a bit before the beat, or a bit after it.

Not by much – and an untrained ear may not notice it every time.

But in general, hitting the note a split second before, or after I should, was really hurting the quality of my playing.

You don’t hit the right note when you bend strings

When I learned string bending technique, I started using it left right and centre, creating music I thought I never could before.

String bending is a very powerful technique because it can literally make the guitar imitate the human voice.

But as much as I loved what I was doing, something didn’t sound quite right.

And the reason was that I was bending string on whim, rather than try to reach a specific, intended note.

When bending strings always make sure you know exactly what note you want to reach, and practice this technique on its own (not in the context of a solo or an improvisation) so that your ears and your fingers are synchronized to always reach the exact intended note at will.

Your vibrato sucks

I used to believe that all that vibrato technique involved was wiggling your finger a little up and down to get the effect.

Except that it didn’t sound quite right until I started practicing vibrato correctly.

While practicing vibrato, make sure you’re doing these two things right:

  • You bend the string for exactly the same distance on each note towards which vibrato is applied. Your bending in vibrato can be narrow or wide as much as you want – but make sure you don’t mix narrow bends with wider ones when applying it to a note.
  • The string doesn’t arrive back at the exact point of departure. When coming back from each bend, make sure you always take the string to the exact point that it left before you started the vibrato motion.

You never record yourself

The best way to be aware of these mistakes and imperfections is to record yourself on camera and listening/watching yourself while you’re not actually playing.

If you only listen to yourself playing while concentrating on playing, it will be very difficult to spot out the cause of your inaccuracies.

Conclusion: Don’t just learn new things, also improve on what you already know.

It is completely normal that we get excited and want to learn new techniques, scales, chords, songs, riffs, licks, solos etc.

Things that usually increase in difficulty and complexity and make us feel better guitar players.

However, sometimes we need to revisit elements of our playing we already know and improve on them.

It may be a good idea to go back to your old music and play it again, keeping the things above in mind, and fixing what needs to be fixed. 

Robert Callus is a guitar player, songwriter and blogger and gives guitar lessons in Malta.