Been a guitar student for a little over five years, and my progress has stalled. Feel as though I've hit a brick wall regarding speed and accuracy. Have a tremendous amount of performance anxiety, especially when others are listening. Additionally, the tension I feel in my hands, both of them, is excessive.

Wondering if anyone else is suffering from the same issues, and has any solutions to offer? I have no desire to quit, simply would like to improve. I practice about 4-5 nights a week, about 45 minutes a day. Currently working on "Running Down a Dream" by Tom Petty, and feel it should be much easier for me at this point, but regardless I am still struggling. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you.

  • "Been a guitar student...." -- does this mean that you have a teacher? If so, they should be able to help with these issues. If not, you should try to find a good teacher. Regarding speed, probably you shouldn't worry too much about this; just let it come naturally. Regarding accuracy, this is important and you should develop it. Work on difficult passages or chord changes as slowly as needed to play accurately, then gradually speed up. Regarding tension in hands, this is bad. Try to play with a straight wrist; you may need to raise the headstock and adjust your playing posture... – ex nihilo Dec 21 '17 at 3:46
  • ... a teacher should be able to help much with playing mechanics and posture to avoid excessive tension in the hands. Regarding performance anxiety, almost everyone has this. Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible. Play in front of people whenever you can. Remember that when you make a mistake, it is gone. Try to forget about it and continue on. Most people will forget all about it if you can recover and continue playing. Even if you consider your performances in front of an audience musical failures, consider them personal victories that take you one step closer to stage-comfort. – ex nihilo Dec 21 '17 at 3:50
  • David, thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully answer my question. All excellent suggestions. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate my teacher, as it seems like he is limited in the advice department. I've asked him the very same questions I asked of the community, and he has supplied no helpful advice thus far. Additionally, I agree with your suggestion of playing more frequently in front of people, and a – Belinda Dec 23 '17 at 2:09
  • Allowing mistakes to pass by, while striving to build confidence. – Belinda Dec 23 '17 at 2:10

I think David covered your points off in comments, however I'll try and give you a single post:

  • Hitting a wall in learning is relatively common - we have some questions on the site already about this. Key is to change what you are doing in order to effect change in yourself. This could be listening to new genres, new bands etc., it could be finding a new teacher, or perhaps joining a band. All of those, in my opinion, are necessary to properly develop - and if you don't believe me, look at Vai, Satriani, Johnson, anyone!

  • Performance anxiety is also covered well on this site, but in the end it boils down to two things: practice (in public) and relaxation techniques. The more you play in front of people, the better able you will be to cope with it. Read around the site - I'll not rehash everything here.

  • Muscular tension is something you will probably need your teacher to help you with. A guitar should require minimal muscular tension to play when set up well. After all, you only need to just get the string to touch the fret and no more. But before approaching your teacher, have a good look at your setup - if you use thick strings, they will require more pressure, so if that could be a problem, try reducing your string gauges. Also, check your action - are your strings a large distance away from the fretboard? Reduce that distance and playing becomes much more relaxed.

If your teacher cannot help, it is worth thinking about a new one - there is no shame in realising you have plateaued with one teacher and want to try something new.

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Most applicable suggests have been covered already, I thought I might add one more that did help my speed. Really it falls into the "relax" category of solutions, but concentrating on relaxing your hands can sometimes cause more tension. My guitar instructor suggested to focus on relaxing just behind my ear, instead of focusing on my hands. For context: I was working on tremolo picking for a metal song. But this trick really helped me gain speed and keep it, not just in metal but also for classical guitar (e.g. tremolo pieces).

The trick is probably just redistributing your focus while developing the technique enough for you to have the confidence to just do it.

Playing in front of more people is definitely how you get better at playing in public. If you play with confidence people are most likely going to enjoy it without noticing many of the mistakes.

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I find that overcoming performance anxiety is a matter of giving yourself a chance to go through the experience in small, manageable doses until you feel okay with it. Try playing very easy pieces in front of an audience. Practice relaxing while doing so and repeat this until you feel reduced anxiety. Then, repeat the process with pieces that are gradually more difficult.

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