I am practicing fingerstyle guitar, basically following a tab, music sheet and practicing until I get the song right. The problem is that I make lots of small mistakes, like muting strings or buzzes due to improper grip of the string. They don't ruin the "performance" but definitely affect its quality. Any tips on how to improve this?
Please don't start back at the beginning each time, like I used to. That way, at least the first bit sounded great eventually, but towards the end...
Take out the bits that seem to be problems each time, and isolate them. As Todd says, play them slowly - ridiculously slowly - until they are squeaky clean. Then gradually get them up to speed. Check your fingering, both hands!, and your body and guitar positioning. Move it all around until you find a position that makes you play cleanly. Guitar height and angle will make a heck of a difference. Improve the guitar's action if possible. Then put the few bars prior and after as a sandwich.
The sad part for me about all this is that when all that is done, it's only one song. And it's been learned in such a way that it's almost impossible to play it differently. I work/have worked with lots of players like this, and it becomes quite static - same every time. No variety, maybe even can't/won't put another middle eight in, 'cos I can only play it this way'. That's the time, in my book, to strip it down, and try different things, tempo change, key change, order change, etc. Because then you can honestly say you know the song, and when you do go back to play your original version, it'll flow.
There are many different techniques to learning pieces and polishing pieces. The general throng you will here is to slow down.
Play with a metronome on something mind-numbingly slow (8th = 80 bpm tends to work for a lot of pieces), and play through short phrases (<4 measures) multiple times. Five times is usually good, but make sure you add one back when you mess up the thing you are focusing on.
I know teachers who have their students do this 25 times in a row before they are done, but I think this can generally be overkill.
This is really obvious, but it is also one of the most important (and most tedious) parts of playing music.
One other technique that my teacher started me on a couple years ago is the application of new rhythms to the piece. This shifts around the fast and slow shifts/passages in the song, and overall makes the piece more fluid.
- 2 16ths + 8th
- 8th + 2 16ths
- triplet + 8th
- 8th + triplet
- some others I can't remember
The overall advice I think anyone would give you is to slow down, and repeat the hard sections at that slow tempo many times.
I have the most success in fixing my inabilities if I focus my practice on the things that need the most practice. I work on what needs my attention most. My time is used more effectively if I just work on the parts that I'm weak on. Also, finding the right position on the neck can make something that is troublesome, much less so. There is more than one way to skin a cat on that old fret board. Find what works for you.