Learning the Guitar is Hard

After spending more than a decade learning the guitar I have learned one thing one thing that I would like to share with you – guitar is hard. Unless you are among the 1% who can play Eddie Van Halen licks note for note from memory, you are among the 99% who have to deal with the illogical, user-unfriendly instrument known as the guitar.

Pain, frustration, and embarrassment is what the 99% must deal with when trying to play the simplest nursery-rhyme of a song. Getting your fingers to find the right string on the right fret and applying the right pressure over a specific time period is beyond difficult. Getting your hand to make guitar chords is what it must feel like to recover from a traumatic head injury.

The guitar you are trying to learn has more than 90 notes divided among six strings that have only a dim relationship to the other strings. The same note can be played on several different strings but finding the note you need to play can be like finding a cab in New York City when it rains.

The difficulty that the guitar presents is magnified when you combine learning music with learning the guitar. I know a lot about music and how it is put together but I still struggle to get my fingers to form chords in time with the music. I can not imagine what it is like to learn the guitar without knowing about notes, scales and chords. It’s got to be like learning sign language blindfolded.

I am not trying to discourage you from learning the guitar. Just the opposite. I want you to understand that for gifted guitarist there are 99 great guitarists who deal with exactly the same frustration that you are dealing with. You have to understand this otherwise you will judge yourself harshly and give up one of the most rewarding thing you can do in life – play guitar well.

The secret to playing the guitar well is the same as life. You get out of it what you put into it. If you understand that and you are willing to feel pain, frustration, and embarrassment at least 15 minutes a day, you can learn to play a song, eventually. If you can spend two hours a day, you can play in a band, eventually. If you can spend four hours a day, you can be a rock star, eventually. If you can spend, six hours a day you can be jazz master, eventually.  If you spend eight hours a day, you can be virtuoso, eventually.

Playing a song is fun and it is something anyone can do but if you are a beginner, this is what you can expect. At some point you will think that you are not cut out to play guitar. You will think that other beginners play better than you. You will make up excuses for why you suck at guitar. You will ask someone you know who plays the guitar how difficult it was for them to learn. If they have been playing for a while, they will have forgotten how utterly impossible learning the guitar really is. They will tell you that they did not have much trouble. They might even tell you it was easy. What they really mean to say is this, “I wanted to learn guitar so much that I did not pay attention to my inability. No, I focused on my abilities and recognized and appreciated the gradual improvement I experienced.” A successful guitarist focused on the good, not the bad. That’s what kept him (her) going. That’s what got him through and why he doesn’t remember how hard it was to learn. Successful guitarists train themselves to see the good however small. If you know this when you start learning, you may protect yourself from your own self-doubt and depression. Don’t get me wrong. You will still have those feeling of failure and uselessness but you are not alone. Everyone goes through it.

The good news is you can learn the guitar but feeling inept, stupid, and like a loser is all a part of that learning. However, as long as you remember why you want to play and you can spend some time everyday practicing, you will always improve. You will learn that song you want to play and even someday play in a band.

Learn music. Practice the guitar. That’s all you have to do.


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