If you are looking to take up learning the guitar, you have to go after it. Take action and dive right in. Playing guitar provides you with a certain sense of satisfaction that you can’t get from any other aspect of life. There is definitely something magical behind it.
5 reasons why playing guitar doesn’t have to be so hard:
- Practicing the fundamentals really helps
- Songs can be adjusted to be played more easily
- Basic Music Theory makes playing way easier
- There are unlimited online resources
- 30 minutes a day of practice makes a huge difference
Let’s take a further look into why learning guitar doesn’t have to be extremely hard and what you can do once you start learning to smooth out some of the common beginner speed bumps.
1. Focus on the fundamentals and stay outside your comfort zone
A lot of people find the guitar to be very difficult because they don’t spend their time practicing the correct way. I was totally guilty of this in the beginning stages of my playing.
Here is what happens. You learn a few chords, some songs, or maybe a new scale and after the initial excitement of learning the new technique wears off, you don’t keep pushing through the struggle to master it. It is very easy to waste a lot of time practicing what you already know over and over.
This is a bad habit that I had in the past, DON’T do this. I would pick up the guitar, motivated to work on some new technique, song, or other discipline, and then have the thought “let me just warm up for a few minutes….”.
Then, I start playing through something that I know, which leads to something else I already know, and before I know it, an hour has gone by and all I have accomplished is playing through the same, easy material and have learned nothing new. This practice can be referred to as noodling. Excessive noodling happens because we tend to avoid the “pain” of learning a new technique by staying in the comfort zone.
Many new players get frustrated with their progress because they spend too much time playing what they already know, instead of working on a new skill.
Spend as much time outside the comfort zone as possible.
Outside of the comfort zone is where the real learning happens. This not only applies to playing a musical instrument, but also with essentially every learned skill. Have you experienced this in the past?
Push yourself, but start with the basics. Pick a fundamental building block for guitar and spend purposeful practice/effort on it. This could be practicing new chords, scales, Music Theory, picking patterns, strumming patterns, ear training, etc…
The list of fundamentals can go on and on, but the important part is focusing on something you want to improve on and working efficiently to gain the skill. If you spend all your time noodling around in the comfort zone, you will stay at that exact level.
The number one thing to practice on guitar as a very beginner is learning the open position chords. This should be the very first goal as a new player for a very import reason.
Learning the open position guitar chords gives a new player the ability to play songs!
The whole purpose of learning guitar is to be able to play a song, right? Focusing on learning the open position chords is the fastest route to playing a song. You can practice scales up and down the neck all you want in the beginning, but if you can’t play a song, what is the point?
Focus on getting these chords memorized starting on DAY 1. I guarantee you will not regret doing this.
As soon as you learn these chords, start to practice transitioning between them. A great, yet simple exercise is to pick two chords and practice each chord 4 times. Strum the first chord 4 times then switch to the second chord and strum 4 times, then back to the first, and then the second etc…..
For the first few months, do this exercise with all the chords you know for a few minutes as a quick warm up each time you play. It will get easier and easier every time you do it.
2. Songs can be adjusted to be more beginner friendly.
Once you get a decent grip on all of the open position chords and start learning some new songs, you’ll make the realization that many songs are similar in structure to the others you have already learned.
Beginner players can feel overwhelmed with the number of new chords that they need to learn initially. They don’t realize that they will soon get to a point where they will have an arsenal of chords at their disposal which allows them to play almost anything.
Choose beginner songs that have chords you are familiar with. It will only cause frustration and make spending time at the guitar less desirable by attempting to play something that is way above your playing level.
Many players give up on songs they are trying to learn because the chords in the recording are outside of their current playing ability. This is where you should simplify things a bit to make playing the guitar easier until you are ready for the more difficult chords.
Find or create a simplified version of the song. Sometimes this is referred to as a campfire version of the song. A campfire version of the song will change the chords to more beginner friendly chord shapes and may even change the key of the song.
Playing this way will give you the ability to play more complex songs with chords that you are more familiar with. It will change the song in a way that makes it similar to the other beginner songs that you have been working on.
So, instead of getting stuck in frustration and giving up, you will be able leverage what you have already learned to learn something new. This will hopefully give you a sense of success and encourage you to keep learning, opposed to leaving you with a feeling of failure that may keep you from continuing to practice on a daily basis.
If a song you are learning is too complex, figure out a way to play it that is similar to other songs you know.
3. Learning some basic Music Theory will improve your playing tremendously. It’s not as complicated as many people think it is.
Beginning players usually don’t understand the importance of learning basic Music Theory concepts and sometimes actually believe that learning them can hinder their growth on the instrument in some way. This leads to players neglecting a critical aspect of improving on an instrument and slows down the learning process.
I was guilty of this early on in my playing, and I didn’t know it at the time, but it really prevented me from progressing. This happens to a lot of beginner players, as they don’t realize that they are creating an unnecessary hinderance to their learning. Completely avoiding Music Theory makes playing the guitar much more confusing.
It’s one of those unfortunate situations where you don’t know what you don’t know. You probably can’t visualize how understanding Music Theory will help, so there is little motivation to study this technical aspect of music playing.
IT HELPS SO MUCH!!!
Understanding Music Theory basics gives you the ability to better understand why a piece of music was written the way it was. It gives you a road map to the instrument and helps build an understanding of how chords and scales all work together.
It also allows you to easily transpose a song to a different key. For instance:
Let’s say your are learning a song in the key of C# Major. Typically, this key is not a popular one to write songs on the guitar in because many of the easy-to-play chords on a guitar are not found within this key signature.
If you had some basic Music Theory knowledge though, you would know that you can remedy this problem very easily. You can simply place a capo on the first fret and then play the song as if it were in the key of C Major. This is a popular/easier key to play or write songs on the guitar in.
Now, don’t let this scare you off. Music Theory only seems confusing and overwhelming in the initial stages of learning. If you put a little time and effort into teaching yourself, you will make good strides and progress over a relatively short period of time.
If you are interested in learning some Music Theory basics, here is an article I wrote on Music Theory. It will help speed up the learning process so you can start using what you learn today!
4. The Resources for learning are ENDLESS!
We live in an amazing time in history to learn to play the guitar. When it comes to resources and information on guitar playing, there is more content available than a person could consume in a thousand lifetimes.
YouTube, Blogs, Books, Podcasts, Courses, In-Person Lessons etc…. The information is unlimited.
Now, in many ways this is excellent. You have the opportunity to learn from many different angles and influences that were never available before the internet. Imagine living in a small town in the 1950’s. What were the options for someone to learn how to play the guitar then?
You would have:
- Local Teachers
- Books/or Sheet Music
That’s it! It was SO MUCH HARDER to learn to play back then. We are lucky, but….
With all these resources, a new issues arises. The issue we have to overcome nowadays is on the opposite end of the spectrum. There is actually TOO MUCH INFORMATION. It becomes hard to focus and actually improve when there are so many learning paths pulling us in different directions.
Let me say something about the fake gurus. Please don’t get caught up in the “I have a magic pill to learn to play the guitar” type content that you see being spread around the internet.
Have you ever seen the “Learn to shred on the guitar in only 3 weeks!” ads on facebook or other social media platforms? If you haven’t yet, then you probably will shorty because of what you searched to find this article. Don’t buy into that crap, it’s fake.
It’s going to take some time and dedicated effort to learn to play the guitar, but you don’t have to get sucked down the endless YouTube rabbit hole’s of what to learn next leading you to confusion. Do this instead…..
Pick three methods to learn from and stick to them. Growth comes from working at something persistently. Choose a particular teacher from each of these three sources and swallow up all of the knowledge you can consume from each of them. Try finding something/someone that is popular, as there is a reason for their popularity. Here are some options for different sources to look into:
- A video source
- A written source (book or website based)
- An in person source
Let’s talk video. There are many, many, many great teachers on YouTube. As I’m sure you know, YouTube is the best source for free video content on the web. Find a YouTube channel that you connect with, and that has a lot of content, then watch every single video on that channel. Don’t go down the rabbit holes. This will only leave you feeling like getting better at the guitar is something reserved for other people.
If you are just starting out or thinking about getting started, check out Marty Schwartz. I have no affiliation with him, other than the fact that I have learned a lot from his excellent content. Here’s an example for a Day 1 guitar player:
Next, find yourself a written form of learning. I have learned A LOT from reading about playing guitar in books or on blogs. Many people write this method off, as they believe that you only learn when you are actually playing.
I disagree with this completely. Any complex skill has the need for some type of written documentation that helps you understand the theory behind what is going on with the physical act of the skill.
Find a good book or two and read the entire book. Remember, books are free from the library.
Try to find a book or blog that is very comprehensive. There is a lot of value in this type of information. If you read through ALL OF IT, you will be forced to think about the guitar in a way that you haven’t before. This will help to gain some new perspective.
Learn from a teacher in person. One major difference that this method of learning provides that the others can’t, is feedback. You can’t ask a question to a book or a video. The content may be amazing in both of those resources, but if you are stuck on something, you may not be able to get passed the roadblock because of a gap in your understanding that the book or video doesn’t know exists.
When you learn from a teacher, friend, or family member, they can give you immediate feedback on things like your hand position on the neck or your posture. They can also answer questions or elaborate on topics that you just aren’t quite understanding. Possibly something you saw in a video or read in a book.
In person lessons definitely seem like they’re expensive, but remember that they do provide value that can’t be obtained from free or inexpensive resources.
5. Consistent, short periods of practice on a daily basis can help improve your playing drastically.
If you’re anything like me, you feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. Between work or school (or both), raising kids, pets, shopping, cooking, cleaning, relaxing (hopefully a little bit at least), the days just fly by.
Learning to play the guitar is time consuming, but so is everything else. If you can set aside a few minutes a day to cruise social media or watch tv, you can set aside enough time to learn to play the guitar.
This is the best hack to trick yourself into practicing the guitar. Don’t try and set aside an hour to play the guitar, it’s too daunting. You’ll never have the time for it. Just set aside 5 minutes…..
Yes, because you’ll get sucked in and end up spending more time than just the five minutes. And even if you don’t, 5 minutes is better than nothing and you will still be making progress. It’s just like going to the gym, the hardest part is getting the motivation to get started.
Set aside 5 minutes a day to learn something new on the guitar, and you will see improvement. When you practice with a goal in mind (i.e. learn a new chord, read 3 pages of your guitar book, watch a 5 minute video), every day you will begin to make strides, maybe without even noticing. It’s much better to practice for 5-10 minutes a day than 30-60 minutes once a week. You will gain more muscle memory from the daily practice, and learning the guitar won’t be nearly as difficult as you thought it might be.
Learning guitar comes down to this:
If you put the work in, you’ll get the results.
It doesn’t have to be an endeavor that feels like you’re trying to climb Mt. Everest. Just pick specific things to practice on a daily basis and NEVER GIVE UP! DON’T QUIT! Quitting is the only guaranteed way to not reach your goals.