Learning Guitar?… here’s what I wish I knew when I started.
I started playing guitar with the same amount of knowledge as everyone. I knew nothing, except that I wanted to play.
Over the years I’ve learned a variety of techniques, ways to practice, some musical knowledge and the language that enables me to communicate with other musicians. I also realize that I’ve learned or come to understand a number of more subtle things… Ways of seeing the journey… That are tremendously valuable.
I want to share with you 12 of those “things” about learning guitar for beginners which I believe are the most important.
Some will seem obvious. Some may not be that clear, and you may even disagree with others. That’s okay. I’ll consider my time in creating this successful if even one of these things help save you a little frustration and stress.
But I’m confident that much of this will come back to as you go through your guitar learning journey and help you to feel confident and successful.
1. Nothing I Say Is “Absolutely” True
What I teach you here and in my lessons about learning guitar for beginners is the best I have to offer from years of learning and teaching guitar. However nothing I say is absolutely true, and certainly not the only way to do things.
In fact no one teacher knows the best way to do everything. There is still value in following a path regardless of whether it’s perfect, but try not to get hung up on what is “The Right Way”.
2. You Really Can Learn to Play Well
This is a doubt that I know I struggled with. I also see this with many of my students. I’d like to dispel this once and for all. I may not know you personally, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that you can learn to play the guitar. In fact, you can learn to play well.
This belief is not unfounded. It comes from years and years of working with students. I can say in fact that playing guitar is an art, but learning is a science. You just do the right things, over and over, for a period of time and you will play guitar.
3. Everyone Is Responsible for Their Own Progress
This was a hard one for me to accept in the beginning. I wanted so much to attach my progress to having the right teacher, or the right teaching materials, or the right set of circumstances. But over time I’ve actually found this to be a liberating belief. I am 100% responsible for my own progress.
It’s a belief I choose, and it’s actually quite empowering. I highly recommend it for you.
It means an end to blaming circumstances outside yourself and puts you in the driver’s seat. The word “responsible” means the ability to respond. It’s not about who’s to blame or who’s at fault. It means you always have the ability to respond.
For example… If you’re not happy with your progress you put your attention on what you can do. Can you practice more? Can you ask for advice from your teacher? Can you review information or videos? The point is putting the attention and energy on what you can do instead of blaming.
4. Making Commitments Is the Breakfast of Champions
I heard a story years ago about a general in ancient Greece who had his troops sail across a body of water with the intention of defeating their enemies. When they got to the other side the general had them burn the boats so there was no option of retreating. The idea was that the Army would put their full attention on winning and give it everything they had.
Sounds kind of harsh to me.
But the story does make an important point. A tremendous amount of energy is wasted when we waffle or procrastinate. When we make a commitment it helps channel all your energy to achieving a goal.
I’d encourage you to make commitments that you can keep and not overly ambitious… especially if this is new for you. Keeping your commitments becomes a habit. One example of this would be to commit to a modest amount of practice time daily instead of unrealistically longer periods of time. When you keep this modest commitment you’ll feel good about yourself and be able to make more commitments in the future.
5. No One Has More or Less Time
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard (or thought it myself) “I didn’t have time” as an excuse for not practicing I would be rich. It’s just a plain flat out fallacy that I and most people resort to from time to time.
Everyone has the exact same 24 hours in a day. That means if anyone has time to practice then you and I do also. It really comes down to how we choose to use our time.
I don’t want to dismiss the difficulty in balancing responsibilities and our daily commitments. It’s not easy. Everyone has to make choices on how to use their 24 hours… Or let others make the choices for them.
It is clear at this point in my life that one sure road to feeling unfulfilled and disappointment is to constantly use my time in other ways than what is consistent with my values and my dreams for myself.
And I’m much better for my family and friends when I’m happy and fulfilled.
6. Nobody Feels Like Practicing All the Time
I don’t feel like practicing all the time. No accomplished guitarist I know “feels” like practicing all the time. But they know practice will get them where they want to go, so they do it anyway.
My point is this: don’t depend on “feeling like practicing” to decide whether you’re going to practice or not. Nothing of any significance happens if you are always waiting until you “feel” like it. Just make a commitment and practice anyways.
7. Self-Discipline Is Overrated
Self-discipline is doing something that you should do regardless of how you feel about it. Many people think of self-discipline as something you have or don’t have. In fact studies have shown that you have less self-discipline when you’re tired or when you had to use self-discipline over a period of time.
Instead of focusing on whether you have it or not I found it’s much more helpful to just set your life up and do specific things that will help you get where you want to go. Here are 3 things that will help:
– Know why you want to do something and remember it. Often people are not disciplined because they lost sight of what they really want and settle for something more immediate.
Take the time to think about and even write down why you want to play guitar. What would it mean to you? Then refer to it from time to time and try to get back to why it was important to start with.
– Create an environment that supports your goal. Set up a guitar practice space so it’s easy to practice. Have your guitar set up along with all the tools that you need like a metronome and a tuner.
– Create a habit by doing it regularly. It becomes much easier to practice when you just do it for a period of time every day. Think about brushing your teeth. It doesn’t take a lot of self-discipline if you do it every morning. In fact you probably don’t even think about it. You find yourself at the sink with a toothbrush in your mouth before you realize what you’re doing.
When you do something regularly for a period of time it takes much less “self-discipline” to keep it going.
8. Progress Is Never a Straight Line
Some days you’ll feel like you’ve made leaps and bounds… Others… not so much. Of course it can be a little disappointing on the “not so much days”, but try not to get hung up on it. Know that over time you will make progress.
9. What Seems Difficult Now Will One Day Be Easy
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that when something is difficult it will always be that way. It’s hard for the mind to make the leap from what is now to what it will be like in the future.
I guess in some ways it takes a little bit of faith in the process. But know that any student will agree that everything that seems difficult at one time will someday seem easy.
10. There Really Is No Quick Fix
Because you’re here you probably already knew there’s no “10 Easy Steps” or “Play the Guitar in 7 Days” method that will really teach you to play awesome guitar. But the good news is that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The confidence and self-esteem you’ll develop by going through a tried and true learning system and developing the skills to play with ease are invaluable.
11. Everyone Who Plays Guitar Well at One Time Played Poorly
One thing to consider when learning guitar for beginners is that everyone who plays guitar, no matter how accomplished they are now, sounded bad when they started. I know this one kinda seems obvious but it’s also pretty profound if you really think about it. Even the most incredible player in the world had to start playing badly. Right? No one just picks up the guitar and plays well.
I know when I pick up the guitar and fumble through something new that thought gives me some encouragement.
12. It’s a Lot More Fun to Play Guitar Well Then it Is to Play Poorly
It may not always be fun to practice exercises and techniques, especially when learning to play guitar for beginners if they aren’t sounding that great. But it’s worth it. You may think of it as a sacrifice, but in reality is an investment. Every minute you spend practicing something that will help you to play beautiful guitar will pay for itself many times over.
The ability to freely play the notes and chords without struggle and strain is a wonderful feeling. To pick up the guitar and know with confidence that you’ll be able to entertain and inspire others a gift to humanity. And to be able to express the music that you have inside you is priceless.
I have been looking at emails and downloading some of the “freebies”. I’d like to explain my situation and then ask you for advice. I’m willing to join your beginner group IF I feel it will be advantagious for me.
I am 74yrs young, a retired, disabled Vet.Having served in The U.S. Navy 20-years (1959-1979. My disability stems from chronic back pain following 8, repeat 8 surgeries! I also have Osteo Authritis in both hands. I have difficulty getting my fingers to work around the neck of my Alvarez AD60CE guitar. I lack the discipline to fight through the pain in my left hand trying to work with chords, etc. Patience is my least attribute!
I will be away from home December 21st through the 28th visiting my Daughter, Grand daughter, 2 Great Grand Sons for Christmas. I won’t be playing any Guitar during that week. Can you help me move on to where I can at lease play the simplest of simple tunes.
I look forward to hearing from you.
To be honest (and I’m sure if you wouldn’t have it any other way) I don’t know if I can help you. I can provide step-by-step lessons using video. You can watch the videos many times, stop, repeat… I’ll include workbooks you can download that provide additional support.
The bottom line is it’s up to you. I don’t “make” people learn. I provide learning material and encouragement. The learning happens inside you.
I was not particularly patient or disciplined when I started learning guitar. But by exercising enough patients and being persistent I got more disciplined and more patient. I had to start small.
The bottom line is… It’s your judgment call. Are you willing to put yourself out there and give it a shot? If you are I can provide excellent teaching, and appropriate encouragement… But I will not be able to practice for you.
I wish you the best Gene.
Dear Tomas, I am a follower of your guitar lessons although I don’t get much time for practice. Sometimes I start practicing after 2200 Hrs. However I find your ideas as ‘great’ since they help me a lot to improve my playing guitar. Thanks and wish you will continue with this social service!
Thanks Sanath. -Tomas
Hello Tomas, Thank you for that. Although I know most of that it helps to read or hear it from time to time. I am a 70 year old who only picked up the guitar in September of last year. Progress has been slow, mainly because I did not get started in the right direction. With so much to learn, I did not get properly focused, basically trying to learn everything at the same time. On September 21, I badly broke my right wrist and until last Friday it was in a cast, so my guitar sat in the corner of the living room without a string being played.
This gave me a lot of time to re-evaluate my practice routine, the time commitment is easy for me. My main interest is the Blues, so I have decided that I am going to focus on those notes and technique. My main problem is transition speed, even after a year my BPM efficiency is not much better than 65. I know that at my age that there is far to much to learn to become a true guitarist, and for me that is a hard realization. I have always been not just the how to, but also the why kind of learner, so I have to adjust my methods in order to proceed. I do not know other players that are close and am somewhat of a loner, so I am on my own with this. This does not bother me much as I am only in this for my own entertainment, and don’t dream of playing for other than family.
So my question is, what do you think of my approach, and do you have any sage advice? If you don’t choose to respond I will understand.
Thanks for your time if you read this.
Thanks for your comment. I can’t really comment on your approach, but I appreciate someone willing to give it a shot at 70. Doesn’t matter about being a true guitarist… Only being true to yourself.
You didn’t say whether you are taking lessons in some form or fashion. If not I strongly encourage you to either find a good teacher or a well organized online system. In my opinion life’s too short to be trying to figure out everything by yourself.
Take care Lionel. I hope you’ll stick with it.
Well put together especially that everyone struggled at some time
Thanks Jim. Yes, I still struggle… but I keep going. What else can we do? -Tomas
I find it very encouraging to read that there are many other septuagenarians with questions and doubts. Thanks to reading your regular tips and recommended practice disciplines, I’m proud to say that I no longer get disheartened. (I just hope I live long enough so that I can play how I want to!) I’m learning to play because I love it, and after 3 years of weekly lessons and hardly ever missing a day without at least one half hour practice session, I can actually see my progression. I can now play pieces and songs that I wouldn’t have dreamt of trying 3 years ago! I realize too that my aims are also progressing which is why it’s still ‘difficult’ when I start to learn a new piece. I read from sheet music every new page becomes an old friend surprisingly quickly. Best wishes to Gene, Lionel and all the other not so young ‘uns from a 71 year old great grandmother with crooked fingers but lots of enthusiasm! Thanks again Tomas!I’m getting there!
You are very welcome Shelagh.
Tomas, these 12 “rules” are very good and make a lot of sense.
They should be followed in order to properly learn Guitar.