It’s Not Going to be Easy

A man playing guitar hero

Learning to play the guitar well is harder than playing guitar hero.

Every now and then, I see an advertisement come up while surfing around online that looks something like this:

“Learn these five tricks to master the guitar!”
“How to learn the guitar easily”
“Master the guitar in 7 days!”

These types of instructional sites always bug me. They’re out to make a quick buck by tricking people into thinking that there is some hidden shortcut to becoming a good guitarist. What they are selling is the guitar instructional equivalent of snake oil. Luckily, most guitar teachers and instructional sites are honest enough not to make these claims. And, I think most people are clever enough to know that you can’t really master any musical instrument in a matter of days or with a few tricks.

However, I do find that quite often beginners underestimate just how difficult it is to learn the guitar. Learning the guitar, or any instrument for that matter, presents a unique combination of complex abilities that makes it different from learning other skills.

Why is learning the guitar so difficult?

Learning to play the guitar is difficult because you have to develop a combination of physical and mental skills.

The closest analogy I can think of for learning the guitar is learning to speak another language. When learning a language, lots of factual knowledge like grammar and vocabulary has to be absorbed. Study, frequent review, and lots of speaking practice gradually train your mind in the ability to quickly process all that information . Eventually, it gets to the point where the information can be used spontaneously and creatively.

From a mental standpoint, this is almost exactly the same as what goes on while learning an instrument. Learning grammar and vocabulary is like learning chords, scales, theory, and how to read notes. Practice and playing with other people is similar to conversational practice. But, it still leaves out the physical difficulty involved with learning the guitar, which is often the hardest part for beginners.

From the physical perspective, learning to play the guitar is like learning a sport. Let’s compare it to learning to play golf. In this case, you would need to refine your control over the precise movements that are needed to swing the golf club. The muscles involved in making these movements would need to be strengthened. You would also need to study the different types of swing needed to hit the ball in different situations. The same thing could be said for learning how the hands, fingers and arms move when learning the guitar. However, even though some study of different techniques is needed for golf, the amount of factual information needing to be learned for guitar is far greater.

In short, learning to play the guitar well is like learning a sport and a language at the same time. So, it’s not easy. It wasn’t easy for me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy even for the exceptional and legendary guitarists out there. They developed their skill through dedication, countless hours of work and, ultimately, love for music.

The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone from setting out to learn to play the guitar, though. Learning the guitar is a lifelong process. There are an infinite number of things to learn and improve on with it. What starts off feeling incredibly difficult gradually becomes more fun and rewarding as time goes on. With the right mindset, it’s something that will prevent you from ever being bored again. It’s endlessly challenging, but also endlessly fulfilling. It’s something that can provide a creative outlet. It can be a good way to connect with other people. It’s good for instilling a sense of confidence and achievement.

Just don’t go thinking it’s going to be easy. . .

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