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FAQ: Is Learning The Guitar Hard?

I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked the question "is learning the guitar hard?".

Interestingly (well, for me anyway), I get asked "is it hard" far more than "is it easy", which suggests most have more of an inkling that is is harder than it is easy. Learning guitar can seem a daunting task, especially for those with no musical background.

Anyway, I'll start by straight out answering both these questions purely from personal experience...

  • Learning guitar is sometimes hard.
  • Learning guitar is sometimes easy.

You see, it's all relative. Yes I can hear the groans now. I know you hate the R word. It's so ambiguous. But I'm afraid it's truer than ever in this case...

Sometimes you'll feel your progress soaring to new heights every time you pick up the guitar, sometimes with surprisingly little effort. You'll think "hey, this is easy. Either that or I'm f***ing awesome... I'll go with I'm f***ing awesome". 

Side Note: Guitarists are permitted a certain degree of ego, whether false or justified, reserved for those moments. Revel in your accomplishments, no matter how small. You are awesome.

Other times, which is what many of us will naturally focus on the most, guitar seems like the hardest most frustrating thing in our lives at that moment. We become demotivated. Picking up the guitar feels like a chore rather than a joy. With an undercurrent of bitterness we watch YouTube videos of dead pan virtuosos shredding at a billion impeccably picked notes per second.

We think "This dude. I'm f***ing NOTHING!"

We cry.

We take a length of rope.

OK, perhaps we see the light and realise suicide is not the answer this time. 

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angry guitarist ready to smash his guitarSmashy smashy.

Unfortunately, when such negative feelings arise during the earlier stages of learning the guitar, we are more likely to throw the sodding thing in the closet with all the other discarded items of woe.

This is the worst thing you could do when times get tough because it means you never get to experience the easier, incredibly rewarding and satisfying times just around the corner.

The only time you should "give up" guitar is when you truly get bored of it. Frustration is not in of itself boredom. Frustration is most likely caused by you WANTING to be good at guitar and falling short of your ambition, usually because of impatience and of what hindsight will inform you were very minor obstacles that, at the time, seemed like mountains.

If you're wondering whether to pick up the guitar for the first time, or start taking it more seriously, you must not let the knowledge that obstacles are inevitable put you off.

Is there anything in life, that involves an investment of your time and energy, that isn't hard at some point?

If you just accept and embrace that your guitar playing life will consist of a mixture of dizzying highs, disheartening lows and indifferent inbetweens, you're ready to start learning! Roll with the punches, like with anything in life, and keep moving forward. 

Marrying Your Guitar - The Learning Commitment

Anyone planning the big move from Guitar Hero to the real deal must be aware, you are not trying to "complete" guitar. Furthermore, there are no high scores or cheat codes. Learning guitar is an ongoing process. 

a couple going through relationship troubles - metaphor for guitarSometimes you'll find it so hard that you won't want to pick the guitar up - this is normal.

It's "till death do us part". You must put in the time, ideally every day, even if it's just half an hour of quality time, or things will soon get stale.

Without wanting to delve into the marriage metaphor too much... oh what the hell - learning guitar is a bit like a marriage (or at least my cold, objective interpretation of it).

On the one hand, you have to work at it. Sometimes your time spent with the guitar is awkward and uncomfortable, even painful. Sometimes it's plain stubborn. Sometimes it screams at you and makes noises you don't approve of. Deep down you know it's not (always) the guitar's fault, but damn it's making life so difficult for you!

Sometimes you just don't understand it. The sex can get bland and predictable - one moment you're making sweet music with free flowing improvisation, the next you're just not harmonising. Just because Hendrix is known for giving his guitar multiple orgasms during a given show, doesn't mean their relationship was always that peachy behind the scenes.

Yes, that was another metaphor.

So learning guitar can, at times, feel like a struggle, especially with life's many other committments taking up most of your time.

But it's also a wonderful journey of personal growth, adventure and proud accomplishment. Just make guitar one of your commitments, "in sickness and in health". OK I'm done with the marriage thing now. Remain open to learning, keep challenging yourself and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

The point is, we (all of us) never stop learning guitar. Even guitar gods Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are still learning. I guarantee it. Even Brian "still the hair" May. Ask him next time you see him. Sure, they learned how to play C major a good while ago, but they are still learning and growing as individual musicians.

Their relationship with the guitar is constantly evolving, and so will yours.

So What Are The Hardest Parts of Learning Guitar?

Going purely on questions and feedback from students - barre chords. I've even read of players having nightmares about the dreaded F chord.

barre chord monsterThe dreaded F chord... which you will learn.

The hardest parts are the physical parts. The pain. The stubbornness of one's fingers. There is a thing called muscle memory, which is basically the ability to finger chords and scales without need for adjustment or much thought.

I personally had few problems with barre chords, but before I learned barre chords I really struggled with chords like open C major and power chords. But persistence eventually overcame those obstacles.

Good old persistence.

Be assured by the fact that squillions of guitarists have learned barre chords. How long did it take them? Some people it'll take a month, others a year. Again, the R word. How much time you're willing to put in per day/week depends on how passionate you are about reaching your goals.

I always tell my students to "learn at your own pace". Don't feel rushed or anxious. There's no exam. Just take it easy, keep setting yourself modest goals and shuffle towards them. If you get stuck I'm more than happy to give you the guidance you need.

Thanks to the internet, learning guitar is cheaper and easier than ever. No more moving at the tutor's pace over your own, since you're not technically "on a pay meter" like with private lessons.

More sophisticated online courses like Jamplay offer a logical step by step structure so all you need to do is go from one lesson to the next on the list, right through to advanced playing. 

Bottom Line

Nothing I've said in this article is revelationary. But often people need reminding that in life there are no easy rides, just ups and downs (and "creamy middles", according to Homer J Simpson).

If you can take stock of your progress at any given point, and promise yourself to not make all that effort and progress in vain, keep building on what you already know, keep moving forward and don't be afraid to ask more experienced players (after all, they have ALL been where you are), you are in for a very rewarding journey.

Guitar is a wonderful instrument and, although sometimes I feel overwhelmed by certain tasks (e.g. a solo for my band's new song), deep down I always relish the challenge and see it through, because it's an amazing feeling when you nail it.

In a nutshell, the more of these challenges you overcome, the greater your perspective and the easier it gets.

Good luck and may you have a long and fruitful marriage.

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