If you’ve ever thought about learning to play the guitar, you’ve probably wondered if it will be hard for you. After all, don’t some people “have a natural talent?”
The truth is, learning how to play the guitar is relatively easy with the right expectations and plan. With the proper guidance and practice, anyone can learn how to learn their favorite tunes and eventually start writing their own songs.
The key to developing the right mindset to succeed with the guitar is understanding the pros and cons of learning the instrument and deciding that you are ready to push through the pain of learning.
Suppose you approach learning guitar with the proper mindset. In that case, you will develop a lifelong skill that will bring you and those around you many moments of joy.
The reasons playing guitar is hard
Learning guitar is an extremely rewarding skill. This creative outlet can help you be more in the moment, relieve stress, and bring joy to those around you. However, you’re going to suck immensely before you get good.
By setting your expectations of learning any musical instrument, you can normalize your struggle and push through the pain of learning.
Here are some reasons why learning to play guitar is hard.
The Pain Period
Learning a new skill, such as playing the guitar, takes a lot of work. There’s no denying that. It requires dedication, patience, and consistency.
The pain period is when you’ve lost your initial motivation, and it’s a struggle to continue putting in the reps to reach your guitar-playing goals.
In the first year of playing guitar, you’ll most likely hit the pain period after the first month, which continues throughout the year.
If you can document your process by recording your practices, you’ll have a frame of reference that shows you have progressed. This will motivate you to continue when you’re feeling down on yourself.
Learning the notes on the fretboard
Unlike a piano, where the notes are laid out linearly, a guitar can be a mystery when learning the notes on the fretboard.
This is because each string has a different starting note which makes the notes “shift” around the fretboard as you change strings. It can get even more confusing when you start to play chords.
As you move up the fretboard to play chords in different octaves/positions, the chord shapes and order of notes will change (also known as chord inversions).
This can make learning the fretboard challenging when you first learn guitar.
Various Guitar Techniques and Playing Styles
One of the best things about learning guitar is that everything is based on patterns. However, to master these patterns and build your own playing style, you’ll have to learn and practice various techniques.
Some of these techniques include:
- Open Chords – The “cowboy chords” that every person who learns guitar begins with
- Barre Chords – Using your index finger as a guitar nut, you move up and down the neck to form full guitar chords
- Advanced Chords – Comprised of chord inversions and other variations of your standard chord
- Scales – The melody that makes up a chord and a song
- Flatpicking – When you use a pick to strum
- Fingerpicking – When you use your fingers to strum
- Bends & Vibrato – The playing style that makes the guitar so expressive and unique to other musical instruments
- Hammer-ons and Pull-Offs – When you use the force of your fingers to sound a string without plucking
- Palm Muting – Use your strumming hand’s palm to partially mute strings and reduce dynamics
- Strumming Patterns – The rhythmic element that creates movement and dynamics in your playing
It’s a combination of all these techniques that make a great guitar player.
Calluses are hardened patches of skin that build up on your fingertips as you play guitar. They are lovely once you have them, but you will feel it when you first begin and have fresh fingers!
As you build calluses, your fingers will get sore and may even blister from the friction of the guitar strings. As your calluses develop, you will build up a tolerance and often not have any pain in your fingers after long practice sessions.
Depending on what kind of guitar you learn, the more painful this stage of learning will be. An acoustic guitar with steel strings is probably the most painful to learn (especially if you’re playing a cheap beginner guitar). However, classical guitars with nylon strings will be much more forgiving to your fingers.
Electric guitars won’t be as painful as acoustic guitars, thanks to the strings being thinner and having less tension. However, there is no easy way around building calluses, and you’ll have to put in the time like all other guitar players.
Building Finger Dexterity
Learning to play guitar chords is awkward. Whether open chords or barre chords, you will struggle in the beginning to get each note in a chord to ring out and sound correct.
Learning a single chord is challenging. But tying it together with a few chords in a progression makes learning to play songs downright frustrating at first.
Building your finger dexterity and muscle memory will take consistent practice and time. However, if you practice guitar long enough, you’ll hit a point where you won’t even have to look at your hands or fretboard to play chords perfectly.
Synchronizing your left and right hand
Learning how to fret with one hand and strum with the other is challenging for beginners. Both hands have to “act as one,” and the performance falls apart when one hand goes out of sync.
This only becomes amplified as you mix lead lines with chord progressions and incorporate different strumming/picking patterns through the songs you learn.
However, like finger dexterity, the more you play, the more you’ll feel the act of playing as a natural extension of yourself. It takes time, but it will happen.
The reasons playing guitar is easy
Ok, now that I’ve scared you off from wanting to play guitar, I want to reassure you that learning guitar is also easy compared to other instruments.
You could start playing your favorite songs within a few months of picking up the instrument.
In this section, I’ll dive into why it’s pretty easy to learn guitar, especially if you want to teach yourself.
It’s built around patterns
One of the best things about learning guitar is that scales and chords keep the same patterns no matter what key you are playing. You can also use a guitar capo to change keys and never have to learn beyond your basic chords.
This pattern-based approach to learning the guitar is a beautiful thing. However, it can also be a hindrance. You can start to rely on patterns and quickly get stuck in ruts. You may also neglect to learn the notes of the fretboard and hold yourself back from genuinely unlocking your songwriting.
Guitar players are notorious for being some of the worst musicians regarding understanding music theory. This is because of the pattern-based approach to playing guitar.
When you’re starting, this can be a helpful way to feel like you’re progressing quickly. However, as you become a more advanced player, this can begin to hold you back.
Tabs are easy to read
Tabs are a great way to learn songs quickly, and you can find almost any song on the internet in tab form.
Compared to sheet music, tabs look like a simplified version of notation and make it easy to digest information, even if you have no prior knowledge of reading notes or chords.
One downside is that many tabs are inaccurate, and if you rely on them too much, you may miss out on essential nuances of a song. You can improve your ability to hear music and make better interpretations by also reading sheet music or learning chords/scales by ear.
There are tons of online lessons and videos of famous players
The internet is an excellent resource for learning guitar. You can find lessons on all aspects of playing, and there are tons of YouTube videos with famous guitarists to watch and learn from.
These fantastic resources can help you quickly pick up new ideas and inspiration. However, it’s important to remember that everyone develops differently; what works for someone else might work differently for you.
You also have to be careful of becoming a consumer of tutorials. Practicing consistently is the only magic bullet to getting great at learning guitar.
I’ve found that YouTube helps me to break out of ruts when I start to feel like I’m hitting a plateau with my playing.
Some great channels to check out are:
If you want a library of content that will be a life-long companion to your learning, you should check out my review of the TrueFire All-Access online library of guitar tutorials.
This platform is well laid out, and the lessons are fantastic.
Most chord shapes don’t change
As stated in this article, the guitar is all about patterns. This makes learning chord shapes and changing keys extremely easy.
If you are learning chords in the key of C major, you can also play these chords in the keys of G major or F major. All you have to do is move your hand up or down the fretboard, and voila! You now understand all the chords in those keys too.
The same chord shapes are used repeatedly in different songs, so once you understand, you’ve opened the door to playing any song. You can even use tabs to help you find which chords are used in a given song if you don’t know them already.
Finding an in-person guitar teacher isn’t hard
While there are plenty of online guitar lessons available, having one-on-one in-person lessons can help you push through the initial “pain period” of learning.
Because the guitar is such a popular instrument, there is plenty of teachers. You can likely get a referral to someone in your area who will help you grow and keep you accountable.
You can get good without knowing music theory
Music theory is an excellent tool to have in your arsenal. Still, it’s not essential to becoming a good guitar player. You can learn chords and progressions quickly by relying on patterns, even if you don’t understand their underlying music theory.
However, having a basic understanding of what’s going on will give you more control over your playing and allow you to express yourself musically in a more predictable way. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to quickly get up to speed with music theory.
How to get good at guitar playing
There are many ways to get good at playing guitar. From my experience, three crucial elements will ensure that you stick with it.
Practice every day
Practicing consistently is essential. Set aside a little time each day to practice and make it part of your routine.
It’s essential to keep this simple in the beginning. Commit to 15 minutes so you can easily hit this daily goal. Often, once you get started, you will practice for longer, but this 15-minute commitment will keep you progressing.
It also helps to keep your instrument where it’s visible. When a guitar is lying around and easily accessible, you tend to pick it up more often and noodle when watching T.V. or wanting to take a break from work.
Set reasonable goals & expectations
It’s important to keep your expectations realistic. Learning a guitar takes time; sometimes, it feels like it’s taking too long.
Set goals that are attainable to help you stay motivated. You might aim to learn two new chords each week or practice your scales for 15 minutes daily. These small victories will build up over time and help you stay on track.
When you’re a complete beginner, it can be overwhelming to see how effortless other guitar players make it seem. Focus on the fundamentals, and make sure to celebrate your small victories.
Learn songs you like
Finally, remember to have fun and enjoy the process of playing music. Start by learning songs you like and use them as motivation to practice. This will help you stay engaged and keep the fire burning.
The great thing about learning guitar is that you can play many different songs by learning a few simple chords.
You can often find tutorials and covers of songs on YouTube, or if you want to explore tablature, plenty of websites will have free tabs to check out. One of my personal favorites is Songsterr.
How long will it take to learn guitar?
Everyone learns at a different pace; some might pick up the fundamentals in a few months, while others may take years to get comfortable. It all depends on how much time and energy you are willing to put into it.
Is guitar harder than piano?
The guitar is generally easier to learn than the piano. However, it depends on the person and your goals.
Some may find piano easier because of its straightforward approach to music theory and scale patterns. Meanwhile, others may think the guitar is easier because you can circumvent music theory and rely on tabs and patterns.
Ultimately, the answer depends on what you want to get out of it. Both instruments have unique intricacies and techniques that require effort to master.
Can I teach myself guitar?
Yes, you can teach yourself guitar. You don’t need a teacher to learn the basics and get started playing.
However, as you progress through the basics, you must find a structured program or teacher that will push you to master more advanced techniques and theory.
When you teach yourself guitar, you often will fall into bad habits and ignore critical building blocks (like music theory) that will eventually hold you back.
Is guitar a good first instrument to learn?
Yes, the guitar is a great first instrument to learn. It’s relatively easy to pick up, and you can learn a lot of basic concepts (like chords) relatively quickly.
As you progress, there are endless possibilities for growth and exploration—from studying classical music to playing jazz or metal. With so many different types of guitars, amps, and pedals available, it’s easy to customize your sound and find lifelong inspiration to fuel your creativity.
Should you learn on an acoustic or electric guitar?
Whether you should learn on an acoustic or electric guitar depends on what type of music you want to play.
An acoustic is best if you’re more interested in playing classical, folk, or singer-songwriter-style music. But if your goal is to play rock, metal, jazz, or any other amplified genre, then start with an electric.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of guitars. An electric usually has lighter strings, slimmer necks, and smaller frets. This makes it easier to learn the basics, like chords and scales.
An acoustic guitar has thicker strings that require more strength to press down. This can help you develop finger strength and dexterity over time but can be more painful and unforgiving to learn on.
The Bottom Line
Learning guitar can be an enriching experience. Remember to stay patient, work hard, and celebrate your small victories. With enough practice, you will soon be able to play songs you love and keep you inspired to reach your guitar goals.
Also, remember to have fun with it and enjoy the journey!