Staying motivated while learning guitar is crucial for your development. A lack of motivation and dedication is the leading cause of people giving up the guitar. Read this article to understand the reasons why people give up guitar and how to avoid that situation. Understand that everybody starts off as beginners and those who choose to dedicate enough effort to learn will end up great guitarists. Those who don’t dedicate enough effort end up saying excuses such as ‘it was too hard’.
WHY PEOPLE GIVE UP THE GUITAR
I have had (a minor percentage of) students over the years call me to cancel lessons. When I ask them why, the response I get is either: they found it too hard or they did not think they are improving. Those answers are not reasons; they are excuses for lack of dedication. Like everything, guitar is hard when starting off. But it isn’t ‘too hard’ for anyone. The reason I firmly believe this is because all of the people I know who gave up guitar because it was too hard were adults. That is why I realised that the problem wasn’t that guitar was too hard for them, it was because they didn’t put in the effort needed. Why do I say this? I teach children as young as 8 years old and none of them have gave up guitar because it was too hard. They all find it very hard when starting off, but after a while they all improve and can see their improvement. So when adults call me up and say “I just found it too hard”, I feel like saying “An 8 year old I teach didn’t find it too hard”, but of course I never say anything to offend them.
So why is it that I find adults are more likely to give up guitar then children? I believe it is because adults are more likely to think that ‘I don’t have a talent for music’ or ‘It’s too late for me to learn it’ or ‘I don’t have enough time to practice’. Many adults are more likely to make up excuses and some adults really believe that they don’t have ‘what it takes’ to learn guitar. The main point they are missing is the classic saying ‘what you put in is what you get out’. If you don’t practice and expect to improve, you will find guitar impossible to learn. If you go to great effort to make improvements every day, you will find guitar easy. Remember, if children can learn to play guitar, anybody can learn it.
Tip: If you are having a hard time with guitar, seek encouragement and help. Don’t make excuses.
WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN LEARNING GUITAR
One student I had stood out like no other. This student came in for her first lesson ever and had never played a guitar before. After one lesson she went home and I told her to take it slow at first and practice every day. She sent me this email four days later:
Thanks for the first lesson on Wednesday. I am finding that I am really struggling with the whole thing. I am not enjoying it as much as I had hoped. I am really disappointed that it didn’t work out, but am much appreciative of your time. Probably best not to continue lessons. I hope you understand.
I was very disappointed with this email. Not because I lost a student, but because of how quickly she gave up. She gave up after four days and only one introductory lesson! She didn’t enjoy it as much as she hoped? I’m not quite sure what she expected to be able to do after four days. I thought about sending an encouraging email back but realised that somebody who gives up so quickly won’t put in the effort after she already convinced herself that it ‘didn’t work out’. An attitude like this will destroy your ability to progress. Staying positive will help you improve.
The reason I have written about this person is not to insult her, but to show you that whatever stage you are at right now, you are doing better than other people. It’s okay to have wild dreams of the amazing things you will be able to do on guitar, just realise that it will take time to develop the skills needed. Steve Vai practiced over 10 hours a day to get to where he is now. I’m sure that even he had trouble playing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ after only four days.
Tip: Don’t expect anything worthwhile can be learned easily. Don’t expect to learn everything straight away – it takes time. Stay positive.
THE HARDEST STAGE IN LEARNING GUITAR
The hardest stage of learning guitar is of course: the very start. The first couple of weeks will most likely be a huge strain on your hands and nothing will sound right. It is the hardest stage physically because your hands are not used to the awkward positions. It is mentally hard because you are trying something completely new (unless you have played other instruments) and the urge to give up is easy. As the student I mentioned above has demonstrated, there is no easier time to give up guitar than the very beginning. Your mind thinks ‘I gave it a go and it’s just too hard so I’ll try something else instead’. If your mind thinks that at any stage, correct yourself by saying ‘everything is hard at the start, but it will only get easier if I continue’.
Tip: Remember that guitar will only get easier with time. Stick in there.
EVERYBODY STARTS OUT THE SAME
Everybody starts out with the exact same skills on guitar: none. Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Angus Young, Paco De Lucia, Carlos Santana, etc… all started off with no guitar skills. Why did they turn out so good? Because they dedicated a lot of effort to perfecting their skills. They pushed through when they faced hard techniques. If you ever see a video of a guitarist playing something that sounds impossibly hard, don’t get discouraged. Just realise that the person has spent a lot of time to get that good and that person once was at the same level you are at. Excellent guitarists make impossibly hard pieces look easy to play. But even the best had to struggle through the absolute basics.
Some people will say that those people have ‘talent’ for guitar and they will never get to be that good. While those guitarists may have ‘talent’, that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve great things too. It may be hard work now, but it pays off later on.
Tip: If you ever feel down because you feel you aren’t improving; remember that even the best guitarists in the world started like you.
HOW MUCH DEDICATION IS NEEDED
As I mentioned above, even the best guitarists start off with no skills. The difference is that everybody learns at a different rate. Some people learn slowly and some learn incredibly fast. If you are somebody who learns everything at a lightning pace, be happy because many people wish they could learn everything fast and easy. If you are somebody who learns at a snail’s pace, don’t worry because there is nothing stopping you from becoming a fantastic player. Some people will be able to learn will minimal effort and some people will need to apply a great deal of focus and effort.
To figure out how much dedication is needed to learn guitar, you need to ask yourself a few questions. What do you want to be able to play? How quickly to you want to play it? How far do you want to take your skills? Do you already have an understanding of another musical instrument? Do you understand music theory? etc…
The answers for these questions will give you an idea of how much dedication is needed to achieve what you want. Do you want to play blistering fast guitar solos like Yngwie Malmsteen? If so then you will need to dedicate a lot of time to certain techniques. Do you want to get a soothing percussive sound like Jack Johnson? If so then you need to focus on other techniques. The person wanting to play blistering fast solos may take years to develop the skills needed where the person wanting a soothing percussive sound may be able to achieve it in months. Have a think about what you want to be able to play to gauge how much effort you need to put in.
Many students start off learning guitar unsure of where they are heading or what they want to be able to play. This is okay and don’t worry. You may find your answers to these questions later on. For now, try to set enough time and effort to learn the basics of all techniques and styles. From there you may find one style you like and can figure out your path later on.
Tip: The more dedication you place on learning guitar, the easier and quicker you will learn.
HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL YOU’RE IMPROVING
Many students of mine say in lessons that they don’t feel like they have improved. I know they have improved because I can see the difference but they may not notice the difference or they may feel it’s an insignificant change. When this happens I normally ask them to play one of the pieces we looked at earlier. I then explain that the first time they played it, it took them the whole lesson just to be able to play the right notes in order and now they can play the piece without stopping. If you feel you aren’t improving, have a go playing something you looked at earlier and see if you find it easier.
If you don’t feel like your improving, setting goals is a great way to check if you actually are or not. As I explained above, it can be hard to see the improvements you make. By setting goals, you can check if you are improving. Start off by setting very small, achievable goals. A simple goal can be something like ‘be able to play Ode to Joy without a single mistake’ or ‘without stopping half way’ or ‘with my eyes closed’. Make sure it is something you cannot do right now. Even small improvements like ‘play the song without stopping half way’ are more important than you may think. Not only will setting small goals and achieving them keep you motivated but it will help you learn more effectively and efficiently. Goals make you analyse your playing and look forward to where you want to be. It’s a great way to focus on your playing.
Tip: Write a list of goals you plan to achieve. When you can say to yourself that you have achieved a goal, cross it off the list. It will feel good because you have written evidence that you accomplished something.
WHAT TO DO IF THINGS GO WRONG
If you feel like you aren’t improving, that guitar is way too hard for you and you get frustrated every time you practice, you need to seek out assistance. Learning guitar on your own can be a difficult task. If things get too much for you then try to find any friends or relatives you have that play guitar to give you some tips. You can post video responses to my YouTube videos and I will be happy to offer you advice and tips. If you try both of those and it doesn’t seem to help you, don’t give up. You may want to consider finding a teacher (not online) to help you out. Even just for a couple of lessons, they will hopefully put you back on track.
Tip: Learning on your own is a challenge. If things get too much for you, it’s okay to ask others for help.
No matter how hard guitar seems to be or how much you doubt your abilities, never give up. If you give up, you will never know what great things you could have learned. Stay motivated and dedicated to improving and you will find the hardest stage of guitar a lot easier. Don’t get frustrated if you see people half your age playing better than you, just remember that they must have put in the effort. The most important way to stay motivated: have fun!