Learning to play guitar can be really hard. Books and courses promising “guitar mastery in 30 days” tend to gloss over the part about sore fingertips, fatigued muscles, and the sheer mental effort required to play any musical instrument.
What really makes guitar hard to learn is the physical aspect. Suddenly your fingertips get sore. The muscles in your hands are fatigued. Your picking hand keeps hitting the wrong strings. Your brain hurts from telling your fingers to switch from G major to D major.
There are 100 things happening all at once.
But there’s some good news: If you think it’s easy, you probably aren’t really trying.
Consider an instrument like the violin. No one is surprised when they find out the violin is hard to play.
Unlike a guitar, it has no frets, which means a violinist must know exactly where to place their fingers to play each note in tune. Then there is proper posture, bowing technique, and learning all the fundamentals of music. It can take years of practice to play the violin badly.
Meanwhile, it’s possible to play guitar badly in a matter of weeks. As long as the strings are in tune, you just have to put your fingers where the picture says.
You don’t even have to know what notes you’re playing. If it’s really that easy, then why does it seem so hard to make progress?
The Guitar is Weird
The piano has all of the notes laid out in a line. Every C on the piano looks the same. There is a pattern of seven white keys and five black keys that repeats along the entire keyboard.
It’s true that each string on a guitar has the notes laid out in a line. The difference is the guitar has six lines that start in different places.
The only easy part about Standard Tuning (EADGBE) is that the open-string notes repeat at the 12th fret (because there are 12 notes in the chromatic scale).
There is no way around learning all of those blank frets between each of the open strings and the 12th fret.
And there is no easy way to go about it. Many casual players learn to play the pentatonic scale at the
You Can’t Force Biology
As an infant, it took years to learn how to feed yourself. It took even longer to learn how to use the bathroom by yourself.
Learning to read and write was no simple task either. It takes time for the brain to rewire itself for a new skill. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than a few days to smoothly transition between chords.
When you’re first starting out, it’s tempting to think you can play better if you put in more hours. You can’t. It takes weeks of consistent practice to develop calluses on the tips of your fretting fingers.
It can take months to build the strength and dexterity in your fingers required for basic guitar skills. Pushing through the pain won’t change this biological process.
While you are learning all of these new chord shapes and picking patterns, you are training your left and right hands to work together in a new way. The brain has to make new connections and develop “muscle memory.”
With enough practice, your uncoordinated movements will start to become second nature.
Musical Knowledge is Endless
Many new guitarists—particularly those with no prior musical training—are surprised to find out there is more than one way to play a C major chord.
“You mean I have to learn it all over again?” students say.
The basic chords and scales found in books for beginners don’t tell the whole story. If you tried to learn everything about music at the same time, you wouldn’t learn anything. There’s too much to know.
Playing a musical instrument is a lifelong endeavor of hearing to other musicians, and asking, “Why don’t I sound like that?”
A diligent musician will run home and try to figure it out. How did they play that lick? What chord was that? Why is my playing so sloppy?
These questions will lead to developing your own style. No two guitarists play the same way. They can’t. Everyone hears music in their own way. You may like how something sounds, while another guitarist might hate it.
This is how you will decide which skills to hone.
Most of the problems you will experience as a new guitar player are the result of impatience. Commit yourself to a regular practice routine (see How Much Should You Practice the Guitar?). It can take as little as 15 minutes a day to start seeing progress.
If you stick with the instrument for at least a year, everything that feels impossible now will be painfully simple in hindsight.
You will be able to play longer without your fingers getting sore. Switching from one chord to another will be automatic. The level of coordination between your left and right hands will enable you to play more complex pieces of music.
As your skills improve, you will face new challenges. The joy of facing those challenges and overcoming them is what makes music fun.