Overcoming Common Guitar Playing Obstacles
Article Written By Daniel Jacobson
Almost Everyone Encounters These At One Time Or Another
When you decide to learn an art or any skill, be it a language, a sport or a martial art, this is a good thing to remember: NO ONE ever progresses in a straight line from beginner to master without ever encountering any obstacles. This is the nature of being a human and trying to learn and master difficult skills. Hey, if it was easy then the payoff wouldn’t be as satisfying, when you can actually DO what you’ve been working so hard at to learn. For example, when you can improvise over a set of difficult chords, and make it sound musical while at the same time expressing whatever emotion you are feeling at that moment, it’s an amazing feeling! It feels GREAT to be able to do that, to express yourself “in the moment”. However when someone hears you, they are hearing just the tip of the iceberg; there are literally thousands of hours gone into honing this skill, to be able to do that. The further you go, the more hours you spend honing your craft, the more you EARN the right to make music that makes:
You feel great
Others feel great
But to reach high stages of mastery, it requires battling through the obstacles that are there to stop you.
The Obstacles and How To Overcome Them
I don’t have enough time!
This is such a common obstacle for almost everyone. Life is so busy these days, trying to make a living, spend time with your family, get your house clean and your food bought and prepared… and after all that, if you have any time for hobbies, you are exhausted! What can be done to overcome this obstacle?
You need to really seriously decide how much it means to you to be able to improve your music skills. If it’s not that important, then don’t do it, do something else instead which IS more important to you. PRIORITISE! If you decide that actually playing music is extremely important in your life, as it is for me and many others – then commit yourself to playing your guitar for a minimum of 4 hours every week. With this strong commitment to do it, you can say no to other things – get out of work on time those nights, and let your family know you can’t be disturbed for 20 or 30 minutes at a time while you are practicing. If you have total focus for even 20 minutes, you can get a lot done. Turn your phone and all notifications off and do what you need to do. If you do this 12 times a week, that’s 4 hours. Or once in the morning, once in the evening, for 5 days, and then 40 minutes one of the other days. That’s all it takes! I guarantee if you get into a routine like that, you will start gradually increasing the time you are practicing because it’s so enjoyable J
I don’t have enough skill, I can’t do it!
Believe or not, every single virtuoso guitar player in the history of the world has thought these thoughts at one time or another. Overcoming self-doubt is almost certainly a necessary step on the path to becoming a good or even great guitar player.
Skill is NOT that important, your attitude is all important. If you focus on your skills, you will always be disappointed, because there is ALWAYS someone better than you out there. Focus instead on the journey, the enjoyable feeling of playing anything you can play. If you can’t play anything yet, then this is your first big hurdle: to reach the stage where you can ENJOY the feeling of playing something on your guitar. Many fall before they get past this first hurdle; you absolutely must persevere until you get over it. Only then can you start really looking forward to playing your guitar. You will do it because you enjoy it, and you will improve because you are doing it. This is called a “virtuous cycle”, it’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.
I have taught hundreds of people to play the guitar, and I never found a single person who had the RIGHT attitude, who did get past this hurdle in a matter of months. With the wrong attitude, it’s difficult to impossible to get past it. This is also true for learning anything else in your life!
I’m too old / too young / too uncoordinated / hands are too big/small/medium sized
These are all just variations of the first two obstacles, they are invented reasons for you NOT to commit to doing what you really want. To get past them, there are many examples of great guitarists who became great DESPITE incredible mental and/or physical hardships. Take Django Reinhardt, one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 1930s, and probably the only non-American musician to significantly influence the development of jazz guitar in the Swing era. He was a very good guitarist at a young age, but disaster struck when he was badly burned in a fire at the age of 17. He had 1st and 2nd degree burns over half his body, and lost the use of the 4th and 5th fingers of his left hand. He had to relearn to play the guitar from scratch, with 2 less fingers on his fretting hand! What he accomplished with only 2 fingers is nothing short of incredible. The guitar became an instrument used for lead lines and soloing largely due to him; before him it was used only for accompaniment.
Next time you are thinking of quitting because it’s too hard or your hands aren’t right – think about Django and keep working!
Motivating yourself to get to the stage where it’s easy to motivate yourself to play is possible! But it’s a lot easier if you find a great guitar teacher who can help you with not only the playing but the psychology aspect of learning to play the guitar. You have to learn to THINK like a good guitarist, in order to become a good guitarist. If you are based in Dublin, Ireland, check out our acoustic guitar lessons in Dublin.