Is it hard to learn guitar? No. It’s absolutely not.
Learning the guitar should feel exciting and rewarding. It might feel challenging in moments, but it should never feel tedious.
If you have the right attitude, and the right instruction, you’ll master the basics (and beyond) really easily.
How long the learning process takes is different for each person. And you get to choose how much time you spend enjoying the learning and how much time you spend fighting it.
Let’s take a look at why some people finding learning the guitar so hard, and how you can avoid that route and take the easy path instead.
Is it hard to learn guitar at first?
Let’s start with the basics. You’ve got six strings on your guitar, and only four fingers you can use to make chord shapes.
Now, that might seem like a struggle, but it’s not. Most chords you’ll play only require the use of two or three fingers at a time. Phew!
The basics of how to play guitar are super easy. You just need to learn how to hold it, tune it and make a pleasing sound on it. I’ve designed an introductory 10 day course to get you playing songs quickly and easily.
What beginner guitarists do wrong
Here’s what usually happens.
You realise how awesome guitar is. You decide you want to learn to play (woohoo!) You get hold of a guitar, and you hit google up for video tutorials of crazy-good guitar stuff to learn.
Pretty quickly, you realise that the fancy stuff is hard, man. Like, real hard.
So you knuckle down and search for cool songs you can play right now. The “easy” stuff.
You flick from YouTube lesson to guitar tab, rushing to learn sketchy versions of your favourite songs.
You don’t know it yet, but you’re attempting to replicate stuff that’s not beginner-friendly. Fingerpicking. Barre chords. Weird chords like Cadd9/E and Bbm7.
Pretty soon you’re stuck. Maybe guitar is too hard to learn.
Don’t let it get you down. You’re not incapable.
You absolutely can learn guitar. And, it can be easy.
The problem is that your self-guided learning is steering you down a dangerous path. Without a roadmap, you wind round and round the internet. You make sharp turns every time you spot an unfamiliar chord or technique.
In this way, learning guitar certainly is hard. But that’s because you’re not really learning much of anything at all.
The pitfalls of YouTube learning
YouTube is fabulous, in that anyone can put up a video and show you how to play a new guitar song.
You can find heaps of songs to learn for free.
But YouTube is terrible for that exact reason – because anyone can teach you. And they may or may not be a high-quality guitar teacher. Usually, they’re not.
TechCrunch notes that guitarists waste hours on mediocre Youtube tutorial videos, looking for assistance.
There’s a helluva lotta crap guitar instruction online.
Search for guitar songs to learn and you’ll get novice and intermediate guitarists performing unpolished songs rather than teaching.
You’ll also find a plethora of ‘instructional’ videos that are poorly demonstrated, under explained and all-round rubbish to learn from. Watch too many of those and it’s easy to get downhearted about learning new songs.
Guitar tab is a hindrance
Guitar tab is just as bad.
Tablature doesn’t teach you the feel, rhythm or phrasing of music, just the robotic melody notes.
Even Ultimate Guitar, the leading guitar tab database took a stand against the use of tabs, stating “we’re more than aware of how much more musically beneficial it is to train your ear”.
There’s some truly shocking errors in popular guitar tablature – even the best reviewed stuff can be riddled with inaccuracies.
I’m amazed to see tab with tens of thousands of searches still uncorrected.
Then again, that’s what you get with user-generated content. My little nephew can post guitar tab just as easily as you or I can. Good intentions don’t make great tabs.
It's hard to learn from amateurs
YouTube guitar lessons and free tabs are largely generated by amateur players.
And while that’s a lovely gesture, it’s definitely not good to learn from.
Would you learn to drive from someone that had only been driving a few weeks more than you? Probably not the smartest move.
But, alas, that is the world of free guitar learning.
It’s possible to navigate selectively through these resources when you’re a better player – because you’ll be able to tell when something’s wrong. But when you’re starting? Not so easy.
I’d say steer well away from anything created by hobbyists, volunteers or amateur players. It’s hard to follow, and even harder to correct.
You’ll end up playing as inaccurately as them. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The easy way to learn guitar
The best way to learn guitar with ease and joy is to find yourself a mentor and follow their method.
I just finished re-watching Karate Kid last night. I think guitar learning should be a bit more like that.
We all need a Mr Miyagi to guide us into new territory. Someone who can show us the right skills to learn. Someone who can replace our awkward flailing strums with graceful strokes.
You need someone who can be a guide, an educator, and a sparkling example of how to master your craft.
Maybe they won’t indulge your boyish yearnings to shred electric guitar. Maybe instead, they’ll show you the path of the peaceful (guitar) warrior. Rhythmic, flowing, enjoyable, connected.
Don’t waste your new enthusiasm and valuable time on a wild goose chase through YouTube or tab.
Just find yourself one great teacher with a musical philosophy you can get on board with. And learn everything you can.
A great teacher will know which lessons you need to learn (and in which order) so you can build your skills over time. In that way, learning is never hard. When you enjoy what you’re learning, it gets easy. Struggles become challenges.