How hard is it to learn guitar? Like any musical instrument, learning to play guitar takes dedication and patience and is not easy at first, believe me. It takes hours of practice and dedication, but with some helpful tips that I’ve learned along the way, all of the difficulties are worth it.
This article will answer common guitar questions, go over the benefits of learning, and explore various topics on how to learn guitar.
What are the Biggest Challenges of Learning guitar?
When I first learned guitar, I wanted to jump right in and play my favorite jam, but I didn’t realize I’d have to go through these challenges first:
Here are some challenges that beginners usually deal with if you’re asking yourself, “how hard is it to learn guitar?”
Building Calluses on Your Fingers
One of the most challenging things about learning guitar is that it can be painful.
The strings and strumming can cause your fingers to develop calluses initially, which can be a painful experience. By practicing for a short period of time until you build enough strength in your fingers, you’re more likely to pull through the experience.
Developing Muscle Memory
When you pick up a guitar, you want to be able to play along with your favorite song right away, but this isn’t the case. It takes time to build up muscle memory. The more you practice your chords, the more you’ll naturally be able to shift between them.
Start by learning how to shift between common guitar chords, and then try playing them along with a metronome at a slow pace to a familiar melody. The more you practice this, the faster you will become at transitioning between chords, and the sooner you can play along in real-time with your favorite song.
When playing two non-adjacent strings, novices may skip the right string by accident. Practicing more gets your picking hand used to the strings, and you will be able to play instinctively.
Barre chords can be harsh because you have to hold down all of the strings, creating tension. The chords being closer to the headstock complicates things due to the strings being tighter and the frets being far apart.
To resolve this issue, you should look up several lessons to play barre chords and practice them often. Your hands must be firm with excellent coordination, and practicing will get your hands in shape.
Wanting to Skip in Between Songs
A common bad habit between newcomers is switching midway between songs. If they come to a snag in a song, they will move on to a new piece without ever finishing the first song or learning the techniques. You will never be delighted if you don’t understand at least one whole song, so have patience when you hit a bump.
Making Time for Practicing
Your guitar practice doesn’t need to be 2 hours each day but making it a routine is a sure way to succeed at guitar. The resolution is to fit in practicing any chance you get. Play as much as possible, even if it is looking up an online lesson for a few minutes and printing out the tabs.
Based on a study in 2009, the median time to turn something into a habit is 66 days. Practicing a little bit each day for over two months will take guitar playing from being more of a chore and transition it into being an instinctual habit.
What are the Benefits of Learning Guitar?
Playing a musical instrument is a great outlet to remove yourself from the daily stresses of life. The benefits of playing music include: enhancing cognitive function, improving mental health, better communication skills, and decreased agitation and anxiety. Below are more details about these benefits.
- Improves coordination: When practicing, you will learn to develop excellent coordination between your hands.
- Sharpens your mind: Playing an instrument requires steady focus and concentration. It also builds on your memory when practicing a song over and over.
- Teaches time management: Learning guitar teaches time management skills when you fit a practice into your schedule.
- Let off steam: Playing guitar is a great way to decompress or wind down after a stressful day.
- Great for children: A musical instrument can be a great benefactor to a child. It provides confidence from playing in front of an audience and can enhance academic skills, including reading.
What are the Disadvantages of Learning Guitar?
While there are plenty of benefits to learning to play guitar, some disadvantages are worth considering. It is essential to keep in mind that most of the issues you face will be when you start and will most likely be temporary.
Below are some of the main drawbacks:
- Can be loud: No one sounds good when they first start playing guitar. The sound can be loud and annoying for those around you until you gain experience. An easy fix is to play alone, use a nylon string guitar, or small-bodied acoustic. Learning on an electric? Plug those headphones into the amp.
- Temporary finger/hand pains: When first starting, you will experience initial pain when pressing down on the guitar strings. You will eventually develop calluses to help pad your fingers, but until then, switch to a nylon string guitar to relieve some tension.
- Time Restricing: You need to allocate at least twenty minutes a day into your schedule. If the idea of fitting one more task into your busy schedule seems impossible, it may not be best to start learning guitar.
- Expensive: Once you start getting the hang of playing, you may experience what musicians call GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome. While it is easy to get lost in the excitement, check yourself before each purchase to make sure you have the money, knowledge, and space beforehand
Tips for Choosing the Type of Guitar to Learn On
A good rule of thumb is to teach yourself electric guitar if you want to play heavily distorted notes. If you want to play more sing-along songs while fingerpicking, then an acoustic is best for you to learn on.
The easiest type of guitar to learn is the kind that motivates you enough to pick it up and play it. A guitar that inspires you will most likely be used and practiced more than a guitar that intimidates or bores you.
To find your motivational guitar, ask yourself questions such as:
- What kind of music do you want to play?
- Is there a guitar you picture yourself playing more?
- Which type of guitar catches your eye first?
- Who are your favorite guitarists?
Ultimately, there is no easy type when it comes to playing guitar. It depends on your wants. An electric guitar may be physically more comfortable to play due to its smaller body, lighter gauge strings, and thin neck. However, the extra effort that goes into plugging an electric guitar into an amp and hooking up any extras each time may not be your idea of easy.
While the acoustic guitar may be harder to play due to its size and heavier gauge strings, someone may be more inclined to play the guitar due to its easy accessibility. Bottom line: the easiest type to play is the one you are most interested in learning.
Factors for Choosing a Guitar
Though there’s no easy way to learn playing guitar, there are some factors that may make it more comfortable for you. Here are some things to consider when choosing your first guitar:
Guitars come in different string types. The two easiest types to learn on are:
- Steel Strings: Easier to make the sound clearer than an electric guitar, a steel-string is a great pick for beginners. The steel strings may take some getting used to, but the crisp, clear sound you get is worth it.
- Nylon strings: Nylon strings are more gentle on the fingers and aren’t as painful as steel strings but tend to sound a little more muted.
The body of the guitar can come in different sizes. You should choose a size that comfortably fits your frame. You want your arms to easily hang over the guitar when strumming, and you don’t want to feel buried underneath its body. Children should learn on a half size or ¾ size model before the age of 12. Afterward, they can switch to a standard size guitar along with most adults.
The neck profile refers to how the back of the neck on your guitar is shaped. Neck profiles come in C, V, and U shapes, with C being the most narrow and easiest to play on. The neck profile is extremely important because it affects how easily you can wrap your hand around the neck to shift between frets. Using a narrow neck profile may help if you have difficulties sliding from one chord to the other.
Electric Guitar for Learning
Like their name, electric guitars require an electric amp to produce the correct effect.
Electric guitars can provide various sounds through various means such as volume/tone controls, amps, foot pedals, and more. Due to the overwhelming options and sounds, an electric guitar may be harder for a beginner rather than learning on an acoustic.
Pros of learning on an electric guitar:
- Physically easier to play: Because of their small bodies, thin necks, and light gauges, the electric guitar is physically easier to play than the acoustic.
- Practice anywhere: Being able to plug in your headphones to an amp allows you to practice in solitude, without others listening in.
- Keeps things fun with an amp: An electric guitar has such a large range of sounds that it is hard to get bored with it. It keeps your sound fresh, updated, and modern.
Cons of learning on an electric guitar:
- Pricier than acoustics: You must purchase an amplifier in addition to the guitar. Accessories such as foot pedals can also enhance the sound of your guitar but cost additional money.
- The accessories: Having an overwhelming amount of options when first learning may throw you off and take away from learning the guitar itself.
- Tone: A beginner already has to navigate their way with a guitar but throw in an amp, and it can be hard for someone first starting to find a proper tone.
Acoustic Guitar for Learning
An acoustic guitar is great for those starting as it comes without bells and whistles and is available to play at a moment’s notice.
Pros of learning on an acoustic:
- Easy entertainment: An acoustic guitar can create a soothing atmosphere where people can sing along without the sound drowning them out.
- Cost-effective: Unlike an electric that requires amps or cables, you only need the acoustic guitar to start playing classic songs.
- Versatility: You can normally play any piece from an electric guitar on an acoustic.
Cons of learning on an acoustic:
- Higher gauge strings: The increased gauge strings make it harder to hold down barre chords as opposed to an electric. Acoustics are also more apt to create a buzzing sound due to the high gauge.
- Wider fretboards: An acoustic guitar has a wider fretboard in comparison to an electric guitar. The wider board makes it less beginner-friendly.
- More fragile: Since you should play acoustic guitars in a more controlled setting, they are known to be more delicate and prone to breaking than an electric guitar.
What is Important to Know About Learning Guitar?
Starting anything new can be a little bit scary as everything seems overwhelming as you struggle to learn the ins and outs of guitar playing.
Determination and patience will get you through the challenging parts, but continuously practicing will enhance your skills. Whether it’s twenty minutes just messing around or 2 hours going over an instructional video, do not skip this step and try to stick as close to your schedule as possible. It’s hard at first, but starting with the basics will help you learn quickly.
Learning how to hold the guitar and play single notes correctly should be one of the first steps you make. This step sets you up to master almost any guitar skill you set your mind to. Since you can’t play a chord until you can play a note, really focus on the quality of the single notes you play.
Take the first month to go over all of the basics, including:
- How to hold a guitar properly
- The names of all six guitar strings
- Holding a pick correctly.
- Where to place your thumb on the back of the guitar’s neck
Make sure not to rush or skip over learning the basics, as these are the building blocks of teaching yourself guitar. If you’re stuck on where to receive this information, the Internet is your biggest tool. Scour professional websites and videos for free information and valuable online lessons.
The next step is to hold yourself accountable and set up daily practice sessions with a minimum of 20 minutes. It is essential to stay consistent with practicing as repetition is vital due to muscle memory. If you wait too long between practices, you will spend more time relearning what you already taught yourself and less time learning new material.
After getting the basics down and sticking to a routine, the next step is to learn how to play open chords. Open chords lay out the foundation, and once you know and understand them, you have a hefty arsenal of songs to play.
Figuring out where to put your fingers, how to transition smoothly from one chord to the next, and learning how to play open chords, in general, may take up to 6 months. However, once you understand even three of the chords, that is enough to have you playing some of your favorite songs.
How to Learn Guitar via Online Platforms
Once you can play basic open chords smoothly, it’s time to decide how you will advance your skills. With all of the information and videos accessible at your fingertips, it can be overwhelming to pick what to work on next.
Though not free, it is a good idea to use an online platform to further your guitar education to make it easier to learn. With an online venue, you can receive various guided lessons all in one spot without leaving your home. While it is not required, additional online guitar lessons are an excellent tool to help you advance. This makes teaching yourself guitar so, so much easier.
Another way of learning guitar is through guitar tabs. Guitar tabs show you the notes visually in a piece.
A standard tab contains six horizontal lines to represent the strings on a guitar. It mimics the view you get when looking down at a guitar. The high E string, the thinnest string, is on the top line, followed by lines symbolizing the B, G, D, A, and low E strings, the thickest string.
Can You Teach Yourself Guitar?
The short answer is yes. There are several online resources such as Youtube to help you, and while it may be easier to learn with a guitar teacher, you can certainly teach yourself.
The hardest part of learning guitar is sticking with it. However, the more you practice, the easier it gets to play.
When most people quit learning guitar, it is usually done so from the beginning. They associate guitar with being hard, but frequent practice helps overcome this.
Learning guitar means pushing past the obstacles in the first stages. After six months of practicing, you will be playing with ease. I recommend the Guitar Tricks course for learning, though!
Teaching yourself means that you will learn without a teacher, which requires discipline and commitment to regular practice. Being self-taught means pushing yourself, especially during times that might be boring or tough to learn.
Since you are learning things your way, it may take longer than if you had a teacher. If short on time, a guitar teacher can help you by coming up with a schedule to practice to achieve your goals.
Should You Learn Guitar?
Before you drop money, time, and space into owning and playing guitars, make sure you are ready to commit. Genuinely having an interest in guitar-based music and imagining yourself playing certain songs are signs that you should learn guitar.
If you have a strong sense of determination, commitment, and do not give up easily, then you should learn guitar. The guitar is a hard instrument to learn, but with the proper tools, practices, and effort, you can start to pick it up quickly, and soon enough, you’ll be able to play along with all the greats!
James is an ex-writer for Music Grotto who focused the majority of his writing on the musical skill development content on the publication. His 20+ year career as a singing and vocal coach provided insightful content for the website, and his continued thirst for development in guitar and piano playing helped create some excellent skill development content for the publication.