Initially, our relationship with the guitar is uncomfortable. But, at the other end of the learning spectrum is the performance where our bodies and the guitar are one instrument emanating perfectly synced music. In the interim though, we still have this question: Why is the guitar so hard to learn.
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The intelligent beings we are, of course we get that we are starting something new and to expect a learning curve. What we really want is a shortcut. There is a modest shortcut. We can manage our training and diminish the discomfort. If we take a look at the following issues with learning we know exactly how to adjust our approach.
- The finger muscles haven’t yet memorized the needed movements
- The fingertips aren’t fully calloused yet
- The whole body and hand position cradling the guitar is still new
- You are expecting to hear different than you are playing
- Practice time isn’t always long enough
- Practicing incorrect playing
- Not accepting the beginning phase and too anxious to move beyond
- Not recognizing and celebrating small incremental accomplishments
All the above show how we introduce struggle and resistance into learning the guitar. And, as expected. When do we ever see anyone playing like a beginner. Nearly never. We are used to watching seasoned players and experts. Then understandably we refocus on our own production and feel incomplete. We overlook the gains – knowledge and the resulting baby steps. We briefly lose perspective as we compare stellar performance to painful learning.
If we can stay with the idea that learning is what we are experiencing and that we are exactly were we need to be, we may reduce the not-there-already stress. Keep in mind also that the celebrities and other experts who so impress us, started where we now are. And, some were simply obsessed with their guitar such that their practicing turn into marathons.
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They don’t tell us about the time their fingers bled; when they lost track of the hours or days due to excessive practicing; or the neighbor who shook his head in irritation from seeing the amateur and his instrument. That neighbor could not appreciate the noise coming off the guitar. But, as learners we do: Our ears become more attuned to the different sounds; our fingers become accustom to reaching for the right strings; our bodies adapt a tireless way of supporting the strapped guitar, and gradually, without the struggle and resistance to learning, we shift into the player we want to become.
In the following video, author and business adviser Josh Kaufman provides valuable guidance for learning quickly. You may jump to the 17 minute mark for the instrument demo part of his performance.
Kaufman informs us at the 8 minute mark that a key precursor to success is removing barriers to practice. Make it easy to slip into a practice session. He gives the example of placing the guitar close to the spot where you will be practicing instead of storing it in a closet in some back room that you rarely visit.
Among the valuable guidance he also tells us, at the 10 minute mark, to pre-commit to an initial twenty hours of “focused, deliberate practice” before starting. This pushes us past the first several hours of frustration from learning something new and guarantees we get through it.
Tips For Guitar Practice Routine
Choose nylon or steel, or a beginner guitar that has extra strings for beginners. Keep in mind not to put nylon strings on a steel guitar, string tension would be too much. As for the steel guitar strings, those strings would create too much tension for the classic guitar, damaging it.
Shape your fingers in positions to match the guitar chords. Getting used to the sound of that shape and how you hold the guitar becomes comfortable quickly. How you hold the classical guitar will be with less slouching and more poise. Such allows the fingers to better assume the classical guitar technique.
After enough practice, callous formed on your finger tips allow you to play much freer
Observe the timing and pacing of the music or song but this is easiest after you have been practicing the hand positions
Learn two hand shapes well and switch between them
It may be tempting to buy coverings for the fingers but that only delay the callousing needed to harden your fingertips
Play pocket guitar between practices if you aren’t able to bring the guitar with you most times
Commit to about 20 hours of practice total broken up into just under an hour every day. This pre-commitment ensures you build it into your schedule and also increases the chances that you will push through to make all the practices
Keep the guitar handy in case you get opportunities to practice. If that isn’t practical consider getting a pocket guitar
Be sure you are practicing correct finger positions so you develop effective habits from the start
Wear the guitar strap if needed for comfort and support. Personalized guitar straps are available, but some of the best guitar straps are not custom made.
Use a finger guitar pick for strumming if needed. It is most suitable for rhythmic style music and the sweeping style lets you play more than one string. You would not use the pick if you want to play with a slide on the guitar.
Keep Your Guitar Nearby
The main thing to do consistently is to always have your guitar nearby. You may not at first start off with All-Star guitar chords but many songs can be played in one or two chords allowing you to practice hand positions. You can even follow along with your favorite guitarist for rhythm.
After you get your guitar you’ll find numerous resources to help you progress within your first learning phase and beyond. Some people try to learn guitar on Youtube, very handy for narrowing down on the direction you want to take with the guitar. For more consistent training that takes you from level to level making sure you haven’t missed any of the basics. If you plan to learn the guitar online, consider looking into training from someone the other side of the screen who is working with you.
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O’Connor, J. (1988). The Guitar: A Guide for Students and Teachers compiled and edited by Michael Stimpson. Oxford: University Press, 1988. £22.50 (hard covers); £7.95 (paperback), 284 pp. British Journal of Music Education, 5(3), 317-319. doi:10.1017/S0265051700006719
“Picture.” Yamaha Acoustic Guitars, 17 Aug. 2018, usa.yamaha.com/products/musical_instruments/guitars_basses/ac_guitars/ta_series/gallery.html#product-tabs.