If you’re learning to play guitar in later life, there are a few steps that you will go through. One of these steps is frustration, it is inevitable.
Guitar learning frustration occurs in every guitar player and is a natural part of the learning process. It develops because your playing ability doesn’t meet your expectation. It can be overcome with clear goal-setting and a structured mix of challenge and reward.
There’s quite a tough adjustment period when you are learning to play guitar and it can feel like you are asking your hands to do things they just won’t cooperate with.
This is avoidable, and in this post, we provide some top tips to deal with guitar frustration and stick with it even when you feel like throwing your guitar at a wall and going back to guitar hero on your games console or sticking it in a closet till you forget about it.
1. Understand What Causes Guitar Frustration
To properly understand how to deal with it, we need to understand what is causing it. Frustration is slightly different for everyone but generally speaking, there are a couple of main things that can make you start to get mad and want to give up.
Expectations can be an incredibly challenging thing for any aspiring guitarist. Let’s face it, you take up guitar because you want to be a beast at shredding or a maestro at picking, but this is not something you can pick up overnight. “Patience is a virtue” is the old saying, but in the modern age of instant gratification, patience has gone out of the window for some people. There is no denying that you need to spend hundreds of hours playing guitar to get to a good level, we talk about how long it takes here, and this means that after 20 or 30 hard hours you might have not got as far as you hoped. This is where frustration kicks in. You won’t be able to play much Jimi Hendrix after just a few hours of practicing so, as we cover later in this article, adjusting your expectations may be required.
Frustration can also stem from not quite “getting it”. Having something explained to you on a YouTube video can be great, but not everything clicks straight away. Sometimes, it can take days or even weeks of trying to learn a particular technique before the penny drops. This often makes it feel like you’re never going to get there. The frustration will no doubt follow if you feel like you aren’t really getting anywhere with your playing. Not all of the progress is obvious or visible and you really can feel like you’re at a standstill. If you were playing a video game with an incredibly difficult level, you would eventually feel like giving up. The same applies when you reach certain levels of guitar playing.
So, what are some techniques which can be used to deal with guitar frustration? How can you make sure you don’t get caught in any of the traps that will make you give up on playing guitar altogether?
2. Set Realistic Targets
This is such a huge cause of guitar frustration. We had to mention it and address it first and foremost. When you storm into any new hobby you will be full of excitement. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have taken it up in the first place. The excitement when you pick up a guitar is not to spend hours staring at tablature you don’t understand, it is to be able to play your favorite songs. The chances of this happening quickly are slim, and the road to being able to recite your favorite band’s greatest hits is a long one.
If you think that a few sessions of practice will get you ready to be performing, playing and singing at the same time and writing masterpieces, you’re bound to get frustrated if you get a few sessions in and you have only just nailed your first couple of chords or riffs.
Targeting something which is within grasp is a good way to keep your feet on the ground, and you will feel far better when you achieve it. If you want to learn one super simple song in the first couple of weeks then you can probably get there, and when you do you will feel great. If you want to learn how to play like Django Reinhardt in one week then you will of course feel far worse about it when you can’t get anywhere near. Take it one step at a time.
Targeting something which is within grasp is a good way to keep your feet on the ground, and you will feel far better when you achieve it. If you want to learn one super simple song in the first couple of weeks then you can probably get there, and when you do you will feel great. If you want to learn how to play like Django Reinhardt in one week then you will, of course, feel far worse about it when you can’t get anywhere near. Take it one step at a time.
3. Don’t Compare
This ties in with realistic targets. Comparison is an absolute curse for anyone creative or musical. There is always someone who has been playing guitar for longer, or who has just managed to learn how to play in a shorter space of time. Think of yourself as totally separate from these people. Take solace in the fact that every guitarist had to start at the same point you did, just because some people are further down the road than you.
You also shouldn’t feel like you have to be able to do something because someone else can. This is especially true in the earliest stages of your playing. Having friends who can play can be a help or a hindrance, and can certainly make you feel worse about yourself. I absolutely recommend playing with others but at the same time, you need to avoid the trap of thinking that you need to be at the same standard. Friends may have been playing longer or they may have spent more time focusing on another aspect of guitar to you, meaning a different set of skills. Comparisons can make you feel down on yourself and ultimately this can lead to being frustrated or giving up.
4. Follow One Course or Learning Structure
Something many learners can find really frustrating is knowledge that they’re learning not quite following on, or YouTubers and online teachers having their own methods and terminology for things. This can slow you down a lot and also make it feel like there is more to learn than there is. If you are constantly flitting between videos or just searching for “How to play B Minor on Guitar” and then going with the first result then the knowledge you gain can be patchy.
Courses are made to guide you through step-by-step so you won’t miss anything on your way. If you are not following any sort of structure, you can miss stuff and you might well end up getting confused by the different guitarists and instructors/tutors on YouTube.
On top of this, there is no real quality control if you are just searching for any kind of tutorial. It may be that you end up with dodgy information or that things aren’t explained clearly, this means a huge amount of frustration.
To deal with this, opt for one course. Luke’s guitar journey is following Justin Guitar’s Beginner course which is not only a great foundation but free, so if you check his youtube channel out can see what it is like to follow that course as a beginner. There are other free courses and paid courses out there in a variety of different styles, you can check reviews beforehand to ensure that people find the courses simple enough to follow. This way, you can go through tuition exactly as it was designed, and learn in the order that the instructor should have carefully created for you.
5. Don’t Overdo It
Have you ever discovered a food which is so delicious you just can’t stop eating it? Until…you’re full. Too full. You probably reach a stage where you never want to see that food again! This isn’t frustration as such, but overdoing it with guitar can certainly lead to frustration, so the same principle applies.
There should be a healthy mix of challenge, reward, and ultimately, rest. The number of people who want to learn fast and therefore go all-in early on only to discover that guitar has a lot of difficulties, means there are plenty of people who give up on the hobby almost as quickly as they have started.
If you’re practicing for long periods of time each day, your brain can also become tired and confused, as can your hands and arms, and you will no longer be as effective. Shorter bursts are best for your learning as well as keeping a positive mindset, especially to start with.
For frustration and for effectiveness, we recommend creating a schedule for practice and sticking to it as much as possible. If you have an instructor then this can be built into the schedule. Don’t leave it all until Sunday then schedule a four-hour mega-session. Instead, space it out over the week, even if you are doing 20 minutes at a time.
6. Commit (and Resign Yourself) to The Long Haul
Time for a little brain trick, for those who are into that sort of thing. There is an ‘average’ time it will take to learn something, but this doesn’t always mean this is how long it will take you. Ever heard the saying “expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed”? Well, as pessimistic as it sounds, for absolute beginners it is really good advice. If a course says you should complete it in 20 hours of practice time, allow 50. Go at a leisurely pace and soak it all in. Most of us have no rush on learning to play other than the expectations we impose upon ourselves. If you’re done sooner and you really feel like you’ve nailed it, bonus!
It is far better to commit to spending 10 hours on something and it only take a few hours than it is to allow a few hours and find you need longer. This can give the feeling that you are stuck or even damage your confidence. Playing guitar isn’t about how quickly you can get to grips with absolutely every aspect of it. Think of it like leaving a lot of time for a car journey and then not being stressed when the inevitable traffic jam hits! This will help you greatly in avoiding any feelings of frustration.
7. The Weight Loss Effect
Closely tied into the commitment to taking your time and sticking with it, is the weight loss effect. Have you ever not seen someone for a few weeks and they’ve lost a load of weight in that time, but when you say it to them, they haven’t noticed? They see themselves every day in the mirror. Close scrutiny makes it harder to see progress.
It can be easy to get a feeling that you’re not making much progress as a guitarist, but this is because you only really pay attention to yourself from one day to the next. The improvements are so incremental that you may not notice them day-to-day. If you were to not listen to yourself for a month and then tune back in then you would notice the progress. Except, this isn’t possible…
One way to avoid the weight loss effect making it feel like you aren’t getting anywhere is to record snippets of your practicing once in a while, say every two weeks. You should be buoyed by the progress you have made in this time. You won’t notice it while you are learning (certainly not as clearly anyway) but in this easy comparison, you should see the impact all that practice is having.
8. Mix it Up
Learning some new skills may give you no pleasure whatsoever. If you want to learn a language or complex mathematics, there is every chance that the process will be dull and hard work.
Though guitar isn’t easy, it certainly should never be dull. Fortunately, you’ve chosen a hobby that can bring a huge amount of enjoyment in the process of learning. If it ever feels like it is starting to become a bit of a chore then our advice is to mix it up! Play something new and exciting or just devote a practice session to something a little funny or even silly to reinvigorate your love of guitar.
If you’ve been doing a lot of work on scales or complex chords then it might be that you start to feel a bit like the joy has been sucked out of your sessions. Mix it up! Learn a song from your kids’ favorite film and let them sing along to it. Write your own song about how much you hate learning scales! Try to work out how to play a Daft Punk song on guitar! There are endless possibilities. The skills you have picked up already should be put into use. It isn’t always about pushing on to the next level. Reflect and enjoy the skills you have gained.
9. Motivational Words
Due to the overwhelming feeling of not wanting to sound all motivational speaker, I won’t pick out any examples. We all have our own heroes in music and in life. Whether you love Brian May or you want to put up quotes from Einstein or Muhammad Ali, there are plenty of motivational words out there to keep you going. It feels a bit like the pictures you might see at the gym, but you can make it much less corny. Just give yourself that extra reminder of why you are doing it and where you plan to get to.
10. Practice Even When You Can’t
I know, it sounds like one of those motivational speaches again. I don’t mean anything spiritual by this, don’t worry…
Practising doesn’t have to be with a guitar in your hands. In fact, having a guitar in your hands can be frustrating for beginners especially if you find you don’t have the knowledge or finger strength to get to where you want to be.
You can practice your finger strength without a guitar. I use a guitar hand exerciser which fits in your pocket, and highly recommend if you want to build finger and strength away from the guitar. I wrote about how you can use them to build strength, calluses and improve barre chords along with some techniques you can do here in this post Best Guitar Finger Exercise Tool And Ways To Use It Effectively
Similarly, there are loads of tutorials you can watch while on a bus or train or waiting for the kettle to boil. Even without actually playing
11. Fall In Love With The Process
If you’re just playing guitar because you love the image of being able to stand on stage and rock out, then you might find the actual process of learning more frustrating than most. Learn to love the instrument and learning all about it. Every new piece of knowledge should bring with it a mini fist pump and a bit of excitement that this is another skill to your repertoire.
One good way to ensure you are enjoying the process of learning is to learn songs and styles you actually care about. Don’t spend all of your time on learning complex picking techniques if this is not what you actually want to do on your guitar, it is a waste of time. If you have a certain style which is your goal, stick to this and you will enjoy the process far more.
Think about the environment in which you’re learning, too. Some learners love privacy and working through things at their own pace, some love to play around others and are best suited to treating learning guitar as more of a social activity. Work out what is best for you and go down a path that enables your learning style.
Above all, do whatever it takes to ensure that picking up the guitar is an enjoyable experience each and every time.