With any hobby that takes a long time to master, it is easy to fall off the wagon. Life can take over and you can stop picking up guitar quite so often before stopping altogether. Whether you stopped five months or fifty years ago, it is never too late to pick up the guitar again and we explore some top tips for restarting playing guitar in this post.
So, how do you restart playing guitar?
Dedicate yourself to playing a little guitar every single day. Start by working through songs you know. Play for fun, to get your fingers familiar again and then get into the habit of playing regularly, every day.
Following some simple steps and taking a fresh approach to guitar can mean that this time you stay with the hobby and get to the level you wish you were at! People learn guitar at all sorts of ages and all sorts of times in their life. We’ve collected the best steps to ensure you give yourself the best chance of staying with it.
The Relearning Formula
How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. This advice is vital for guitarists. When you watch Joe Satriani doing his thing on YouTube and then you can’t even play a few chords properly it can be disheartening. Restarting learning is not about finding the ‘fastest’ way or even the most effective, necessarily, it is about finding the method or combination of methods that are going to work for you.
Broken down into manageable steps and with the right resources, learning guitar doesn’t have to be that difficult. The difficult thing is establishing the habit of playing and making sure you don’t fall back into letting the guitar gather dust in a corner somewhere. Our guide will show you all you need to change your habits and to learn guitar all over again. We’ve focused on both the actual learning process and ways you can stay motivated and organized enough to stick at it.
Revisit Your Equipment
If you’ve stopped playing a while ago, but the flame within you telling you to start again has been rekindled, it is easy to think “well I have all the equipment”. It is true that it is a big advantage having a guitar and the gear you used to learn how to play last time, but it might need a bit of updating.
Over time, the wood on a guitar can warp. This is especially true if exposed to changes in temperature on a regular basis (for instance if it has been stored in a basement or garage). This can lead to the action changing and creating a feel when playing your guitar that isn’t quite right, and won’t make life easy for you. There are lots of different ways a guitar needs to be set up. It is worth taking it to a guitar store or technician and getting a fresh set of strings along with having a look at the action of the guitar and seeing if it is in good condition.
Sometimes the nicest thing to do with a guitar is just look at it.Thom Yorke, Radiohead
If your guitar has seen better
Have you ever heard any of the crazy statistics about how much content is created these days? In the age of the internet, people have an easier outlet to share their skills. A lot of facts are related to photography. For instance, it is estimated that more photos are now taken every minute than were taken in the whole of the 1800s. This is a truly mind-boggling statistic. When you think about how this relates to material such as YouTube videos and online courses, it is clear that we have more to learn from than ever before.
This wealth of knowledge can make it tricky to find the right specific course for you, but don’t see this as too daunting. It is a case of trying a few things and getting the correct learning materials for your own needs. There are certain basics and courses that everyone can find useful, such as the beginner course on Justin Guitar. Once you’ve got the basics nailed, though, it is worth investing some time finding learning materials aimed at you.
If you want to learn flamenco guitar, don’t waste time learning too many metal guitar techniques. It is good to have a repertoire of skills, but finding something you are likely to stick with is the key here. For a blues guitarist, it will be much more exciting to learn how to play blues techniques. This will increase the chances of sticking with the hobby.
If you’ve been dusting off the old guitar books you were learning from 20 years ago, you should probably put them back where they came from! Though the methods are the same, there are so many interactive ways to learn how to play guitar through videos, apps and online courses which are simpler to follow.
We have recommended courses here, so check them out there are many available covering many different styles.
This is one of the biggest pieces of advice to give anyone looking to learn guitar. This is true whether you’re a first-timer or if you have a bit of experience. One of the best ways to learn how to play an instrument is to do so in tandem with someone else. This has two main benefits.
- It keeps you motivated. Let’s say you have a friend who you meet once a week to play some tunes together. If you’ve gone a whole week in between and not learned anything new, and they have learned lots of new songs, you’re going to be driven to go away and practice in your own time.
- It means you can learn together and bounce ideas off one another. If one of you has mastered bar chords but the other is struggling, or one is scared of scales while the other is bossing them, you can help each other out. This is great if you are at similar skill levels, as you’ll be learning things at roughly the same time. Sometimes it takes actually seeing someone playing something, or having a chat about it, for the penny to drop.
The other benefit of buddying up ties in with our next point nicely…
Dedicated Practice Time
Time has a nasty habit of getting filled up by other things. If you don’t dedicate a specific time to reinforce the notion that you need to be playing guitar then your instrument may go weeks at a time without getting picked up. Getting out of the habit becomes far easier if you don’t have any specific time allocated to it.
Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.Jimi Hendrix
You don’t have to be too hard on yourself. Pick a time when you know you will usually be free and not at risk of getting distracted and use this as your main guitar practice time. As long as you have a few slots a week in which you know you can focus on your instrument, even if they are just 20 minutes long, it keeps the knowledge fresh.
As we’ve already mentioned, if you are practicing with someone else present, you will need to book a time when you’re both free. This makes it easier to stick to the commitment.
Find an Instructor or Tutor
There is more information available than ever before online, and tutors aren’t essential for learning how to play guitar. However, they do make a massive impact on your playing, and have some benefits that a course won’t be able to offer.
Though it isn’t cheap to work directly with a tutor, they can tailor the sessions exactly to what you need. What they can also do is tell you when you are doing something wrong. It is so easy to learn something slightly incorrectly, that sounds close enough but isn’t perfect, or hurts your hand. If you have a tutor there, they can identify this. If you are learning from a video, it may not get detected until you are playing with others.
Once again, a tutor is a good way of creating a dedicated time to play guitar and sticking to it in your diary.
Remind Yourself Why You’re Learning
There are loads of reasons for learning how to play guitar. Whether your motivations are to boost your cognition or just impress your friends! Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be able to play one specific song. Constant reminders of why will stop you from losing the motivation to play.
Put photos of your guitar icons up in the space where you practice. Try motivational quotes by your favorite guitarists, too! Whatever it takes for your reasons to learn guitar to stay fresh in your mind.
Don’t Overdo It
Ever binged on a specific food over the course of a few days and then got really sick of it? This is the way our brains work! If guitar is all you can think about and all you do for a week or two then the chances are you will burn out. It will lose a lot of its appeal and you may stop playing altogether. Always leave yourself wanting a little more, not thinking ‘this is all the guitar playing I can stand for today’.
Short bursts can also be an excellent way to help things stick in the memory, if done right. A guitar teacher telling you to spend 8 hours a day on the hobby is probably a disciplinarian and is unknowingly increasing the chances of you quitting.
Learn What is Relevant to You
This may cause a bit of contention. Let me precursor this tip by saying that if you want to be a session musician or become a guitar teacher one day, you probably can’t pick and choose. In this scenario, you will need to learn your instrument inside out.
For most of us, though, we don’t need to be able to do everything a classically trained musician can in order to get a lot out of playing guitar. Do you need to read music? Not necessarily. Can you play a load of great songs if you just learn basic chords? Absolutely. Do you need to know every scale to write a song? No.
The point is that you don’t need to learn every scale under the sun if you are happy just having the skills to play a few country songs around a campfire. Think about the level you are happy to get to. Why would you torture yourself learning how to improvise a solo if you never plan to actually use this skill?
The key is to picture where you want to be with your guitar skills, and with the aid of a tutor or the right learning resources, make a plan to get there.
Evaluate Why You Stopped Before
If you are looking to restart playing guitar, think about why you stopped the last time and avoid it happening again. There are many reasons for stopping, and to be completely honest, there are some bad teachers out there.
If you’ve learned in a school environment, there is every chance a teacher tried to make you learn a song you weren’t interested in and this took away a lot of your motivation. Perhaps you stopped playing in a band and then had no reason to play anymore?
Work on the root of the problem and try and stop it happening again. Maybe try a little inspiration, we have some book recommendations here.
Mix it Up and Keep Things Fresh
You shouldn’t be regularly coming into your lessons or the time you’ve allocated for practice thinking “this is dull”. If this becomes more frequent than you would like then think about how you can freshen things up.
If the course you are following says to spend the next hour on finger exercises and you really don’t want to, do 10 minutes on that and reward yourself by trying to learn a riff you love or write your own chord progression. Any online course is not the boss of you, and ultimately they are there to help. Learning guitar should be fun and rewarding, and if you don’t foresee a lesson being that then see if you can do something else. You can always revisit things.
Even if you’re relatively happy with how things are going, adding a different spin to your practice every now and then can help you learn new techniques and approach things in a different way. Why not learn a song in a different genre to keep things exciting?
Online Communities and Resources
It can be really hard to find people locally who want to play guitar and are at the same level, and have the same interests as you. Luckily, there are many different forums and online communities dedicated to all sorts of styles and genres. Joining these can also be a good way to ask specific questions and find resources to learn from. You may even spark up an online friendship with someone and bounce ideas together from time to time.
Try to contribute to communities as well as taking the knowledge and advice on offer, this way, when you get stuck, people are more likely to be willing to help you.
Is it too late to restart playing?
I always tell people that it is never too late! Many guitarists started later in life, just check out Seasick Steve for an example. If you stopped playing at 8 years old and you’re now 40, don’t expect to remember much at all. You’re basically starting from scratch all over again, but that is okay! You will possibly be faster second time around and find the hobby to stay with you.
How much time do I need to restart playing guitar?
As long as you can dedicate some of your time to playing, this is absolutely fine. You shouldn’t have to spend four hours every day just to get to a decent level. The key is working out a realistic level of time you can invest and then sticking to it. Even if this is 30 minutes three times a week, this is enough to start to build skills.
Why can’t I play like I used to?
A lot of people get disheartened when they return to playing guitar and find they’ve forgotten a huge amount of what they once knew. This is why I recommend going all the way back to the start and relearning the absolute basics. It is natural that over time your brain forgets how to do certain things, but also that your muscle memory starts to decline and your fingers have lost some strength and speed. It’s time to build it up again!