Here are 5 facts I wish I had known when I started guitar. I hope they make your journey a little smoother.
Guitar is easy to learn but difficult to master
In one lesson I could teach you to play the following 5 chords. C, A minor, G, E minor & D. These chords are sometimes referred to as the CAGED system. With these 5 chords you can play simple versions of millions of songs. You would only need to spend 20 to 30 hours practicing the 5 shapes to reach a reasonable level. Imagine a language where you could communicate almost anything with 5 words. That’s what guitar is like. Well that’s the easy part, the difficult part is in the details. What makes the difference between and amateur sounding guitarist and a professional are the details. You can get yourself playing simple versions of songs quickly but, you will spend a lifetime mastering. Understand and accept this fact and your guitar journey will go a lot smoother.
Gifted musicians are the rare exception
Very few people are naturally gifted musically. Gifted to me implies you didn’t need to work for it. i.e. You were born with innate talent. The truth is those often referred to as gifted were usually nurtured. As children they were fortunate enough to be born into musically supportive families. Think Mozart & Bach. The idea of being musically gifted or just possessing some musical talent has been largely misunderstood. If you accept that being musically gifted is highly improbable, you won’t be disappointed during the early years. Think about language. I have never learnt any Chinese and my family are not Chinese so I wouldn’t expect to possess any hidden talent in Chinese. If your parents are Chinese immigrants and, you grow up listening to Chinese being spoken in the house, learning Chinese will be easier. Music is the same.
You are more likely to succeed with friends
We humans are social creatures so we care about what others think. I would go as far as to say that much of what we do is motivated by what we think, others think. This is not a bad thing. It’s what makes society function. Imagine if no one cared what others thought about them or their actions. It would be a crazy selfish world. Understanding this fact is extremely powerful and can increase your chances of success. When I was a teen learning music I came close to quitting many times. Apart from the frustration of learning there were many distractions. School, sports, friends, parties and so on. It was several of my good friends that kept me focused. In the beginning I had just one musical friend who played guitar. A visit to his house after school to see his electric guitar and amp was enough to keep me motivated. As time went by I gained more and more musical friends who further encouraged me to keep going. Surrounding yourself with friends who play musical instruments should be on top of your motivational list.
Learning guitar is mostly about sustaining motivation
When learning guitar the odds are you will be heavily focused on the actual physical skills of playing. This is natural of course but, its importance pales in comparison to motivation. Guitar has an extremely high failure rate. This is not because students try and fail to learn, its that they quit too soon. More to the point, they lose motivation. Your first year or two is mostly about staying in the game. As mentioned, the basics of guitar don’t take long to learn. Most students get down a few basic chords but lose motivation to continue beyond that initial rush. Seth Godin describes it as ‘The Dip’. Getting through the dip is the key. For guitar the dip is roughly between 3 months after starting and 1 year. The first few months of motivation is relatively high but soon drops. Being aware that the dip is coming will allow you to prepare. A good way to prepare is to keep a diary. Write down each day how you are feeling about your progress. This simple awareness will often be enough to push you through.
Some students will learn faster than others
Comparing your progress to someone else can sometimes be depressing. The problem is no two students are the same. Every student has a different story. For example, lets say I start teaching two 12 year old beginner guitar students. One of those students may have studied piano for 5 years or, did early music development classes which would give them a distinct advantage. This is not to say the other 12 year old won’t eventually catch up. In many cases they catch up and overtake. In some cases its not even musical experience but musical awareness that makes the difference. One child may come from a family who listens to music more often therefore, gets more exposure. Even so, what ultimately matters is what happens over the long term. You may progress slower in the beginning but thats okay. You can’t and shouldn’t expect to progress as quickly as a student with prior musical training or awareness. For beginner students this is especially important to understand in the first year. Slow progress is sometimes the result of poor practice habits but, a teacher can help in this regard. They will be able to reassure you as to whether your progress is on track or not.
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