In fact, according to Fender as many as 90 percent of beginners drop out within the first three months. Far too many put their efforts to rest when faced with the initial hardships, only to regret it later in life. Why is that, what’s the big issue? What separates the guitar from other instruments? Why is guitar so hard?
That and much more will be covered in this article, but please know one thing. Although learning the guitar presents a challenge it’s by no means impossible. And the journey is so worth the effort! Playing guitar is rewarding in so many ways, and if you stick with me to the very end I’ll link to our article about all the benefits you get from playing guitar.
Now, let’s do this!
The Guitar Is Physically Hard To Play
The first hurdle we face as we start playing the guitar is how incredibly uncomfortable it all feels. When holding it we quickly realize that our hands and fingers don’t seem to be built for this kind of activity, nor our backs and necks. At this stage the concept of playing guitar almost feels like it was first conceived by a medieval executioner.
Playing the piano for instance is a lot more comfortable. You sit on a chair overlooking both your hands, that are comfortably in front of you resting on the keys.
New guitar players often experience a lot of frustration over sore hands, backs and fingertips and the almost insanity-inducing feeling from not being able to finger chords. Those who quit early on do so because of this first hurdle. It’s too damn uncomfortable and not worth their time. It looks so easy when others do it, right?
Overcoming Finger Pains
Getting your calluses on your fingertips is almost seen as a rite of passage by many guitarists. It can be a painful process to go through, but is necessary in order to be able to practice longer.
Your fingers also need more dexterity and strength in order to cope with your new hobby, so be prepared. Unfortunately many hopeful beginners aren’t, which is one the biggest reasons why so many end up leaving their guitars in their closets, never to be played again.
Learning Chords And Changing Between Them Is Hard
If you’ve soldiered through the initial pain and discomfort associated with picking up the guitar for the first time, it probably means you’re now fooling around with chords. Awesome! But it’s also the next reason why quite a few beginners decide against a continued guitar journey.
Learning chords is a struggle for two reasons. First, you have to remember where the fingers go. And the chord shapes are far from logical, and so you just have to memorize them. Then you have to make your hand do what your brain tells it. In the beginning the hand doesn’t listen and will frustrate you to no end, but it gradually learns. Also, these chord shapes are anything but comfortable.
And just as you’re celebrating the notes that are ringing out clearly from your C major chord, you realize one thing. Changing your fingering to any of the other chords you’ve so carefully learned is proving to be pretty darn difficult. And just like that, your brain is back to trying to explain to your hand what to do, and when to do it. The joy…
And oh, one more thing. Those pesky chord shapes you just learned are but the mere top of the proverbial iceberg. Those are the open chords. There are lots of other types of chords, such as barre chords, inverted chords, power chords, diminished chords, sus chords…and many more.
Synchronizing Your Hands
So what about that other hand? Well, in the early stages of learning it’s not faring any better, that’s for sure. Whether you’re playing with a pick or use your fingers you’re still gonna struggle with hitting the right strings at the right time. And yes, we can only focus on one hand at a time, so getting them synched to work in harmony is a bit of a challenge in the beginning.
And timing? Yeah, that’s another thing to master at this stage. As soon as you start playing with a metronome or try to play along to your favorite song you quickly realize that your chord changes are all over the place, and not in time at all. Bummer!
But hey, once you reach that place where these first hurdles are conquered, you’re in guitar heaven! And it’s a crucial stage to reach too. It’s definitely cause for celebration and a few victory laps around the house. A majority of those who quit do so before they reach this pivotal point
Complex Note Layout
Some skill’s difficulty curves will flatten with time. Not guitar. The challenges of progression will always be there. But now you’re more prepared for it, and you have already proven yourself. Unless you wanna stay on the “let’s play some Creedence around the campfire” plateau (and there is no right or wrong here), you are already thinking about how to progress as a player.
Next up is the intimidating hurdle of navigating the fretboard. This is where the guitar really shows us how complex it is. Unlike the piano, where the keys line up perfectly next to each other, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G the guitar has six strings that read E, A, D, G, B and E. Wtf??
Also, most notes are a full step (two frets) apart, but then there are a few that are only a half step (one fret) apart. So in this context it’s very difficult to know where you are within a scale at any given point. Especially since any given note will be played in a different position depending which string you play it on.
With a piano even beginners can learn to identify notes anywhere on the instrument with ease, as patterns just repeat until you run out of keys. Guitar is a different beast altogether. Why build a logical instrument, right?
Guitar Scales Are Confusing
We’ve already concluded that the fretboard is quite difficult to navigate, and therefore a little intimidating to many players. That makes scales on a guitar very confusing.
Back to the comparison with piano. Here all the scales line up horizontally, going from left to right or vice versa. And they repeat. So when you know how to play it in one place, you know how to play it all over. On a guitar that’s not the case at all. Scales are played both horizontally and vertically, across six different strings no less. Enough to boggle anyones mind.
And where do you start? What scale goes with which chord progression? Help! Memorizing all notes on the fretboard is a tall order, and this is why guitarists learn shapes instead. Many shapes. And this is also why learning scales isn’t a priority for anyone just starting out.
The guitar is a phenomenal instrument when it comes to expressing yourself. The sheer amount of techniques and different ways to play notes and make sounds is absolutely staggering. No other instrument can compare. But this also means more things to learn and keep track of, and a much steeper learning curve.
Again with the piano. You can either press down a key hard or soft, let it ring out or not. That’s pretty much it. Very simple. With the guitar you have a myriad of techniques at your disposal, many of which will take some time to master. For instance, you can bend notes, slide in and out of notes, do long or short vibratos, do hammer ons and pull offs or even tapping just to name a few. But then there are also picking hand techniques, like muting, using dead notes as percussive sound, pinch harmonics, alternate picking for faster lines or even sweep picking. I can go on all day.
This goes to show the complexity of this instrument, and how much there really is to sink your teeth into. Mastering most of these techniques, if not all, takes a lot of practice and will require quite the commitment from you as a player.
Guitar Is A Big Commitment
While we’re on the subject of commitment, this can absolutely be yet another reason why guitar is so hard to learn. Practicing guitar is time consuming! You have to be willing to set aside a lot of time for practice, and many who start out playing aren’t always prepared for this.
But here’s the thing. Anything worth having is always hard to get. The shiniest objects are always furthest away. Going to the gym to get fit takes time and effort, getting a good education takes time and effort, learning to read and write takes time and effort. And so on and so forth. As long as you are pursuing something you really want it’s all going to be worth it, ten times over.
And besides, even though practicing guitar is time consuming, so is spending time on your phone, on Facebook, watching TV or meaningless videos on Youtube of people doing dumb shit. In the end it always comes down to how much you’re willing to put in to maximize the output.
Learning the Guitar Takes Determination
So, it takes time, that much is clear. But it also takes determination and focus. This means that the time you do put in also must be of good quality, with a clear goal in mind.
I never thought I’d add this to a list of things that makes guitar difficult to learn. We live in a time where any kind of information is available to us at the press of a button. Guitar is no exception. It’s great of course, having access to all that information, but it can be a curse at the same time.
When you’re not certain what to practice, or how to practice or what your next natural step should be, these endless sources of information will only distract you. And possibly derail you. And you end up going nowhere, learning very little about many things.
The best thing I can say is this: Pick one or two mediums of learning, be that a book, a Youtube channel, an online course, a friend or whatever, and stick with it. Whichever you choose, go from start to finish with a particular song or technique and then move on to the next thing. Simply put, overwhelm is the enemy here, and staying clear of it is the best way forward.
Better Guitar Players Are Intimidating
This is an absolute soul crushing mindset to have, and might become a big hurdle in your development as a beginner. This is something I struggled with myself for a while, and it definitely held me back. At one point it even felt like some people were just born with an ability to play guitar. That is absolute nonsense!
The thing is, we all start from scratch. Everybody starts at zero, meaning everybody has to go through all the same challenges. Even this one, being intimidated by better players.
Progress doesn’t seem to come fast enough for us when we first start out, and watching experienced players burst into one flaming hot solo after the other often reminds us of how little we have progressed. “I’ll never be that good” is an all too common feeling.
You need to put that aside, and instead let other players inspire you. Your journey is yours, and comparing it with others is useless. Remember, many moons ago these guys sucked too. It’s as easy as that.
And besides, even the best players in the world agree that this is a journey that has no end, you always progress.
Is Guitar a Good First Instrument To Learn?
Yes, without a shadow of a doubt! Just because it’s a hard instrument to learn, with lots of complexities to it, doesn’t mean you have to learn something else first.
If guitar is your first instrument you learn, then learning other ones will be a lot easier. You might even stick to only playing guitar and nothing else, because it’s such a rich and deep instrument.
There is no doubt this instrument presents a challenge to whomever decides to take it on. More so than almost any other musical instrument. However, I would like to point out that learning how to play guitar is for anyone and everyone, and I really mean that.
Plenty of kids start playing every day, some at a very young age. I’ve also seen older guys in their 60’s deciding to finally go full tilt on that hobby they had thought about for so long. There are no limits, and talent has absolutely nothing to do with it. That’s the beauty!
And by the way, did you know that there are heaps of benefits connected to playing guitar? Yup, it’s super cool, and you can read all about it in our article 17 Amazing Benefits of Playing Guitar.