Throughout many years of teaching I’ve gotten calls from people in their twenties through sixties saying they always wanted to play the guitar but didn’t know if it would be too late to start. They think that if they started when they were younger or in their childhood years that somehow it would have been easier. My response is, “Of course not, you can learn anything you want, any time you want, and whether it’s hard or easy should have nothing to do with it. Just get started, set realistic goals and just get started.”
The biggest stumbling block that most people have in this age group is that they judge themselves too hard as they compare themselves to their favorite artist/s. They also are always concerned about their progress, questioning if they’re not learning fast enough or that they don’t sound good.
Most people in this age group have either just started careers or are well established in their career and have other responsibilities as well such as family, so learning the guitar cannot be a number one priority. So don’t hold on to the well established idea that if you’re going to learn the guitar, or any instrument for that matter, that in order to make any progress you’re going to have to practice thirty minutes to an hour a day and be able to play songs in a month or two. Sure, it’s good if you can practice that much. You will progress faster if you do, but come on, we all know that’s not always possible. That is no reason for it to stop you from accomplishing your goal.
So let’s assume we start with the best possible scenario. You’re an adult, twenty to sixty years old, total clean slate beginner and you have thirty minutes to an hour to practice every day. You start lessons, you practice, you progress and accomplish your goal in short order and are so happy and thrilled and you should be. That’s good and that actually does happen sometimes.
Now let’s look at the same scenario given age and time to practice, but when you start lessons you find that you struggle. You don’t coordinate well between the right and left hand or just the individual use of fingers doesn’t come easy. This is more common, but with consistent practice time and patience, you will develop skill and that’s just what you are doing, developing a skill.
Everyone is different, some people learn very fast and for some it takes longer. If you find you’re in the second category, lengthen the time frame of your goal. For example, if you thought that in two or three months you would be playing songs, it may be more like six months to a year or maybe longer. Also understand that the learning process can be frustrating at times. By that I mean you can only learn so much and physically train so much in any certain amount of time. You need time to let what you learned sink in and time for the physical skill to develop.
You also need a teacher who understands this process and is just as patient. If you have a teacher who gets easily frustrated, it’s not your fault. Don’t give up, find another teacher.
Here’s another scenario which happens often. As in the previous example, lets assume the same range of age, twenty to sixty, but practice time… yeah right, who are you trying to kid. The following is a true story and many people can find themselves in a similar situation. A man in his late thirties called asking about lessons and told me he wanted to be able to play classic rock songs. He wanted to just be able to strum and sing, and maybe be able play some riffs as well. But because of the constraints of time, mainly due to his high stress corporate job, he wouldn’t be able to practice much, if at all, and wanted to know if I was alright with that. Sure, that’s no problem with me, because even if the only time you get to play is once a week you will make progress.
So the lessons start and I find that the man has had some lessons with other teachers, but the expectations of the teachers didn’t fit with what his personal goal was. The lessons were too tedious with instruction that put him in a situation that was more of a chore, like work, and required practice time that was just not possible.
My solution was to show him exactly what he wanted to learn and explained to him that it may take a longer time frame to accomplish his goal because chords and strumming are not always the easiest place for a beginner to start. He was fine with that. I started by showing him some basic chords. He had a hard time with changing chords so we only used one chord and focused on the strumming technique. We added more chords as his skill increased week after week. He enjoyed the lessons and for the most part was only was able to play once a week which was during the lesson time.
It took about two and a half years before he was playing songs. I think coming to guitar lessons was more of a stress reliever for him. Sometimes before we started he would vent about work and on one occasion he set the guitar on his lap and vented for the entire half hour. He looked at his watch and said “Oh, I gotta go, thanks I’ll see ya next week”. He never even put his fingers on the fret board. After a few years went by he would play on the weekends more because eventually he was able to string together some chord changes and strum through songs or just parts of songs that he liked.
The point here is to make this work for you. Determine what your goal is and find a way to make it work for you. Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rigid frame of mind that won’t allow you to be flexible. Life doesn’t always cooperate with our plans, so be ready to adapt, prioritize your practice time and focus on only a small part of what you want to learn. With a little time on a consistent basis you will make progress. Just don’t beat up on yourself and don’t give up.
Check back as I will continue this topic with other true life scenarios and tips on how to prioritize your practice time so you can get the most out of whatever amount of time you have.