Are You Really Too Busy To Learn The Guitar?

Are You Really Too Busy To Learn The Guitar?

Quitting Is Not The Answer!

By John Freiberg

This article addresses two commonly held beliefs:

1. That there is no point in having a guitar lesson unless you have practiced and mastered what you were taught in your previous lesson.

2.  That in order to learn the guitar you need to practice at least several times a week.

Let me start by stating that these beliefs are FALSE, and in most cases lead the recreational guitarist to give up their instrument.  By being realistic about your time and understanding the real function of your guitar lessons, you stand a much better chance of playing your guitar for the rest of your life AND enjoying it as you go.

Here is an email I recently received from a student who, like many, holds the afore mentioned beliefs:

Hi John,

I won’t be able to make it to my lesson tomorrow, and I have also decided to stop taking lessons for the time being. I realise that I have only attended two lessons so far, but unfortunately I have not been able to make time to practice. With my university work taking up most of my time I can’t see the point in continuing to come to lessons when I can’t find the time to master what I have learned the previous week.

Hopefully I’ll be in contact sometime in the not too distant future to finish what I have started.

With thanks,


Here is my reply to Mary’s email:

Hi Mary,

I understand your situation entirely, and appreciate why you have decided to postpone your guitar lessons for the time being.  I imagine you would be someone who would want to fully commit to anything you do in order to achieve as highly as possible at it.

However, I fear I have let you down because I obviously didn’t clearly explain to you that you are not expected to “master” what we work on in one lesson prior to the following week’s lesson.  Sure, you can mentally understand and memorize chords, scales, techniques and concepts in a short time.  However, for your hands to do it in a “masterful” way, will take years.

Let us take, for example, the G – Cadd9 – D chord progression we did in your first lesson.  By the end of the lesson you had: 1.  Mentally memorized the chords 2.  Gained enough muscle memory and control to change between these chords at what I would consider to be a “reasonable standard” and 3.  Were producing a fairly consistent sound when strumming the chords.  All this (and more) in 1 lesson!

Now the same G – Cadd9 – D chord progression when played by a professional guitarist who has been performing for 30 years, as simple as this chord change is, would sound better than your average Joe guitarist.

The question is, “What is Mastery?”  The answer isn’t so simple.  Is to master something to perfect it?  What exactly is perfect?  When it comes to guitar playing, there really is no perfect, just varying degrees of execution.

That you are finding it hard to make time to practice is all the more reason why you should still attend your lesson on a weekly basis.  By committing to your lesson each week, you know you are going to play and practice at least once, which is better than not at all.  You may even consider having two lessons per week.  Guitar for you, like the vast majority of people, is a recreational activity.  Yet for some reason, people learning a musical instrument for recreational purposes put pressure on themselves and often decide not to pursue it because they “can’t find the time to practice.”

Let us compare playing the guitar to a popular recreational sport, golf.  Now how many people play golf, yet do nothing more than play 18 holes every weekend?  Are all these golfers at the driving range every evening after work?  On the practice green holing 6 footers night after night?  Of course not!  Do they give up their desire to play the game every weekend just because they “can’t find the time to practice?”  No way!  So why is playing the guitar any different?  Why practice at all?  Why not just PLAY?  The reality is, that after doing nothing more than playing 18 holes of golf each week for a few short years, many golfers achieve a single figure handicap and play quite well.  Obviously they aren’t going to beat Tiger Woods, but they enjoy the game and play at a reasonable standard.

The same thing happens with guitar players.  Most of my recreational students don’t practice very much.  They might practice and play a little during the week some weeks, and not at all other weeks.  However, as they are committed to their weekly guitar lesson, they know they will practice and play their guitar at least once a week under professional guidance.  These students find that after a few months, they are playing some of their favourite songs WELL.  After a few years, they become GOOD guitar players!

The students that quit guitar lessons because they “can’t find the time to practice,” in most cases also quit playing altogether, forever.  The guitar goes under the bed for a while and then on ebay.  They give up on something they obviously have a desire to do.  They tell themselves they’ll take it up again when they have time, which I assume will be at 65 when they retire.  (At which time they will often falsely believe they are too old to learn).  They are victims of the commonly held belief that in order to play an instrument you need to practice several times a week or give up altogether.  Yet the same belief seems not to apply to other recreational pursuits.  The same people might go cycling, play golf, tennis, bridge or some other activity about once a week and never even consider giving it up because they don’t practice at it.

It goes without saying that practicing effectively on a daily basis will yield greater results than a casual approach.  However, if you are a recreational guitarist, why pressure yourself to practice?  Why come home from a hard day at the office, turn on the television, look at the guitar sitting in the corner and feel guilty?  If you don’t feel like playing, don’t play!  Just play when you want to.  Hint:  Substitute the word “practice” with “play” and you will find you will want to spend time with your guitar more often. 

My advice to the busy, recreational guitarist is:

  1. Commit to your weekly guitar lesson
  2. Involve yourself in events that make you feel part of a community of guitarists and have a social element, such as group lessons and workshops offered at The Guitar Gym
  3. Organise to meet other guitarists to play with
  4. Play only when you want to
  5. Don’t have any expectations about what you “should” be able to play after a certain period of time
  6. Don’t beat yourself up if you planned to play and bailed out

By following these six pieces of advice, you will gradually improve overtime and enjoy the process a whole lot more along the way.  After a few years you will become a good guitarist.




 © John Freiberg, 2009.  

Reproduced with permission.  Except as provided by the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.  Links to this article are permitted.

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