Having a website that provides beginner guitar lessons means that I get a ton of mail from students telling me what they find most challenging and asking for advice on different aspects of learning the guitar.

I get letters from beginner students from every part of the globe and from all demographic groups, so I think it's safe to say that these problems will be universal among beginner guitar players.

School of Rock

School of Rock

There are many similarities found in the letters since most beginners run into the same problems, so I decided to do a quick post about the most common ones, as basically every novice guitar student will find something useful and relevant among them.

Here are the most asked questions and problems my online guitar students have, and what to do about them.

  1. Changing Between Chords - This is definitely the first problem beginners run into. They learn to sort of hold down a couple of chords (which takes a considerable amount of getting used to in itself), than they realize that they'll need to change in between all of these chords.
    Solution: Remember what it was first like to hold down a C major? Seemed impossible, but got easier. The same thing with chord changes. Learn how to change between chords correctly, and work at it.
  2. String Skipping - Another common problem beginners face is when they have to pluck 2 non-adjacent strings, they just end up not hitting the right string.
    Solution: The more you practice, the more your picking hand gets used to the strings. You'll ultimately be able to pluck whichever string you want without even looking at them, which will be great, but getting such an instinctive feel for something does not happen overnight. Practice makes perfect!
  3. Barre Chords - I would say that at least half of the letters my students send me relate to problems with barre chords.
    Solution: Your hands need to be strong and coordinated to be able to play bar chords correctly. Once you know the correct technique of playing barre chords, you'll need to practice them a LOT to get them sounding right all, or at least most of the time.
  4. Which Song to Practice - This question comes mainly from students who like to skip between songs, without really learning them and thereby mastering the techniques taught in the song. What usually happens is that they start learning one of the beginner guitar songs, run into a problem and decide to go for another song leaving the first one behind. But the new song is a bit hard as well, so they try something else, and so on. The result is that without having learned any of the songs and thereby not having improved at all, they feel like they've looked at every song, and don't know what to do next.
    Solution: Don't give up on learning a song when you run into the first sign of difficulties. Rome wasn't built in a day!
  5. No Time for Practice - We live accelerated lives, which means that a lot of my guitar students don't have time to practice.
    Solution: Find online lessons that are short and to the point. Watching one a few times over will take you about half an hour. You can print out the tabs afterwards, and practice the techniques without having to watch the video over each time, which means that you can practice and just fool around at any time of the day afterwards.
    And really, even 5 minutes at a time will be to your benefit. While you're watching TV, while something is in the microwave, while you're talking on the phone, while you're waiting for someone or something, etc. So my point is to have your guitar out where you can see it, making it easily accessible and pick it up whenever you can.

The "secret" of learning the guitar

So, now its time to unveil the ultimate, 100% guaranteed, super-duper extravagant secret to learning the guitar. Are you ready? Here you go:

 

PRACTICE

 

Believe me when I tell you that all of the "learn guitar overnight", or "in 5 days", or "in 5 weeks" programs are a bunch of bull.

The people who make it seem easy, the rock stars, the classical guitarists, the guitar teachers, they have all been playing for many years, even decades! The best guitarists of all time, like Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Page, Santana, etc. have devoted their life to learning the guitar.

So the moral of the story is that you shouldn't get discouraged when you're not shredding like Slash after 3 months of playing.

Is it hard to learn guitar? Well, it's no walk in the woods at first, but playing the guitar is a skill that becomes easy with time. It takes a considerable amount of practice, but will be soooo much more than worth it.

Playing the guitar is a wonderful hobby, and will bring countless hours of joy to you and your loved ones. And who knows, you might even make your fame and fortune performing.

Cut your learning time in half by practicing correctly!

If you are not practicing correctly, you are literally wasting your time. Seriously.

  • If you are a beginner, you can cut your learning time down by at least half if you learn the right way
  • If you are an intermediate player, you will hit a plateau and literally not advance any more if you don't practice correctly

Do yourself a favor.

Stop bouncing in between random YouTube lessons, and check out this list of the best guitar sites to learn from >>

18 replies
  1. Christopher Parker
    Christopher Parker says:

    I have been playing for a few months. And was have such a hard time with holding cords well. Then I got great advice…make sure nails are cut down to nothing. Made a difference I’m not where I want to be but trying to get there. I like your suggestion to have it with me all the time use those 5 or 10 mins I have through out the day. Thanks for that.

    Reply
  2. Nate
    Nate says:

    I have been at the guitar for two days and I have memorized 12 notes and 6 chords. Is this a good rate? Should i slow down? I have gotten a huge headache from this. Lol

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      Hi Nate, it’s great that you’re working hard. Memorizing the chords and notes is important, just make sure you play them as well. Practice more, your fingertips should be aching as well 🙂

      Reply
  3. Shaun
    Shaun says:

    I’m new at it (been about a month and a half since I started to learn) and my biggest problem is getting my fingers to go on the intended strings only so as to not mute out the adjacent string because Im accidentally touching it. Then even when I get my fingers set up perfectly, and the chord sounds good, as soon as I move up or down the fretboard to do the next chord, 9 times out of 10 my fingers dont stay in place and I end up again touching the adjacent string.

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      Hi Shaun, yes, all beginner guitarists go through this. As your hand develops muscle memory, this will pass. Make sure you hold down each chord cleanly, so that gets programmed into your fingers. Practice correctly and with ample frequency, and you’ll get better day by day.

      Reply
  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    I’m a 65 yr old, Louzy rhythm , tone deaf , slow learner who Would be happy to just learn some simple Christmas songs. What chance on average would I have.
    Do you happen to have a program for such as I?

    Reply
  5. Swan Boone
    Swan Boone says:

    The problem i have the most is playing songs i cant find the chords sheets or sheet music of. I dont have an ear to pick out the chords. I can usually pick around and play the melody or lyrics after some time. Is there a solution to this without spending loads of money in classes. I do this for a hobby just around the house with friends. I find it very relaxing and would love to be able to play more songs.

    Reply
  6. John
    John says:

    Hi,
    I’m 17 and i’ve been teaching myself and playing around three months. I’ve come across each of these problems and if I’m honest, I still find all of them very difficult. What is especially annoying is that because I’ve started later than most of my guitarist friends is that i can’t play even simple songs like wonderwall properly, and they’re playing gigs every weekend.
    However, as you say, its all practice and time, but even with a lot of work I’m not really going anywhere at the moment. I guess this is a very long winded way of asking how do you keep yourself going?

    Reply
    • Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com
      Tom - TheGuitarLesson.com says:

      Hi John,

      It’s not very realistic after 3 months to expect to play like your friends, who have been playing for years. Ask them how well they could play after 3 months. I know I wasn’t anywhere yet, not even close to playing Wonderwall…

      I know it’s frustrating, everyone gets frustrated in the initial stages of learning. You are actually at a decisive point. You can let your frustration overcome you and quit, as many people do, or you can draw motivation from other guitarists who also went through this. Because trust me, everybody did. You don’t see it, but that’s because we have years of practice behind us. Nobody is born with the ability to play, getting good takes years.

      So take it easy! Just keep practicing as much as possible, watch other people play, listen to lots of guitar music, and you will advance with time. There is no quick pill to success on guitar, it takes practice and dedication.

      By the way, here is a general timeline of how quickly an average person practicing 1 hour per day can expect to advance. If you want to be faster, practice 2 hours per day. Or 3 is even better 🙂

      Reply
  7. Trevor
    Trevor says:

    Hey u I having been playing guitar for a long time and seem not to be improving…….is there a thing called musical person or not

    Reply
    • TomFontana
      TomFontana says:

      Hi Trevor, well, you will occasionally find a musical antitalent, but that is very rare. But these people have no sense of rhythm or musicality at all, they are really really bad.
      If you got to a certain level and not moving on from there, you are not an antitalent, it’s just that:

      a. You’re not practicing enough
      b. You’re practicing the wrong things.

      So let’s say you are practicing enough, than you have to look at what you are practicing. Same ol’ things you can do already, or are you pushing yourself to try and learn new things? Because that’s the way to develop.

      I recently found a cool tool to help plan practice sessions, here is a post on it.

      Reply
  8. David Williams
    David Williams says:

    Very good posting. Being a teacher also, I would you hit the nail on the head as far as what the biggest challenges are for beginners. I also get rather irritated when I see those advertisements that claim you can learn guitar in 3 weeks and be playing like Jimmy Page. Highly annoying! It takes years of dedication to get to that level. Good job on this posting.

    Reply

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