Common Misconceptions About Playing Guitar – Part 2


Start Teaching GuitarIn this article, I want to cover 2 more common misconceptions about learning how to play the guitar. These two myths have to do with expectations. The first misconception many new guitar students have is thinking that learning how to play is easy…it isn’t!

Remember, if you can get in front of these incorrect beliefs and help your students to see things the right way, you can greatly improve their chances of success on the guitar and also improve your retention rates.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on common misconceptions about playing the guitar. Click here to go back and read part 1.


Common Misconception #3 – Learning How To Play The Guitar Is Easy

Let’s be honest here…if it was EASY to learn how to play the guitar, everyone would be doing it. The rock stars your students see on TV make it look easy, and once you reach a certain level of ability on the guitar, it certainly doesn’t require much effort to play well…but getting to that point is NOT an easy task. And it shouldn’t be!

Think about it: anything in life that’s worth doing…worth pursuing…worth mastering…takes work. Whether it’s finishing college, keeping a marriage together or moving up in your career, if it’s worth doing, it’s also worth fighting for, right? Guitar is no different. It can be one of the most rewarding things your students ever choose to pursue in their lifetime and it can add tremendous value to their lives, but it’s not easy…especially at first.

Unlike learning the piano, for instance, with the guitar you students have some of the hardest stuff to face at the very beginning. Their fingers and hands will rebel at first. Developing callouses and muscles in their hands will be a little painful and uncomfortable in the early stages of playing. They’ll have trouble with muscle memory, pattern recognition, keeping their fingers from muting other strings, changing between chords and a dozen other related skills that they have to get proficient at right at the very beginning. They WILL get frustrated! It really does get easier as you go, but the hardest part is right at the start.

Some of your students, especially the younger ones, will need you to help them line up their expectations with reality. Many new players think they can pick up a guitar book, or watch a few instructional videos on YouTube and instantly become a rock star within a few weeks. Those first few weeks come and go, and since they can’t play like Stevie Ray Vaughn, they get frustrated and quit…and many of them never pick up the guitar again! That’s a real tragedy…and it can be completely avoided if someone will take the time to help them understand what it really means to be a guitarist.

Playing guitar is a craft…like sculpting, painting and poetry…and it takes a lifetime of study to truly become a master at it. When you see a famous guitarist like Steve Vai performing on TV, what you DON’T see is the THOUSANDS of hours of practice and the THOUSANDS of dollars spent on lessons and equipment he invested to get there. We all have the potential to do the same things on the guitar, if we’re willing to pay the same price. Chances are your student’s goals will be a little less intensive. Regardless of what they want to be able to do on the guitar, it’s best to know what they’re about to face from the very beginning, so they can count the cost and adjust their expectations accordingly. I’d much rather see your students pace themselves and succeed as a guitarist, than see them get disillusioned, give in to frustration and eventually quit. Which brings us to the next myth I want to expose…


Common Misconception #4 – Teaching Yourself How To Play Is The Best Way To Learn

There’s something romantic and inspiring about the notion of being a self-taught guitarist. It creates mental images of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and proving you don’t need anybody’s help…images of following your inner muse and discovering all the mysteries of the guitar on your own. Some people think a guitarist who never took lessons is somehow smarter, or more talented, or more effective than a guitarist who studied with a teacher. They think this kind of player is a hero we should all look up to, and that we should all follow the same path…but they are absolutely WRONG!

The truth is that a genuine self-taught guitar player is an extremely rare thing. For every one player who never took a lesson and became successful, there are probably 1,000,000 other people who tried to do the same thing, got frustrated and quit playing the guitar altogether. Also, when someone says they are “self-taught”, they probably had access to a bunch of educational resources they used to learn what they know. Just because they never took “guitar lessons” doesn’t mean they never had any teachers. They’re probably just not giving credit where credit is due.

As a guitar teacher, I’ve met with frustrated players all the time who tried to teach themselves guitar…some of them spent YEARS running around in circles, chasing their own tails and never really making any progress on the guitar. One student in particular wasted 20 years playing the same things over and over again and made almost no progress at
all in his guitar playing. Teaching themselves how to play the guitar could be one of the most frustrating things your students EVER try to do!

The definition of “insanity” is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result each time. You will run into some potential students who are stuck in this trap and are not making any progress. If you can help them understand what you can do for them…help them to stop spinning their wheels, running through the same boring exercises trying to get better on the guitar…help them to learn correctly from the very beginning, and avoid years of frustration and wasted time…then you can be the qualified, experienced guitar teacher who can help them get results!

Let me wrap this article up with an analogy: Learning how to play guitar is a lot like trying to find your way through a jungle. Your students can try to do it all by themselves…try to find their own way through the jungle, and hope they don’t get lost. They might get lucky, and make it to the other side alive, but the odds are against them. Chances are they’ll end up a million miles from where they want to be.

Another option is to find someone to lead them through the jungle…a trusted guide. This makes a lot more sense. But the million dollar question is: who should they choose to be their guide?

Does it make sense to pick someone to lead you who doesn’t know the way? Not really. Then all you have is two lost people trying to find their way through the jungle, and worse: you had to pay somebody to help you get lost. Your students could have done that by themselves, right? Bad idea!

What they really need is a knowledgeable, experienced guide…someone who’s been through the jungle before, who knows the fastest way to get through, knows about all the dangers they might face, and who can help them on the journey every step of the way. That person is you!


I’ll have some more common misconceptions for you in the third, and final, article in this series.

OK…now it’s time to hear from you. What kinds of problems with unrealistic expectations have you come across in your own guitar playing or with your students? What did you do to get around them? Post a comment below and tell me about it.

Image: J Fry /

Common Misconceptions About Playing Guitar – Part 2 was last modified: November 14th, 2012 by Donnie Schexnayder