Before deciding to learn guitar it’s good to know how hard it is. And the honest answer is yes, learning guitar is hard.
It requires consistent practice, dedication and putting in a lot of hours. It may look easy when you see people play, even just basic strumming, but it really isn’t.
I don’t say that to put you off. It’s certainly not impossible – look at how many people there are that can play the guitar. They all learnt so why couldn’t you?
And trust me, as someone who gets frustrated and distracted easily – if I can do it you definitely can!
But it’s best to understand that learning guitar isn’t something you can do for 30 mins or an hour a week and expect to make any real progress. If you want to get good you will have to make a real effort to practice regularly, for a decent amount of time, and do so for months before seeing that hard work begin to pay off.
That’s why many people give up quickly. 9 out of 10 of those who start learning give up within the first year.
So, it’s not easy. But there’s a few main reasons specifically why it’s a difficult instrument to learn. And some of them might put you off and some you might not be bothered by.
So if you’re still on the fence about learning and want to know more keep reading. I’ll take you through the reasons why guitar is hard to learn, some reasons why it’s actually easier than other instruments and how to make the learning process simpler.
Reasons Why Learning Guitar is Hard
As mentioned there are some main reasons why the guitar is a difficult instrument to learn.
In the early stages of learning it can be really uncomfortable and painful to press down the strings. You haven’t built up any calluses or muscle strength and so holding down the strings is hard work. The strings dig in to your fingertips too, which is painful.
Eventually you build calluses but it takes time. And until that point the discomfort can be off-putting for beginners.
Hand and Finger Dexterity
Playing guitar requires you to use your hands and fingers in ways they aren’t normally used to. You have to develop precision to press down and move between strings. And your strumming hand will need to become fluid as you strum and picking single strings.
You won’t have that dexterity to begin with and it will take time before you get it. This can be both frustrating and painful – hand cramps and sore fingers aren’t uncommon when first learning the guitar.
While learning the notes on the guitar isn’t necessary at first it is important when you want to make real progress. And unfortunately the guitar has an abstract representation of notes across the fretboard. Instead of something like a piano which is linear and very easy to understand the guitar is much more difficult.
So memorizing the notes and their locations takes time and is not easy.
One major part of learning to play the guitar is becoming comfortable not looking at your hands. You have to train your fingers and hands to move correctly without you looking at them. That’s both hands – strumming and fretting.
Basically you have to be able to play without thinking. So if you want to play a C chord you don’t have to think which strings your fingers go on. You just know. And then can move them there quickly and accurately.
This is muscle memory. Your fingers and hand get so used to make the shape of chords and knowing where they go it becomes instinctive. But this takes a long time to fully develop.
Like much we’ve already mentioned it can be very frustrating until you get this.
Once you’ve got the muscle memory for chords you have to get good at transitioning between them. Going from a C to a D chord needs to be quick and smooth.
You have to commit even more time to practicing changing your hand positions.
Probably the part of learning the guitar that most people struggle with or get stuck on. Barre chords are hard. Really hard.
You have to lay your your index finger across multiple strings at once. This needs a lot of strength and dexterity to get right and play cleanly.
It can take a very long time to get good at barre chords.
For some help see this guide to tips for playing barre chord.
Once you move past the basics there are countless techniques you still have to learn. Bending, muting strings, palm muting, vibrato, legato (hammer and pull offs) and many more.
All of these will take even more time and effort to learn. It’s almost never ending!
Reasons Why Guitar is Easy to Learn
We’ve looked at why it’s hard, now let’s focus on the positives. Because it’s not all doom and gloom. Some aspects of the guitar actually make it easy to learn.
Play Songs Quickly
This is probably the best reason for learning guitar ahead of most other instruments. Once you’ve got the basics down you can play so many songs!
If you only ever learnt 4 chords you could still play a huge amount of tunes.
And there are loads of people who are happy with that. They don’t have want to be the next Henrix. They just want to strum an acoustic guitar and sing-a-long. Basically a campfire guitarist.
So if you don’t care about shredding, fast solo’s or complex jazz chords then you can simply learn the basics and still play a lot of your favorite songs.
The internet has made learning guitar so much simpler. With countless websites, YouTube tutorials, tab and chord websites and apps to teach you its never been easier to learn.
Gone are the days of needing private and possibly expensive lessons. You can buy a guitar and follow something like Justin Sandercoe’s free course or sign up to Fender Play and you’ll learn!
Getting a teacher will probably help you learn faster and arguably better. But there are a lot of self taught players. And it’s only getting easier to teach yourself.
Instruments like piano, drums etc. are big and hard to move. You really have to have a set place where you play them.
Whereas you can take a guitar anywhere and play it easily without have to plug it in. Even the electric you can play unplugged.
This makes the guitar great for practicing anywhere at anytime. It’s very easy to pick up and put down when you want.
Unlike many instruments you can play melodies, chords, basslines and percussion all on the guitar. It’s very versatile and this means even as a beginner you can accompany yourself.
This is important because some instruments can sound boring on their own. They really need to be played as an ensemble. Whereas guitar works well played solo. And with that flexibility it keeps you engaged and motivated.
This is somewhat relative because even a “cheap” guitar isn’t actually cheap. Lets face it, you’re not getting a guitar for $10.
But in comparison to other instruments basic acoustic and electric guitars are relatively affordable. When you think of something like a piano, which requires a huge upfront investment, guitars aren’t too bad!
And that makes them more accessible for everyone as their isn’t as much of a price barrier.
Ways to Make Learning Guitar Easier
Maybe you want to learn but are daunted by how hard it’s going to be. If so then these tips can help to make the learning by process that bit easier:
Get Your Guitar Setup
If you don’t know what a guitar setup is: it’s when a guitar technician or Luthier adjust various parts of the guitar to make it easier to play or to your personal preference. They will adjust the strings, bridge, nut, truss rod etc. until everything is
You might be thinking “why do I have to pay for that?”. Which is a good question.
It doesn’t seem fair having to pay to buy a new guitar then take it to someone and pay for them to make it playable. I get it. But sadly that’s how it works.
Guitars come from manufactures not properly setup. You might get lucky and buy one that does play well. But for the most part new guitars have strings that are too high and need some adjusting.
And for beginners that can be the difference between learning and giving up. If it’s too hard to hold the strings down why bother continuing? Far too many newbies will give up because their guitar is badly setup and virtually unplayable.
So if you’re a beginner I highly recommend getting a setup. Find someone who knows what they’re doing, tell them you’re a beginner and you want your guitar to be as easy to play as possible.
Learn Open Chords First
Getting familiar and comfortable with the open chords is the best place to start. 5 or 10 basic chords is going to set you up well for future learning and allow you to play loads of basic songs. Which in turn will help keep you motivated and continuing playing and learning.
See these must know guitar chords for beginners to get started.
Follow a Course
Whether it’s a book, online course or with a tutor – follow something with structure. You don’t want to select random videos off of YouTube and try and learn that way.
All you’ll do is pick up bits and pieces without understanding fundamentals. In the long run this will come back to haunt you as you’ll have missed out key essentials you’ll then need to go back over.
Have Short and Regular Practice Sessions
Daily sessions are key to making progress. But they don’t need to be long. 30 minutes to an hour or practice every day will get you a long way. In fact the average guitarist practices an hour a day.
And that’s far better than only playing two times a week but for 3 hours at a time. Shorter but consistent is the way to go.
Learn Proper Technique
Picking up bad habits can be a nightmare. Because you’ll eventually have to unlearn them, which can be tricky. Especially if you’ve been playing a while by that point.
So make sure you learn the basics properly. You need the correct posture, hand and wrist position, picking and strumming etc.
If you feel like you’re struggling to get the right then consider taking a few lessons (if you’re not). A teacher will point out where you’re going wrong and help you to play the correct way.
Use a Metronome
It’s boring but practicing with a metronome is super useful. Rhythm and playing in time is one of the most important skills to master as a guitarist.
A metronome will probably drive you a little bit mad but it’ll be worth it!
Recording yourself is helpful for two reasons:
- You can listen back to your session and see/hear areas where you need to improve and work on.
- You can see how much progress you’ve made. It’s a great motivator to see how bad you were and how far you’ve come!
You don’t have to record yourself every time. But it’s definitely useful to do it semi regularly.
Simply practicing chord changes and scales gets boring quickly. Doing those sorts of exercises is important but so is learning songs.
If you keep learning songs you love you’ll stay engaged and motivated to practice.
What About Electric Guitar Being Easier Than Acoustic Guitar?
There is widely held belief that electric guitar is much easier to learn than acoustic. And there is some truth to it:
- Lighter gauge strings – Electric guitars typically have lighter strings. This means they don’t need as much finger strength to fret notes and chords. Easier for beginners and less painful.
- Lower Action – On electric guitars the strings are closer to the fretboard and so requiring less effort to press and hold down.
- Thinner Necks – acoustic guitars tend to have wider necks which can be more awkward to play. Electric necks are usually thinner which makes getting your fingers around them easier.
Basically electric guitars are more ‘playable’. Lighter strings, lower action and thinner necks.
But you will still need to develop calluses and finger strength regardless of which type of guitar you learn on. And you could argue that you can hide poorer techniques with an electric guitar.
Plus acoustic guitars don’t need the additional accessories like amps, cables etc.
So, the reality is electric guitar is slightly easier for beginners to learn. Mainly because it’s physically less difficult – less painful, thinner strings etc.
I personally think you should choose to learn on the guitar you want. The one that inspires and excites you. That’s more important then the very minor differences in how easy the two are.
If you want a more in-depth look try this guide to whether you should learn acoustic or electric guitar first.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Guitar?
You can learn simple chords and songs within a few weeks to months. That’s assuming you put in the necessary time. But getting to a more advanced skill level takes years of regular practice. And really you never stop learning.
Should I Get Lessons or Teach Myself?
It can be a good idea to get a few lessons at the start. This will make sure you have the right technique and avoid developing bad habits. But with the available resources like YouTube and online courses then self teaching is very possible.
Will My Fingers Hurt at the Start?
Oh yes! You will absolutely have some, probably a lot, of pain in your fingertips. You may also get cramps in your hand from stretching your fingers to make chords. But this doesn’t last and as you build calluses and strength the pain will stop.
Is Guitar Easier or Harder than Piano?
They’re very different instruments so it’s hard to compare. But piano does have a slight advantage as it doesn’t have strings. So you avoid the pain of having to develop calluses to hold down the strings.
So in summary, yes learning guitar is challenging and requires dedication. But with the right mindset, technique and practice it is very achievable. And extremely rewarding when you experience those lightbulb moments and can play your favorite songs!