How Hard Is It to Play the Guitar?

By Wayne Erbsen

The first question I hear from people interested in playing the guitar is “how hard is it?” For those of you with that same question, this article is for you.

The relative ease or difficulty of learning to play any musical instrument depends on three main things:

    1. Natural talent. It’s just a fact that some people are born with more musical talent than others. But before you jump to the conclusion that you were standing behind the door when music talent was passed out, stick with me here for a minute. Natural talent alone doesn’t guarantee success with a musical instrument. In fact, a naturally talented but unmotivated person probably isn’t going to be a success at music. Instead, I would put my money on a person with average innate musical skills who practices hard and is hellbent-for-leather to learn to play.
    1. Determination. Chances are, a strong-headed and focused person who really wants to learn to play will be successful in achieving their goal. If you’re the kind of person who persists despite all obstacles, then learning to play the guitar will be a piece of cake for you.
    1. Instructional materials. People seem to differ on the best way to learn to play guitar. That’s because people have different styles of learning. Some do best by watching YouTube videos, and there’s no shortage of those. Others prefer having a flesh-and-blood guitar teacher, and that is certainly a good idea if you live close enough to a great teacher. Finally, there are those people who benefit by working at their own pace with a well-written guitar instruction book. The trick is finding the right book that teaches the style of guitar that you want to play.

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Allow me to toot my own horn for a moment. After teaching guitar for 50 years, I’ve published three books for beginning guitar. Here’s more about them.

Easy 2-Chord Songs for Guitar, coverThe most recent is Easy Two-Chord Songs for Guitar. If you want to play the guitar, but don’t want to play a zillion chords, this is the book for you! The book includes helpful illustrations plus music, tab, and lyrics to 33 familiar bluegrass, old-time, folk and gospel songs, each with only TWO CHORDS. The book’s spiral binding allows it to lay flat while you play. It comes with an audio CD and a link to download or stream mp3s.

Painless Guitar – A Fun & Easy Guide for the Complete Beginner is for the total and absolute beginner. My co-author Ted Parrish and I call it “painless” because we have simplified learning the guitar down to its most basic level. Frankly, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. You’ll learn how to play the melody and chords to 31 folk, bluegrass, old time and gospel songs. You’ll have access to online audio files so you can hear how things are supposed to sound.

Book cover

If you’re a little further along than a complete novice, I suggest Flatpicking Guitar for the Complete Ignoramus. This 80-page book takes the beginner on a musical adventure that includes more than 40 well-known flatpicking guitar tunes including Arkansas Traveler, Bury Me Beneath the Willow, House of the Rising Sun, In the Pines, Man of Constant Sorrow, Red River Valley, Wildwood Flower, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The book has a spiral binding and comes with an audio CD and a link to download or stream mp3s.

Wayne Erbsen has been teaching banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin since dinosaurs roamed the earth (really, about 50 years). Originally from California, he now makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He has written 30 songbooks and instruction books for banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.

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