Janet Feld - Janet's Planet: Music Lessons for Humanoids, Inc

4 More Myths That Are Stopping You From Learning How To Play The Guitar

Sometimes when people find out that I teach guitar lessons they get a sad, defeated look on their faces and say something like, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar but…” and then they give me one of these 4 reasons why they think they can’t:

Myth #1: “If I’d started this when I was a kid, it would have been easier.”

My experience is that adults have a faster learning curve than kids.  This is mainly because, unlike kids, our brains, gross and fine motor skills are already developed.

The two things that make learning hardest for adults are fear and lack of confidence.  It often doesn’t occur to kids that they won’t be able to do/learn something.  No toddler wonders, “I wonder if I deserve to play with this toy?” or “I wonder if I deserve a hug from my mommy?”  They just grab the toy and give their mommy “uppy arms”.  Also as adults, we already have things we’re competent at so putting ourselves in the “beginner seat” can be an emotional hurdle for us.

When I identify these issues with my adult students, it helps to have them play songs that they’ve been working on with their eyes closed.  It gives them the opportunity to experience the fact that their fingers know where to go after they’ve been studying for a while.  If they’ve experienced it for themselves, they can’t dismiss my complements with, “Oh, she’s just being nice.”

Myth #2: “Only really special, talented people can learn how to play music.”

There’s a joke among musicians that it takes 10-25 years to be an overnight success.   We joke about it because there’s a cultural perception that someone like Eric Clapton just popped out of his mother’s womb knowing how to play guitar.  Or the myth that Robert Johnson was such a great guitar player and songwriter because he made a deal with the devil.

Actually, they just practiced a lot.

The story goes that Eric Clapton tried playing the guitar for the first time when he was 13 and it hurt his fingers so he quit.  He didn’t play again until he was 15 and convinced his family to buy him an electric guitar.  The rest is rock ‘n roll history.

Robert Johnson was booed off the stage and didn’t show back up to play anywhere for a year.  After a year, he showed up on stage again and blew everyone away.  I suppose it’s more romantic to imagine that a badass blues player had the devil for a boss.  I prefer the truth because given time and diligent practice it’s possible that any of us could be that good.

Myth #3: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

Whenever I utter the phrase, “music theory” to my adult students they tend to get your basic deer in the headlights look.  One of my goals as a teacher is to take the mystery out of it because I know anyone can learn what I teach.  I believe the burden of learning is on the teacher – my job and one of the things I love about being a teacher is finding an optimal way to show or explain to students how to do something.  If you don’t get it, that’s my problem!

Recently I was teaching a beginning guitar class about something called “The Circle of Fifths” (did your stomach clench when you read that?)  As I went through each part of the lesson I checked in with the class to make sure everyone was with me – they were.  I also did my usual scanning of the students for the “glazed over” look.  At the very end of class a student said, “It’s confusing.” even though she’d understood everything I’d talked about during the lesson.  With some probing I realized that even though she understood the material, it scared her because she hadn’t memorized it.  Learning music theory is like learning any foreign language – you become fluent because you use it consistently in its context.

When I give my students worksheets with the material I tell them, “You’ll memorize this information by using it repeatedly.  Please don’t try to memorize it studying this sheet unless you suffer from insomnia.”  Think of the difference between memorizing vocabulary words in Spanish class verses hanging out in a Spanish speaking country and you can’t find your hotel, are hungry and have to pee; suddenly those words are REALLY INTERESTING because you need them.  I believe music is optimally learned the same way.

Myth #4: ”I’ll learn how to play on my own, then I’ll take lessons.”

When adults show up for beginning guitar I always congratulate them.  Once we’re adults there are generally a bunch of things we’re good at and it’s a bit of an emotional hurdle to put ourselves in the position of being beginners.  Some of this comes from cultural pressure on men to know things even if they don’t.  For women, there is pressure to not take up too much space or be a “show-off”. But remember, you wouldn't need to take lessons if you already knew what the teacher can show you.

You have to let yourself make bad art so you can make good art.

When Eric Clapton first picked up the guitar, he sucked at it.  After many hours of practicing he became awesome and has gotten better and better throughout his life.

Check out this video on how playing an instrument benefits your brain:

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Comments

This was very insightful to read and has motivated me to start working on the dreams that I have put off from pursuing long ago because my mind has been ingrained with some of those very same myths. I'm glad I came across your blog on Twitter. I'm sure your students find you to be an inspiration to them. You have already inspired me to let go of my fears and and to take that first step out of my comfort zone and to dream big, achieve my life goals, and to succeed at anything I set my mind to pursue. Thank you again for a wonderful article!!!

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