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Top 5 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 top 5 reasons why they think they can’t:

Myth #1: “I have no musical talent.” 

At times 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 the reasons I'm discussing in this aricle why they think they can’t.

I’ve been teaching guitar for over 30 years to people ages 4 to 89 and know from my experience that the only prerequisite for learning play is that you want to. If you’ve always wanted to play and think you can’t, I hope my blog posts will inspire you to get started.

It turns out that 80% of us are born with the same musical aptitude as a professional orchestra musician.  How much we’re using this aptitude depends upon the exposure we got growing up like music being played at home, exposure to live music, music classes and lessons.

If you’re thinking, “I’m definitely the other 20%”, if that’s true then it only means that your musical aptitude is less as opposed to nonexistent.  Also, the only people who are actually tone deaf are deaf.  All humans have musical aptitude and taking lessons will tap into and nurture it given regular lessons and a practice regimen.

Myth #2: “I’m tone deaf.” 

Did anyone ever tell you that you're tone deaf?  Tell you not to sing, to mouth the words when your class at school was singing?  Did it leave you feeling like you can't create music?  If someone did, it wasn't nice and more importantly NOT TRUE!!

There’s a saying from Zimbabwe that goes, “If you can walk you can dance and if you can talk you can sing.”  If you have trouble or can’t carry a tune at all the only thing that means is that you need to take your voice and ears to the gym – voice lessons.  One of my students was told her whole life she was tone deaf.  She’s recently completed a year of voice lessons with a moderate practice regimen and can hit about 50% of the notes right.  Another year and she’ll get them all!

Learning the guitar will also help train your ears.  Like anything else, with time and regular practice you'll get better and better at it.  You have to let yourself do it badly for awhile so you can get good at it.  I call it a "dare to suck" moment.

Myth #3: “I’m too busy.” 

O.k. this one is not going to fly with me as I’m the quintessential over-functioning New Englander.  Because I teach in Harvard Square, Cambridge I have many students from different parts of the country who have indicated that when they first arrived in town they were sure us Yankees were FREAKS!!!  They’re right. 

From the beginning, I give my students a simple finger exercise/scale and one song at a time with each one containing a specific skill set.  Here’s my favorite practice regimen: five days a week, ten minutes, scale, song, DONE.  You’re always better off practicing multiple days in a row rather than trying to sit down once or twice during the week for longer periods of time as the repetition of days makes a huge difference.  Even I have 10 minutes in a day to practice.  Also that time frame is optimal for me since I have the attention span of a flea when it comes to repetitive work.

Myth #4: “I tried it once, it hurt my fingers and I felt like an idiot.” 

Just like with Eric Clapton, your fingers hurting is a normal early hurdle when learning to play guitar.   Other issues that a teacher can help you with are holding the guitar comfortably, forming chords and switching from one chord to another.  I have specific things I do with my students that help them over these hurdles simply and easily.

Another issue is finding the right teacher.  If during your lessons you feel like a moron, it may be that you need a different teacher.  The best sign that you’re working with the right person is that the lessons leave you inspired, knowing that you can do it.  There are plenty of great musicians who aren’t the best teachers.

Be as picky about finding a teacher as you would about a primary care physician or therapist.

Myth #5: “I’m too old to learn how to play the guitar.” 

One of my dad’s favorite things to say was, “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” and indeed he was sharp as a tack until he died at the age of 91.  When he was born in 1911 in Poland, his home was heated with a coal stove and lit by kerosene lamps.  In the ‘80s he bought his first PC (with the operating system on a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk) and by the time the technology was available, he was happily using the Internet.

These days the scientists call it “brain plasticity” and learning new things like how to play the guitar nurtures it.  When you engage in creative activities you use both sides of your brain.  There’s the right brain “wow that song makes me feel so great” part and the mathematical, left brain music theory part.  If that last phrase made your stomach clench, stay tuned for more myths next week including: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

The oldest person I've ever taught was an 89 year old named Gerda Silberstein.  She’d never played guitar before and we worked together for about a year and had so much fun while she learned.  Ever since that experience, whenever I have the thought, “Maybe I’m too old to learn how to…….” I think of her and invite you to do the same.

Also, you might be thinking, “I’ll be really old by the time I learn how to play!”  Which would you prefer: being really old and able to play guitar or really old and not able to play guitar?

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

Think you'd like to get started but aren't sure if you can do it? Or maybe you're not sure if I'm the right teacher for you?  Click here to register for Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Startup totally FREE.

Comments Section

I like how you responded to the five myths. I have been playing guitar for 50 years but have been taking guitar lessons since I retired to raise my skills to a higher level and to be able to contribute more to my band. The video is also very good.
You're welcome :-)
Thank you so much for this!

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