September 2

What Not To Do When Learning Guitar

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I've been making these videos over the years teaching you how to play guitar. But today I'm going to do something I've never done before. I'm going to teach you what not to do when learning guitar. 

I'll be honest with you, most all of these things I'm guilty of too. In talking with my students over the years I know that I'm not alone in this. This lesson isn't about making you feel bad or to direct blame anywhere. Quite the opposite! This is to take a step back and gain perspective. And by the end you'll be equipped with some wisdom that you can use in your entire guitar playing journey.

Don't Set Yourself Up For Failure

This comes in a couple different ways. It's easy to look at someone who's been playing guitar the same amount of time as you, but has progressed farther. Or even seeing a super talented guitarist who's been playing for years and thinking, "Well, I'll never be that good".

There is value is being around other musicians who are better than you. When you have a healthy outlook, their proficiency is inspiring and makes you a better guitarist. But when you get stuck on comparing yourself to them you'll just end up discouraged.

On the other end of not setting yourself up for failure, you have your tools. Your guitar. A lot of newer players just get a cheap guitar because they don't feel like they've earned a good guitar yet. Here's the thing, a cheap guitar makes learning and playing guitar way harder. And not in a fun-challenge kind of way.

Cheap guitars don't play well and don't sound good. Both of these are discouraging. I'm not saying you need to go out and spend $1000 on a guitar. You can get an awesome guitar that will last a lifetime for $250-300. It will play well, sound great, and encourage you to play guitar. 

You Can't Learn Guitar On Your Own

I think the term "self taught" is a little bit of a misnomer. No one really teaches themselves. What they really do is fish for information online or in books, and slowly put it together into knowledge and skill. But the problem is that this method stunts your guitar learning growth. 

Platforms like YouTube have some really great teachers and really good lesson videos. But if you're just randomly going through and taking onesie-twosie lessons without any methodical approach, you're just spinning your tires. Especially if you're just starting out. You need to build a solid foundation before these lessons will be of any benefit.

And that takes a structured and methodical approach. That's exactly why I created my Real Guitar Success program. It takes the convenience of online learning and fuses it with a structured plan. 

Don't Skip Practice

Everyone can probably acknowledge that you have to practice to learn to play guitar. But in reality I don't think I fully grasped this when I first started playing guitar. I hear it all the time from students too. They've been playing for 3 years but still aren't very good and haven't progressed much. When I ask them what they're practice plan is, the reason becomes quite clear.

If you only practice a little bit here and a little bit there, you wont get very far. Guitar takes consistent practice, pretty much daily at first. I'm not talking about hours and hours every day. Even just 10-15 minutes a day can be powerful to your progress. 

Here's something simple that will help you practice: set up a good and easy to use practice space.

If you have a spare bedroom then set up a little desk with your guitar, a tuner, and some guitar picks. If you don't have a spare room set up the same stuff in a corner of your house. The less you have to set up or tear down every time you play guitar, the more likely you are to practice.

If you have to pull your guitar out of the closet, take it out of the case, and find your picks, you might not end up playing guitar. Even though these things take seconds, they can be discouraging. You want to have the "barrier to entry" as low as possible. 

You might also have to work with people in your household on a time that works best for them. I remember when I was a kid I would try to practice my trumpet at the same time that my parents liked to watch a TV show. They of course weren't happy about that and I took it as them not being supportive. That wasn't the case at all and I could have avoided some discouragement by simply asking them what time would be the best for me to do something loud like that. 

Don't Dismiss Your Desire To Learn

This is simple but profound. Don't believe that your desire to learn isn't important. Put another way, let your desire to learn motivate you to learn and enjoy learning guitar. This desire to learn and the joy that comes from learning and playing guitar can carry you through ruts where you might not have time to play or aren't feeling like you're progressing. You'll face these tougher seasons, probably several times. But remember that playing guitar is supposed to be fun and add value to your life!

Don't Set Unrealistic Goals

I'll see someone say "I'm going to practice for an hour a day", and then not follow through on it and feel discouraged. They even carry around a bit of guilt about it too, like they can't follow through on their commitments.

Setting unrealistic goals is a quick way to lose confidence in your abilities. Instead, it's better to commit to playing for 10 or 15 minutes a day, and then follow through on it. And from there you can work your way up to 20 minutes, or 30, or even 60. 

You also have to give yourself a little grace too. If you miss a day or two, don't beat yourself up about it. It might be a busy week, or you might have to change when you practice to make it work. These small changes and realistic commitments set you up to trust yourself in your ability to follow through. 

Don't Set Yourself Up To Be Discouraged

Most people are pretty critical of themselves, and see their shortcomings more than they see their successes. I can remember working hard on learning something, and when I showed a friends it was more or less met with a "meh". That really discouraged me, but didn't need to. If I could go back I would go to the people closest to me and let them know that I needed their support and encouragement in the beginning. After a while I built confidence which let me feel good about my successes, but this took time.  

The other situation is playing with people who are much better than you. Now, to be clear I think it's incredibly important to play with other musicians. And to surround yourself with musicians who are better than you. This will make you a better musician and guitar player, but only once you gain confidence in your abilities. 

When you're starting out, think about who you're playing with. Are they around the same level as you? Did they expect you to be better than you are? And are you willing to learn when it's all over your hear and not get discouraged by it?

This will all depend on individual people and their personalities. But if you know you're going to get discouraged, it's probably not worth it right now.

I really encourage my students to do a lot of playing with play along tracks in the early stages. This gets them comfortable with playing with other musicians, while allowing the freedom to make mistakes. This gives them experience and confidence, which will only set them up for success.

Don't Blame Circumstances Out Of Your Control

What do I mean by this? I mean thing like not blaming people in your household for not being encouraging or supporting you to practice. Get creative. Find ways to practice around their schedules and make your own path.

Don't blame your teachers for your lack of progress. If you're not making sense out of what they're teaching you, ask questions. Ask your teacher, ask other people, even ask other teachers. Go watch a video on the subject to get another opinion. Though if there's evidence that you might need to change teachers you should consider it. 

But don't let it stop you or take your energy. You are 100% percent in control of your journey. So feel empowered and encouraged to take control!

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We made it! This is day 30 of my 30 day guitar coaching challenge. It's been quite a journey but it's not the end of my lessons or my time with you. I'll be back every Tuesday with a new lesson, and once a month for my live Q&A session. 

If this has been a helpful series I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Take care and see you soon.

Tomas Michaud
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