An Open Letter to Anyone Thinking About Learning the Guitar

Most beginners are unprepared for the BRUTAL realities of learning the guitar: good and bad. I'm literally shocked at how much people aren't aware of before they get started. So before you even think about touching another guitar string, I think it's only fair to warn you... Here's the REAL truth about becoming a guitarist.

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Hey it's Johnny, let's clear some things up. 

As the face of No B.S. Guitar, I get letters from people all the time who are unprepared for the brutal realities of learning the guitar. Good and bad. 

I'm literally shocked at what people aren't aware of.

And I'm not talking just about practicing, but also about some of the OTHER surprising things most guitarists will eventually experience.

So before you touch another guitar string, I think it's only fair to warn you...

Here's the REAL truth about becoming a guitarist:

1. There's a 90% chance you will really suck at first

Almost everyone has seen that guy who picks up a guitar and is turning heads in his first week.

But chances are, 90% of the people reading this will NOT be that guy.

The odds are against you. Because most people will probably sound like absolute dog turd when they're getting started learning the guitar. Count me in that group by the way.

What's really amazing is... how many people DON'T realize this. They think if they aren't tearing it up like Jimi in their first month, that all is hopeless. 

"Guess I just don't have the talent for it..."

B.S. 

Talent has almost nothing to do with how you will EVENTUALLY sound if you stick with it... only WHETHER you'll stick with it or not... and how fast you'll get there. 

But it sure as hell has caused a lot of people to give up prematurely. I'll give it that.

2. You will have less free time

Want to have more time available to read books, tend your garden, and play with the kids?

Guitar is not for you.

If you're SERIOUS about improving, and not just messing around... you're going to need to spend time (almost daily) reviewing or upgrading your skills on the axe. 

Less than you'd think, but nonetheless, this gig requires time.

This is unavoidable.

And if you're not willing to face that fact now... I'd recommend you save yourself some serious disappointment and give your guitar to a kid who needs it more.

3. There's tons of (sh-tty) material out there on learning guitar

This is unprecedented.

Just a few years ago, if you wanted to learn the guitar, you either had to know someone who knew how to play... or you had to go to as many shows as you could... buy as many records as your wallet allowed... and personally sit down to figure it out for yourself. 

Trace the histories of some of the biggest names of the past and you'll find a lot of guys with enormous record collections.

It was a simpler time, and dare I say... a more productive one... as the limited options FORCED you to be more resourceful and value the lessons you were taught (or stole from another artist). 

Times have changed.

There's more information on guitar techniques, theory, exercises, and how to play guitar than you will EVER have time to study. Focus on just this website alone and you'd be set for life. It's overwhelming.

My point?

SOME of it is truly quality stuff.

MOST of it?

Absolute garbage. In some cases, you're actually better off the traditional way of manually figuring it out using records and traveling thousands of miles (ala the Beatles) just to learn one new technique. At least then, you'll use it till it STICKS (a common mistake nowadays).

4. You will have (a lot) less money

Yes, sadly... this hobby comes with a price. 

It can be cheaper than a lot of other interests (photography ka-ching!)... But us guitarists are a weird bunch.

We will somehow always manage to find new reasons to fork over ever more cash to guitar companies, even when we complain of having very little of this green substance on daily basis, ad nauseum.

Sure, guitar CAN be cheap hobby... but really... what are the chances of THAT happening? 

Shiny new guitars, effects pedals, recording equipment... you name it. 

Prepare your wallet for forced intrusion.

5. You will have to study

New research reveals: Learning new skills requires focus and study.

NO, I'm sad to announce, the guitar fairy doesn't actually fly in and bless you with magical guitar powers and infinite musical wisdom.

I know, I know... I was as shocked as anybody. But it's true.

Which honestly sucks, because I thought my study days were over the minute I took my graduation gown and chucked it into the ocean all those years ago.

Oh well.

But hey, cheer up... because the good news is: 

Unlike school, you can take your sweet a$$ little time.

Even better, most of the studying will be kinda fascinating, because learning the guitar, fortunately, is nothing like learning math.

A. It's interesting

B. You learn little by little, using music you already enjoy

C. You can APPLY whatever you learn (for songwriting, jamming, learning other songs, etc.)

(and here's a biggie...)

D. It's impossible to "cram."

And that's something you gotta keep in mind. Trying to "cram" learning the guitar is, in my book, the cardinal sin.

Seriously.

So do yourself a favor. Take the pressure off, buckle up, and relax.

Becoming a guitarist is the ride of a lifetime. And, as much as guitar companies would say otherwise...

Actual guitar "mastery" happens OVER A PERIOD OF TIME.

You can do a lot in a very short time... But the Clapton-esque fluency you desire won't arrive for another few years.

6. People will assume you're confident

Yep.

Just by CARRYING around a guitar (and having demonstrated nothing)... people will somehow assume a mountain of conclusions about you as a person. 

They'll almost certainly assign you the "confident" label (if not the "bada-s" label). 

Now, this can be good OR bad, depending on how comfortable you are playing the role. You can do what you like with this information but...

My preferred choice?

PLAY IT UP 100%.

Why the hell not, eh? You only live once.

You see, the good news is: EVEN IF you start out less confident than you'd like (how I started)... Once you actually have some experience under your belt, and get used to the new role of being "bada-s"... 

Being more confident will somehow just BECOME who you are.

I'm serious. You'll automatically become a confident person on a day to day basis, the more you play guitar. And it will just feel natural.

A lot of celebrities have talked about this phenomena in depth, so that's all I'll say for now on this subject. I'll leave it up to you to prove this for yourself.

(BUT read the warning below)

7. People will gravitate toward you and give you more attention

It's true.

If you're any kind of half-decent, mediocre guitar player...

- You WILL get attention (often from chicks)...

- You WILL get fans (maybe stalkers)...

- You WILL get asked for advice (be generous)...

AND...

- You WILL PROBABLY even get a little cockier.

But listen: this is a guitar forum, so just between us guitarists... don't take yourself so seriously! 

It's all just a joke anyway.

I mean, as amazing as we might think we are... Anyone who really wanted to could become just as good, if not better.

So don't let it get to your head, ok?

Don't start believing your own B.S. that would be a BAD move. If you doubt me, all you need to do is watch the tabloids for a dose of the nightmare that'll follow if you do. 

Last thing we need is another arrogant guitar player running around the world ;-)

All the best guys.

Wishing you fun times with your guitar,

~Johnny

About the Author:For more online mentoring and other must-have lessons on learning the guitar, visit www.nobsguitar.com, the best-kept secret of self-taught guitarists from over 117 different countries. Today, it has become one of the premier sources of accurate information, useful knowledge, and uplifting inspiration for scores of self-taught guitarists. Johnny's lessons have appeared on top guitar websites such as Ultimate-Guitar, GuitarNoise, and many others. He has just released a new book titled: "The No B.S. Guitar Advantage: Secret Strategies Most Guitarists Will Never Tell You About To Go From Beginner To Head-turning Guitar Player Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible."

53 comments sorted by best / new / date

    KerNeL_KLuTcH
    2. I didn't get really good until I stopped playing video games. 6. Also tapping fascinates most people that don't play guitar, they will think you are a god even though it's very basic.
    Aays
    Ditto about the tapping point. Literally the simplest tapping riffs turn heads when you're surrounded by people who don't play guitar just because it looks vaguely technical.
    Good Ol' Ramos
    +1 about the video games!!! My skill increased tenfold in the months following me selling my console.
    unyinz
    While its true that most tapping is very basic, I've also met a lot of guitar players who are awful at tapping. Its easy to play guitar for a couple months, learn the solo to One by Metallica, and think you know all there is to tapping. However, bands like Scale the Summit (look up The Levitated by the,) use tapping in complex ways that most guitar players can't emulate.
    derkym
    Lol come on playing the one solo after two months? I think you bought into your own ego a little bit too much. Post a youtube video of yourself playing the one solo and let me see just how easy it is. And yes scale the summit kicks ass!
    link no1
    The 'One' solo after two months sound pretty damn plausible to me. It's the first solo I ever learned, and this was in the first few months of playing. Not saying I played it as fluently as I do now but it people knew what it was straight away, which is more than enough for a noobie guitarist. It's not even that difficult of a solo anyway. Like the article said, some people CAN pick it up and turn heads pretty quickly.
    unyinz
    I wasn't talking about the entire solo, I was talking about just the tapping part (since that's all that most people seem to know anyways.) And yes, just about every person I've seen pick up guitar has learned that tapping section after a couple of months of playing. And then every one of them claims that "tapping is easy," while ignoring more complex forms of tapping.
    i_lovemetallica
    I think the correct figure for point 1. is actually 99%.....I know I definitely sucked. Good article though
    cjog210
    I knew one guy who just picked up the guitar and played Fade to Black. Apparently that was his first time playing a guitar. It was pretty sad that he didn't continue playing, but he is the only beginner I know that didn't play poorly.
    mark.bell2
    You forgot to mention that it WILL hurt in the early days. Until you build up your finger tips it can be excruciating.
    pomplamoose
    hm better go practice more. need more chicks
    JelloCrust
    I was going to post a song by Jerry Fels, called "this won't get you laid," but it's not on youtube. Alas.
    systemofadown8
    I think that you should add the point that for a long time you will think you haven't improved
    sideslick
    It's like looking in a mirror every day and then looking at a five-year-old photo. You miss the small changes, but they build up. You may not notice it, but you will mature, either as a guitarist, or even just as a person.
    leviadon
    This is a well thought out article and full of truths about learning to play guitar. However, reading this article may have just discouraged me from playing at all if I was thinking of starting now. The only positives listed here are #s 6 & 7, and they deal with feeding the ego. That wouldn't have been a big motivator for me when I was starting out. I taught guitar to kids and there were those who wanted it all right away and those who loved the instrument right from the start. I would take different approaches with each of these students. The ones who wanted it "now" I would teach quick gratification lessons so they could see progress with as little work as possible. The goal being to allow them time to grow to love the instrument and become more like the former group. The truth is, I was one of the "want it now" students when I started. I asked my teacher to show me the three chords I needed to play punk rock (this was in the early 80s). He showed me how to play Louie-Louie (a 1-4-5 garage rock tune from his day) with power chords. I didn't need to know what the 1, 4 & 5 referred to - it was exactly what I wanted. Within weeks I was learning some of favorite bands' songs. I was hooked and I wanted more. My point is, people who decide they want to learn to play guitar don't need to be lectured on how much work it is, how little free time they'll have, or how much money they will spend. If they start out and get discouraged, they will quit all on their own. If they start out and fall in love, then all of the advice you give won't matter. They've already bought into the program.
    link no1
    I think that the people who would have been discouraged would never have kept playing guitar anyway. We've all met these people who have a fender in their house but couldn't tell you where either of the 'E' string are, despite having a 2/6 chance of getting it right. They gave up after a month and haven't touched it since. When I started I KNEW I wanted to play. I scrounged up what little money I could for a few months and bought myself a crappy little practice amp and a really shitty 'no brand' fender. I did nothing much else other than play guitar after that. 6 months after starting I got accepted into a music course in collage, despite I had literally no musical knowledge 6 months earlier.
    madeinperu
    I love math and I've been improving at music in general (mostly guitar, a little bit of piano and drums, and lastly violin) just linking music and math all together. In my head it's like a big mest up painting in wich I can't separate maths from music. I found out this was the right way for me since day one and I'm sure a lot of people did too.
    TheMaddestHaTT3
    The real trick, is accepting you aren't as good as you could be and striving to be the best you can. You never stop learning, so it can be challenging to give yourself the credit you deserve for what you already know. After 7 years of playing every day for at least an hour, Im pretty good. But nowhere near as good as I could be. Keeps the ego monster at bay and allows you to see your shortcomings....so you can over come them.
    rodspulloff
    Number six is so true, when i started playing i borrowed a guitar from a friend and she took it to school and when we were leaving one of my friends said, you have that "I have a guitar and you not" look on your face. It was confidence.
    Darmanos
    This article makes me really sad.. I'll never really have the time to practice daily and I know I'll never be able to become the player I always wanted to be.. Since my job is basically sitting on a desk for 12 hours a day , it has a very bad impact on my shape! So I have to admit that I use my free time to workout a little.. Lately, the closest I got to playing guitar is sharing Malmsteen videos on Youtube -___- Oh and about point number 7: That awesome moment when they give you a guitar because you are the only player in the room and they think that you've been playing for years! How embarrassing!
    GuitarSpnkr
    Guitar isn't about knowing every note on guitar. Paul McCartney couldn't read music. The guitarists in Blink 182 & Greenday probably can't sweep pick so maybe they should give up lol
    GuitarSpnkr
    I think this letter would discourage people from learning the guitar or even practicing. It just kind gives me the impression that if you want to learn and enjoy an instrument you need endless practice. I know many players who have jobs, obligations, etc. who are excellent at guitar. Even the lead guitarist for Killswitch engage admits to only playing in the studio and on tour. The guitar is an instrument for creativity not a tool rodu
    joshuarg14
    I think the only thing missing is "You will not be able to sweep pick on your first day" I wish I had been told that XD
    PsiGuy60
    This article should be the intro to every guitar lesson book (you know, the kind you'd get with your first guitar. 99.999% of them suck for actually learning anything).
    lafawafa
    I always enjoy reading articles from no bs johnny... This is true, especially for me, considering that I'm still a beginner in many guitarists' eyes.
    josonmj
    At first I was kinda scared to read this, but I have never before enjoyed an article so much before on UG. This article should have been printed on paper and put along with my gig bag when I bought my first guitar.
    Danjo's Guitar
    I feel like #7 isn't pretty false unless you're in a band regularly gigging. I've been playing guitar for 11 years now and I've never gotten any attention from it outside of gigging. And as I learned in my early days, if you're doing it for attention, you're doing it wrong.
    Ruark
    It mentioned poor instructional materials. With that goes "lots of bad advice." The field is overrun with self-proclaimed experts telling beginners what they "must" do.
    Nemesis44UK
    I love point 2- it totally eliminates anyone who is over 17 years old. Some people may get away with ignoring anything of significance in favour of their guitar, but most people are not able to spend 10-12 hours a day practicing like Slash/John Frusciante
    mrsuns10
    I havent gotten any chicks from playing guitar yet but hopefully that will change but I have been asked advice on Guitar many times thought.
    Thomasg2488
    Jimi Hendrix was the man that showed playing guitar was more an extension of yourself than anything. He actually didn't know how to read music. He more than anything used his ears for what sounded good and wrote down on paper what string, chord, etc to play. And then used his own sense of timing to remember when the song was going, either using the bass, the lyrics or the drum to keep time. That's how I play and believe at least. First song I ever learned was Paradise City which is easy yet difficult at the same time because it has certain things to it that most beginning guitarist don't use. However, what it comes down to is what do you like to listen to? If you like GN'R Judas Priest, Metallica, then learn some songs from them and learn what is required to play those songs as you go along, things like pinch harmonics, bends, palm putes, etc. That's how I learned because it's what identified me the most in terms of musical preference and style. If you aren't enjoying learning the song, chances are, you're playing something you can't stand. Play what you want to play and you'll learn. That's at least what I believe, I can't speak for everyone else. Some people will pick it up easy, others won't. If I actually spent more time practicing, I'd probably be able to improve my skills, but because I play what I like to play and know it, I enjoy playing my axe rather than just being bored learning scales everyday when I've yet to come across a song I prefer. It doesn't hurt to learn, but you have to make it enjoyable.
    raittarian
    That's some good read dude. Not a beginner but definitely an entertaining article.
    Kingobozy
    Darn! Your post just dampened my already dwindling desire to pick up a guitar and continue from where I stopped a few years back. Enlightling article. So onpoint
    benjixoath
    i actually disagree with some of the points although i didn't realise it when i was younger it's really healthy to have other interests but the guitar i find just plugging away constantly makes you stale and frustrated as much as guitar might be your escape, you need an escape from your escape something just to switch your mind of because ig you're working hard all the time and working at guitar hard you have no peaks and troughs. personally i'm hugely into anime, manga and comic books and since i took that pasttime seriously i've become a far superior guitar player to how i was because my life has more variety
    navekeinan
    the 1-6 are totally real but I have a problem with number 7. Yes I will say most guitar players will be more cockier , BUT !!! A guitarist that look at his point of view and said "I want to be good as XXX guitarist , and I have a lot more to skill" so he will get atention but we as a players needs to remember there is always new stuff to learn guitar is an endless instrument , the sky is the limit.
    charge112
    I still have the problem with playing video games, I wanna play more guitar but I also wanna play games
    Gunz-O
    It took me a looong time to play something recognisable, i didn´t have enough time to practice and i´m not particulary gifted. Thanxs to tabs, 15 years later i´m a decent rythm player and my soloing is basic at best but i don´t care because i love to play guitar. Hard and loud! And after all these years, being able to play the songs of my favorite bands feels just great.