How to Murder Your Guitar Career as a Beginner

There's a problem today for guitar students that is devastating. If you're just starting out, or even if you've been playing for years, chances are you are currently making this mistake. Read this to learn how to stop it from killing your guitar career.

Ultimate Guitar

"Organize your life to have as few distractions as possible and keep your hands moving on the guitar for hours every day. Play things that you like, so that this experience is enjoyable and you want to keep doing it." –Paul Gilbert "I tell them to stop practicing and start playing music. Play with your band, your buddies, and any other instrument you can. Play in the studio, play live – play all the time. The weakness is getting too hung up on technique." –Marty Friedman "Any guitar player is going to always sound much much better if he masters seven or eight concepts, than he will if he has fifty things sort of half-there. And that's because the world of music is endless, I mean any door you open there’s six doors behind it." –Greg Howe There's a problem today for guitar students that is devastating. It's called distraction. Here's how distraction destroys guitar hopefuls time and time again: Jeff is in love with music. So he decides to pick up a guitar and start practicing. He's excited and can't wait to learn more about his favorite new instrument. He gets a few books, looks at a few videos, reads a few websites, and then starts to practice some of the things he's learned. The next day, his friend Sam tweets him a video of some dude in his bedroom shredding to Beethoven. "Holy sh-t" he says, "That is amazing. I gotta learn how to do that." And just like that... Jeff has now forgotten about the song he was working on last week and is hard at work on the new one he saw on YouTube. This process continues for the next year. By the end of one year, Jeff is confused as to why he still sucks at guitar, when all he knows are a few parts to a bunch of songs - none of which he could ever nail down and master. Does this situation sound familiar to you? If so, I'm here to tell you it's not too late to fix it. The solution? Sacrifice 99%. In an era where we are drowned in information and entertainment, the only way to actually learn something (anything) is to sacrifice 99.9% of all your options. You have to COMMIT to something. To burn the bridges to everything else. You're gonna see an inspiring guitarist doing crazy stuff on YouTube every week. A new great song will get stuck in your head every week. Your favorite guitar website (UG) will have a new practice routine for "building your chops" every week. Guitar magazines will put ten new songs for you to get lost in every month. The fact is, book publishers, YouTube posters, guitar mags, and whoever else... do not have your specific needs in mind. They are not looking after you with the best intentions. Bottom line: They do not have your back. In fact, most guitar TEACHERS are hoping you'll never know the truth: More songs, techniques, tricks, and theoretical information almost never helps (and often hurts) your ability to learn the guitar. (The exception is information on the learning PROCESS and SYSTEMS for structuring your practice.) There is more information on "what" to learn than you could ever use in your life. And there's probably no way you can internalize even 1% of it correctly, if you are finding something new to learn every week. So why do most guitar "teachers" overload you with more than you can actually learn? The answer is simple: To Make More Money Many guitar teachers are actually "starving" musicians themselves. They teach on the side - ONLY to make money. Not because they actually care about their students making progress. In reality, they know nothing about teaching. Especially about teaching the thing that matters most for beginners... how to get your fingers to do what you want! How to train your body. Teaching just that alone would take only a few lessons, and then you'd never have to pay for another lesson. So to make it look like they're teaching you a lot every week, these teachers load you up with more theory than you can even remember. Then they'll lie to you by saying you NEED all that theory to be a great guitar player. If they gave you a song and just watched you practice it, you'd feel ripped off, and leave. Yet, as I mention in my free newsletter... that's exactly what you NEED to be doing about 80% of the time... learning songs. Not studing theory. How do I know all this? Direct experience with at least 3 different guitar "teachers." These teachers taught me new techniques, new theory, and new exercises each and every single week. They did nothing for me that I couldn't do myself with an internet connection and some free time And after paying for lessons, week after week, and putting in hours of dedicated practice... I saw almost no improvement. Not until I did two things: 1. Sacrifice all the junk that's available and start playing music you enjoy. 2. Commit to mastering the PROCESS of taking new songs, techniques, and theory and internalizing them systematically "Establish an idea of what you would like to hear yourself playing, and follow that concept." –Slash "I can only say what I'm trying to do, which is just try to get into your intuitive nature of what speaks to you musically." –Eric Johnson "When you hear something you don't like, don't ever play it again." –Joe Satriani Bottom line #2: The combined effect of doing too much and not playing music you love is your guitar career will be over before it even starts. The options never end. The only thing that might end is your enthusiasm for learning. I hope this sends the message home, loud and clear: Sacrifice 99%. Focus hard on a few things that matter to YOU. Never learn anything that doesn't speak to you musically, no matter what anyone says. About the Author: Johnny Lee is a lover of music, guitarist, songwriter, and creator of, the best-kept secret of self-taught guitarists from over 73 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." Check it out here.

55 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hi! Guitar teacher here. I thought I'd take time away from my conspiring to steal the money of budding rock stars everywhere to respond to this post. Only briefly mind, lest my evil moneymaking schemes be undone. In a few ways, I actually agree with that is written here. There are so many branches and paths in guitar playing, and music in general for one not to focus on a minority of things to improve, however... Self-teaching is all well and good, and I do believe it can work for certain types of people. And I don't mean that in a patronizing way, as I'm firmly in the 'better off being taught' camp. The internet has such a vast saturation of resources for guitar playing, some which is fantastic, others which look great but substance wise fall flat - only yesterday I watched a tutorial on 'shredding' that encouraged the watcher 'if you feel that burn in your arm, go with it! You have to push yourself further and further to improve!' while to someone versed in these styles, one can take what they will from that, but to someone learning purely from the internet this advice can range from a 'get-lucky-and-do-fine' scenario to one which results in RSI or worse! Personally, I spent about 6 months reading up about modes on the internet before my teacher finally put it in ways I could understand. Whatever I teach, be it songs, techniques, theory or otherwise, I ensure that I put everything in context and in a way that is most beneficial for the student - for each lick we learn I ensure that we spend time looking how that can be incorporated into improvisation, for every technique or theoretical aspect discussed I ensure that it is backed up with several musical examples of their usage. Ultimately, a capable teacher will be able to genuinely give good reason for continued lessons and most certainly have their student's goals in mind! I can only hope that I actually fill this mold myself Overall what I'm trying to say is that there is no secret, money grabbing coven of teachers. Self-teaching CAN work for some, but no-one should be afraid to shop around and look for a quality teacher, even if its just for a couple of lessons to get a professional second opinion/pointers for technique.
    >Yet, as I mention in my free newsletter... that's exactly what you NEED to be doing about 80% of the time... learning songs. Not studing theory. >not studing theory Spelling mistakes aside, studying theory will always make you a better musician unless you just want to impress some girls by playing wonderwall or some crap.
    But can't you impress girls by playing Wonderwall and then explaining why the three chords go together?
    While I do agree with your point, and I really think theory is important, guitar is a special instrument in that way. It doesn't "demand" that much of music theory knowledge, at least in the initial stages, to really understand what you're doing... and even later when you progress with your playing, you really just need so much of theory to keep getting better until you get really good and/or explore some more complex genres, like classical music
    If you saw almost no improvement after a year of practising properly, even WITH tuition, then you're doing it wrong. Learning techniques and how to apply them will NOT harm your guitar playing. While this article does feature a couple of helpful tips, sifting through the sheer volume of BS to isolate the helpful tips will fill your mind with crap. If your new book contains mostly writing like this, then I sincerely hope no-one buys it.
    I actually found this to be spot on and very helpful to beginners. Also, don't be a dick.
    no bs johnny
    You're right. I wasn't practicing properly in the beginning. Why? If most teachers could actually do their job and SHOW YOU how to practice properly, then this wouldn't be a problem. I found 1 good teacher out of 4 when I started. Then I taught myself and improved 10 times faster.Excessive focus on techniques and theory actually DOES harm your playing. It's called "opportunity cost." The same time could have been spent doing things in a "smart" and effective way that gets results much faster. Ex. Studying the rules of grammar and syntax to learn Spanish (how schools do it)... vs... just surrounding yourself with Spanish speakers and picking it up in 6 months. You decide. ~Johnny
    Very Accurate, Though Ironically enough, When I took lessons some 7 years back, It was my teacher who told me to focus and learn one thing at a time.. He was incredible, and If I had the disposable income, I'd totally go back.
    Perspective, perspective, perspective. "This is how to become better!" "No, this is!" "You need theory!" "Theory will only hurt your playing!" Ignore everyone but yourself for a second, find what YOU need to work on, and then start taking advice on that subject. There's millions and millions of musicians, and they'll all tell you something different on how to become better...but if you haven't noticed, none of them can agree on the advice they give others. You'll just end up getting confused and lost in the middle of endless points of views.
    Althought there are some good tips... This is a whole bunch of crap. I'm learning something new every week in college (Studying music) and I'm better than ever.
    The answer is simple: To Make More Money
    This is kinda conspiracy... Other than that, you are absolutely right!
    no bs johnny
    It's no conspiracy. Many musicians can't make ends meet. Just ordinary self-interest.
    SGA Music
    This article is misleading!! Kind of ironic that this author quotes of bunch of high profile musicians such as Greg Howe & Marty Friedman, most of which will have taken formal lessons to get to the virtuoso level that they are at, and then goe's on to claim that music teachers are scam artists....this is untrue! The truth is that with a good mentor you achieve much more success than if you try to teach yourself (this applies to any area of life, not just music). Sure, there are a few musicians that do teach on the side and don't know how to teach properly and probably shouldn't be advertising their services, but if you do your homework and go out of your way to find the right teacher for you, it will help you in ways that other learning materials can't. Here are some criteria: Teaching experience, qualifications. track record with other students & student achievements, Syllabus used to teach with.
    For me personally, learning a bunch of random riffs has helped my guitar playing. Instead of spending a lot of time trying to learn a whole song, I have a variety of different style riffs under my belt. This helps me create my own style. (I still rip off James Hetfield's style way too much, but that's beside the point.)
    I was like this too, but any time I found myself playing guitar in front of people that a) wasn't a gig, or b) me at home with my ideal tone, I couldn't play anything they wanted to hear. Granted, that speaks as much to their taste as my lack of songs learned, but imo people would much rather learn songs, and learning songs trains your ear far more than just riffs.
    Started off as an alright lesson, but as soon you went all Tom Hess on us with that evil teacher conspiracy bs, it started going downhill, fast. Not to mention, saying you shouldn't play music you don't like is narrow-minded, there is so much you can learn from music you don't like that I recommend it. I'm not a huge jazz or blues fan, but there is so much to learn from those genres, and it'll only expand your musical capabilities. In the words of Michael Angelo Batio, "Do it all."
    Some of the writing in this article made me think that Tom Hess was back and we were all doomed, but this actually is well written, though I disagree in some points. I started to play guitar self thaught, with guitar magazines and tabs of songs I wanted to play, and I got pretty good in one year. Then I looked for a teacher, and he helped me a lot not only in guitar stuff, but the reality of music and everything. It's all a matter of perspective. There is no "only way"
    Sounds to me like this guy just had some bad teachers. Theory definitely helps. In more ways than one. I agree you should nail down a skill set and try to master (or at least become more practically skilled with it) before moving on. I've found that all of learning in music is easier done when you take steps to build things off from what you last learned. With that being said though. Do you want to write music or play shit someone else wrote? If you want to write music, you want to know theory.
    Wow....great pitch...whole lotta bullshit but great pitch!! So kids remember burn all your bridges, ditch your studies and than you too can be a rockstar....and as for only playing what you like, that´s just about as smart as telling people to only eat what they like
    why play something you don't like? that completely defeats the purpose of playing guitar if you're not enjoying it.
    How to learn guitar at home: Buy The Ramones first album. Learn how to read tabs and look up basic bar chords on youtube or elsewhere. No upstrokes allowed.
    I found this out a year ago. Great article. I had been playing since I was 14 (6 years) And never got any good. Then I just started to focus on one thing at a time. I have got better in one year then I ever got in six. I might see a teacher for a single class next year when I feel I might get some guidance, but other than that I will just continue playing the stuff I love playing and try to get good at it.
    Never applied to me but I do see how it would to many others. My practice is learning a whole song & playing it through as many times as I find it enjoyable.
    Reading the first few paragraphs, I thought it sounded like some advertisement for an online guitar teaching service.. Jokes aside, great tips.
    "How to murder your guitar career as a beginner"... Stop thinking about it as a career.
    This article is horrendous! The only point I agree with is at the beginning. See your songs through. If you start learning a song, try your best to learn it all the way through before jumping around to other songs. But if you want to box yourself into being a 1 dimensional musician, then listen to this guy. Shut yourself out of 99% of music? Are you f'ing kidding me? And you are a professional? One of the first things my guitar teacher did for me (an aspiring metalhead back 20+ years ago) was introduce me to Al DiMeola and classical music. Al writes and plays guitar music like nothing you will find in metal. Practicing his music has helped my playing probably more than any exercise or song can. It's s technical and brilliant and exotic. Yet if I followed this fool's advice I'd only be playing Metallica and Megadeth songs and never got to experience the glory of an Al DiMeola, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Paco DeLuca, etc etc etc. Just absolutely terrible advice in this article. Yes, see you practices through and commit to what you are learning but DO NOT shut out 99% of other music. That's how you grow as a musician and learn new concepts that you may enjoy way more than power chords and shredding.
    S J Feris
    This is the 2nd time I've read an article bashing guitar teachers. What up ? Sure there are hacks out there. There are also qualified competent teachers with 4 year degrees ect. who take what they do seriously.
    Too much prejudice and generalization. Hope no one follows your advice.
    Some of the things you wrote I agree with. But; it really depends on what you are actually going for (as you also said). I am studying Jazz. First time I started I did not even like Jazz and only listened to metal. Now I love it and I understand theory more and more every week. I get a bunch of material and learn it day by day. It is not only about learning the theory, but also about understanding it and how to apply it in your playing. I do agree with you that most people on youtube don't even care about you and only want to win money. That's why I never watch that crap. I do feel that you need to think throe the section about learning with a teacher. Some are good and some bad. If you get your information from a teacher and learn it all week long till the next lesson, you will get better. I for example have to practice Guitar and Saxophone, and next year I will have to learn to play the Piano. If you don't want to learn theory, don't study music and don't take a teacher. If you only want to learn songs than that's fine too. But don't say that all teachers are not looking forward to getting you there. Someone can only be a good teacher, if he/she teaches you the best way, so that you can become better than yourself.
    It's a big statement to say every single guitar teacher just wants your money,I had a great teacher who would even lend me a guitar if I showed an interest,said 30 min lessons were a lot more beneficial and usually lead to to 40 min lessons,I only had lessons for a couple years but he was focused mainly on me learning melody songs etc,if I wanted theory all I had to do was ask
    I really can't remember the last time I learned a full song that wasn't just a song I could learn in 20 minutes. Need to cut back on distractions. Granted some of those are being away at school and working on my own tracks but I'd still like to improve some more on guitar.
    There is some insight in this article, I agree with it in the fact that I think attention to one specific task is essential, but I don't agree with the attitude towards teachers. A GOOD teacher shows you how to apply all the theory and techniques that you're taught into a way that you can use it in rhythm, leads, improv, whatever it is. I know my knowledge of rhythms(theory) really contributed to the cohesiveness of my last band's CD. We still could have improved in many ways, but man, we were metronome tight after we were done at the studio. Syncopated rhythms can be very difficult to grasp if you have no way to reproduce it in a consistent way (theory). But it really all depends on what works for you. I was self-taught for almost 2 years before I ended up taking lessons. When I picked up guitar, and had the basic chording down, I learned 40 songs. Learning an instrument is all about being able to take new information and apply it to your instrument. Not everyone needs a teacher for that, but it can save you time IF you find a good teacher.
    As a guitar teacher you totally right. but in today most of the kids have so much to do that they refer guitar as like a drama class. They come to play for fun. I teach in groups of 3-4 students . we laugh and talk about school sometimes and learn some songs.sometimes I teach them theory and guitar notes to understand what tha hell they play. more than 80% of them don't want to be a guitar masters . most of the kids of today are having trouble with self-discipline so they treat guitar as fun. sure there are some who really wants to be really good. but really nowdays, I think noone needs to have a guitar teacher today; with all the huge information in the interent there is no need.maybe if you aren't so musical you maybe need 3-4 lessons to understand the guitar and some theory. that's it! u just need sit and practice practice. I do tell them to go learn new songs in the interent. maybe one student do it! or at the worst case they can't understand and having trouble to make the right connections where to begin.(maybe because of too much info)
    Definitely agree that the jumping around slows progression as a player. But to say "I've had a few bad teachers, therefore all teachers are bad and are actually purposely bad just to make money" is just downright fallacious.
    I got distracted many years ago and now I'm left unhappy with my playing. I haven't really progressed or grown in years. And I'm no where near where I'd like to be after 10 years of playing.
    Hey! My name is Jeff! I agree to this to an extent - we are the sum of our influences.
    This is pretty true. When I was starting out, I was only being taught to read music, and identify notes. And years later, that amounts for nothing when I have writers block. Quite literally, the best thing I ever did was sign up to this site, and choose 4 songs I wanted to learn. I practiced them all to the point where I can sing/play with my eyes closed. That alone, made it easier to navigate my fretboard without second guessing myself. So now I challenge myself to play new songs without looking at my hands, and sure I play some wrong notes here and there from time to time, but I know I missed them and know I need to practice more on that particular figure. I've had three teachers in my life, and so far the only teacher who has motivated me to get better and learn more is myself. I don't like the idea of playing guitar to be able to do off the wall solos because a lot of what I enjoy playing/listening to isn't complicated and consisting of 300+ figures..challenging, yes but every new song should be. I believe, if you're learning a new song and you can master it in 30 mins you might not be learning anything new, but if you enjoy it you're doing just fine. Although, you should always challenge yourself.
    When I took lessons, he started out teaching me songs I liked to get me used to the guitar. After that, he started teaching me theory, structures and all that so I could then teach myself. He was the best teacher ever.
    G'day Johnny, I signed up for your 4 emails, just finished reading the 2nd. Seems fascinating, you are applying the Michel Thomas Method, with Constant, Variable and Random Practice? I am guessing some people approach the guitar like this "innately" and therein lies the seemingly "Innate" ability some people seem to have. It's not they are necessarily gifted, they just naturally approach their practice this way. Like I said fascinating, if you really have managed to capture this so anyone can apply it then it would be well worth the investment. Problem is there are so many people selling Guitar Tutorial stuff (I have bought most of it) that if I purchased this and it turns out to be just another to add tho the pile. I would be so discouraged, I'd probably give it away.
    Oh my god I wish every musician I know would read this. THIS separates the skilled from the unskilled. All my friends and bandmates constantly learn the intros to songs and "want" to learn a hundred different covers but never learn a single one.
    Well… I'm not much of a beginner but, I can tell somethings you say are real matter. Like the fact you need to sacrifice it all to dedicate entirely to your instrument. Play things you love is like the real way of getting it right, not much of a mystery jeje… But in which I totally agree is: PRACTICE. That's the secret.
    I am on the right track. Just last week I sacrificed all the nonsense activited I use to do. (play sports, watch tv, read, etc). I am now recording my first EP