Guitar Myths

Guitar Myths

Here is a list, in no particular order, of some common myths surrounding the guitar.

I’ve added a few of my thoughts on each one.

I hope you find the list helpful.

Myth #1 – Playing guitar is easy as long as you know a few secrets.

Of course, it’s easy to do anything poorly, but if your guitar ambitions are higher than to play poorly, I think that it would be wise to adopt the understanding that myth #1 is a sales technique, not a guitar method. A good teacher can and will simplify everything as much as possible for a student, but this is not always necessarily the same thing as making it easy. I would be wary of anyone who professes some form of myth number one and then asks for an email address or credit card number.

Myth #2 – “I love the guitar, but I’ll never be able to learn to play it because ______ .”

My theory is this; interest is simply aptitude in disguise. If you had no talent for the guitar, you wouldn’t be able to process the sound of it well enough to be interested in playing it in the first place.

Myth #3 – Learning from videos is just as good as having a teacher.

If you’ve been having trouble trying to learn guitar by watching videos, I’d like to tell you about my uncle. He would tell me that he’d watch a television show where a man would stand with his painting tools in front of a blank canvas and painstakingly show the viewer, brushstroke by brushstroke, how to make a beautiful painting. My uncle tried and tried, but he would always say, “My paintings never look like the ones he does on television!” Why do you suppose that is? Did my uncle have less artistic potential than the man on television? I don’t think so. I think the main reason he had trouble is that there was no actual painter standing in the room next to my uncle to point out his mistakes. Not realizing he was making mistakes, my uncle kept making the same ones over and over until they became habits. If you’ve been having trouble teaching yourself guitar with videos you may be running into the same sort of problems. Like anything worthwhile, gaining the skill of playing a musical instrument requires work and patience. It also requires physical techniques and mental paradigms that are difficult to explain and which are not obvious to beginners. As mental or physical habits are much more difficult to break than they are to acquire, learning from videos is a dangerous strategy if you’re serious about playing well.  I’m not saying that you can’t learn anything about playing the guitar from videos. What I am saying is that I would highly recommend that you do not learn to play guitar from videos as a beginner. This is especially true if you’re watching home-made videos, because they may have been created by people who were taught by videos in the first place.  Learning from videos as a beginner can easily lead to bad habits creeping into your playing and thinking.  Remember, no one in a video can point your mistakes out to you and a mistake can be almost anything, missing a note is just the tip of the iceberg.  The biggest problem here is that you won’t know when you are making a mistake. If you’re human, you’ll be making plenty of mistakes. I know I did.

Myth #4 – Renting or borrowing a guitar is good enough to start.

The guitar is not an instrument as much as a collection of related instruments.  Buying a guitar is a big decision because you are also, whether you know it or not, picking a musical direction that corresponds to the field of activity that your instrument will accommodate.  If you like certain guitar music, find out what kind of guitar people use to make that music and get one of those, a good one.  This is easier said than done, but you must wrestle with these questions when you are just starting to play if you want to make a wise investment with your time and money and also have an instrument that you can continue to use for years to come.  If you do not have a clear idea of what you would like to play, the chances of you having an appropriate guitar of adequate quality are very low.  In my experience, most first time students have the wrong guitar for their goals. In order to fulfill your musical goals, you should own a guitar of adequate quality, which is appropriate for the kind of music you will be making on it.  So, please think seriously about exactly what kind of guitar music you would like to learn to play. Also, it is important to know that there are big differences between guitars, even if they are very good guitars.  When you learn to play guitar, you really learn to play your guitar in particular.  It needs to be a playable one and the right kind of guitar for you and your goals.  If you have access to a guitar that a friend has lying around unused, ask yourself these questions, “If it’s worth playing, why is it laying around unused?”  “With so many kinds of guitars, what are the chances that this particular guitar is right for me and my guitar goals?”  “What will happen to my hard earned talent and ability even if I do learn to play this particular guitar well, and than I have to give it back?”

Myth #5 – “I’ll start off with a cheap guitar and if I do well, I’ll get a good one.”

You don’t have to start on the most expensive guitar, but the least expensive guitars are so poor that they will disrupt your learning curve and waste your practice time.  They will also break more easily and need repair more often.  When you start adding up the downside of really cheap guitars, they end up being MORE expensive than a moderately priced one that would be much easier to play and would sound better.  A playable guitar, and one which is appropriate for the kind of music you wish to play on it, can make all the difference between playing well and being frustrated.  The thinking, “If I like it and do well then I’ll get a good one,” doesn’t work well here, as an inexpensive guitar can disrupt your learning curve in very short order.  If the guitar is bad, you will not be able to play it well (nobody will) and you will go through great pain trying, so you will not like it.  Playing a good guitar is difficult enough. Sadly, salespersons are often not good people to address with these sorts of questions.  Remember, it’s their responsibility to sell things to people.  It’s my responsibility to help people to play well.  Also, steel string acoustic guitars are typically a very bad place to start unless you spend a great deal on one, as they take far greater strength to play than all other types.  So please, do not use a steel-string acoustic guitar as a starting place if you can avoid it.

Myth #6 – “I’ll start off with a casual teaching method and if I do well, I’ll get an experienced teacher.”

Much of the same logic from Myth #5 applies here.  If you get off to a bad start, you’ll likely develop bad habits that will be much more difficult to break then good habits would have been to acquire in the first place. If you don’t start with a good teacher, you will likely be frustrated, you will not do so well, and you won’t like it. Perhaps worse, you may think that you are doing well, but you will not know the difference between what you are doing and thinking and what you should be doing and thinking, and developing deeply rooted bad habits in the process.  An inadequate teacher may simply not know or care that you’re making mistakes so, like an instructional video, that teacher will not correct you.  Really, Myth #6 is the other way around.  If you start learning the guitar with a good teacher, and you learn to be a proficient player, you are then in a position to learn from anybody.  This is because you can evaluate the quality of what they’re doing, leave the bad behind and use the good to your advantage. Therefore, at the beginning stages of development, fewer lessons with a better teacher is a preferable arrangement to more lessons with a less able one, because any acquired bad habits will be almost impossible to break.  I have had many students who have played very casually for a while, decide to get serious with their playing and then see me for lessons.  In these cases, it would have been better for both of us if they had never touched the guitar. It’s certainly possible for these students to make progress, it’s just that making that progress is much more difficult for both of us.  There is a lot to learn at first if you want to play the guitar including technique, theory, reading skills, listening skills, rhythm and so on. It’s not until all of these things are in place and integrated that true competence is gained. Young people, with relatively short memories and busy schedules, typically need the discipline of weekly lessons to successfully complete this threshold. Adults are more likely to have the memory and discipline required for biweekly lessons