by Maurice Richard
Senior Instructor at Halifax Guitar Lessons
You bought a guitar, you are set to go, you are ready to learn! Awesome decision.
The first step is to find a method to learn from. Like most people you probably decided to go online and start there.
Everything starts off great. It’s not easy, there is a lot to figure out, but you start to learn a few things and you make some progress. So far it’s still fun.
Pretty soon thought you start to realize things are not right. You don’t seem to be able to make it sound like the person on the video.
You know something is wrong so you try to fix it. You focus on getting it just right. But then you can’t keep up. But you know that the sound is important so you keep fixing and tweaking to make it sound right.
Next thing you know days and weeks may have gone by and you can still barely play anything. You still can’t make it sound good either.
Frustration sets in. Your excitement becomes doubt. Maybe you are not cut for this? Maybe you will never learn how to play guitar?
Or maybe the problem you are focusing on the wrong things.
Focusing On The Sound Slows Your Progress
Focusing on the sound when you are first starting to learn to play guitar seems like the right thing to do. Sounding good is very important to you and it is to me as well.
However, most people do not progress very quickly or very far when they focus too much on the sound when they first start to learn guitar. Several things happen when your focus is out of balance like this.
First of all, you tend to ignore more important skills that need to be developed in your playing so it takes longer to develop them. You may be able to painstakingly get a good clean sound for any specific chord, but the rest of your playing is in shambles.
Your focus on sound also tends to create the bad habit of pushing way too hard on the strings which slows down your progress even more and makes it harder to change chords smoothly and accurately.
This leads to frustration and keeps you from playing actual music that can be recognized for a long time.
Why Do So Many People Get Trapped By The Sound?
That’s a great question.
When I ask my students or potential students why they think they need to sound good when they are first starting to learn they tell me they don’t like it when their playing sounds bad.
It bothers them. Plus, they tell me, the point is to sound good so it makes sense to them to get it right away.
Imagine if you tried to use this same logic with other things like sports when you are first learning how to play them.
Are you going to hate playing baseball because you can’t hit a perfect ball over the fence every time? Are you going to hate playing ice hockey because you can’t score a goal on every shot? Are you going to hate tennis because you can serve up an ace every time you serve?
Sports are not about perfection. They are about progress. You do not start with perfection. You work towards it and really never will achieve it.
It’s the same with guitar. Focusing on the sound, on perfection, is not the best way to learn to play.
Focus On Your Skills Not The Sound
Focusing on the sound right off the bat is going to slow you down and will accomplish the opposite of what you are trying to do.
I get it, you want your playing to sound good. And it makes logical sense to focus on it until it is good. Later you will start to wonder why the rest of your playing is suffering and why it does not sound like music.
What is the point of playing a perfect sounding G chord when you can’t change to it from any other chords? What the point of it sounding good when you can’t strum and change chords in time?
As soon as you add other elements to your playing it will fall apart.
When I am able to get people to stop focusing on the sound and on their other playing skills instead, like strumming, changing chords, coordinating the two, a small miracle happens.
They soon find out that they can actually get through entire songs and make it sound ok. Sure it is not professional grade sounding, but we would you expect that when you are just starting out anyway?
Get Someone To Help You Focus On The Right Things
The best way to learn how to play guitar and focus on the right things at the right time is to get a trained guitar teacher to help guide you and keep you on the best path to success.
There are so many things to learn on guitar that it is easy to try and do things out of order if you are not trained to know. I definitely made that mistake.
I tried to teach myself for many years. I had some success but mostly ran into frustration as I consistently tried to learn things that were well above my abilities. I focused on the sound too. It was a disaster.
I actually quit playing because I felt I could never get it, that I would suck forever. Do not let it happen to you. Get someone to help you like I finally did and make some real progress!