How To Get Beyond "It’s Hard!" With Guitar

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Folk Guitar By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Guitar » Folk Guitar
Last updated: 03/07/2017
Tags: beginner, guitar, hard work, music, piano

“I don’t want to do it. It’s hard.”

Those words were repeated ad infinitum by a 7 year old piano and guitar student I had when I first started tutoring. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. How can you teach something when the student clearly doesn’t want to learn – won’t even sit down to try the simplest of chord shapes or finger exercises?

I tried banning the word ‘hard’ from being spoken in our lessons (and ‘difficult’, ‘not easy’ and whatever other synonyms he came up with!) in an attempt to make him realise that if he just ventured a little outside his comfort zone he might be surprised at what he could achieve. But it became a pitched battle. Over the course of an hour we moved from guitar to piano, back to guitar again whenever his short attention span ran out, and eventually, when he pushed the guitar away, crossed his arms and said, “Can we just play ‘Ode to Joy’ again?” I relented, letting him once again hash out the plinky-plonk, learnt-by-rote piano piece that his previous piano teacher had ground into him and that he didn’t have to try with, or think about any more.

“I can tell you now I’m not going to practise,” another young, early guitar student said to me at the end of our inaugural lesson. My initial reaction was shock, and I thought to myself, “Well, you’re not going to be a very good guitarist then.” But instead I suggested, “Well, maybe find just five or ten minutes this week to go over what we learnt today and we’ll see how things go next time.” Three lessons more were all we stretched to, and little progress or fulfilment were found for either of us.

Those students found it difficult to learn something new. I thought they just didn't want to do anything that required any effort so they'd never practise or get any better. They just wanted to click their fingers and suddenly be able to play Für Elise or Stairway to Heaven. We all know it doesn’t work like that, and some kids can be especially impatient and unused to the notion of extended focus, concentration and perseverance. But if your expectation and aim is to instantly become a virtuoso, then maybe I haven’t done my job of managing those expectations well enough, and yes, you are going to find it hard – and totally not worth the trouble. Maybe I didn't demonstrate the reasons for making the effort in the first place. 

So how do we get past “It’s hard?” How do students of any age stand at the foot of the mountain, look up, and take more than the first few steps up the steep incline before just giving up and going home? And how do we, as tutors, encourage them to make those difficult first steps, beyond insisting that the view at the top is beautiful?

The answer is of course aiming for a number of smaller plateaux beneath the peak. Within sight of the foothills lie many achievable, comfortable platforms with a pretty good views themselves. For my student who has never put his hands on a guitar before, yes, learning those first two chords and changing between them smoothly is probably going to be uncomfortable, even a little painful on the fingers at first - and, indeed, hard. But if I can show him/her that with those mastered, we will be able to play a whole range of tunes and songs, and then adding a third primary chord an entire new vista of repertoire lies open to view, then maybe that little extra effort will seem worth it. (We can probably all think of a couple guitarists who have made hugely successful careers out of just three chords!).

Each student is different and I try as early as possible to gauge what the student truly wants to achieve. Then it’s a matter of making sure they understand what is realistic and what it takes to get there. You have to find their passion and what they will enjoy and feel pride at being able to play and aim for that. I quit the piano at age 12 because I didn’t want to be able to tap out another Handel or Purcell minuet or whatever it was. But if been shown the sheet music for some rock ‘n’ roll or blues, some Queen, musical theatre, or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at the very summit, who knows, I might be a better pianist today as well as a guitarist. It’s about finding the joy in the instrument or the subject being taught – as long as that doesn’t mean playing ‘Ode to Joy’ ever again. 

Anthony Pinnick A-level English Tutor (South West London)

About The Author

Hi! Want to learn the guitar? Or improve your playing? I have 17 years of experience and a passion to help people become better guitarists. I also teach some other stuff. Get in touch to discuss more.

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