Do You Suck At Guitar?

Do you suck at guitar? Sounds like the critical inner voice...

The critical inner voice is at it again! What is it? It's that malicious little brat of a voice that kicks dirt on your mental shoes, spits on your thoughts, and leaves a flaming pile of dog poop at the door of your mind for you to stamp out. It's the ding-dong-ditcher that rings up at 3 am, wakes you up, and then quietly laughs at him or herself for fooling you. 

No matter where this voice comes from, or how it started for that matter, it's important that we engage the critical inner voice and try to get at the heart of the judgements it sends to us. It might be saying that we need to work on some skills that have escaped our attention. This means we ought to figure out what skills we need in order to change and get better at guitar.

What exactly do you suck at?

It helps to start out by defining exactly what you suck at. Is it chords? Strumming? Barre chords? Fingerpicking? Fast shred leads? What is it? If you are a beginner, chances are that there are one of three problems that you are having. Basic chords, strumming, or chord progressions. Let's talk more about these problems in more detail.

Basic chords

Basic chords are chords like G, C, D, and E minor. These chords are the much easier ones to play than their cigarette-smoking hard-drinking cousins, barre chords. If you are a beginner and you are trying to learn barre chords, put them off. Seriously. There are millions of songs you can play that don't require an F or a B chord.

If you know that you are having trouble with a C chord, and you need it in order to play a song you really like, than that's great news! All you need to do is research the C chord on guitar and practice it in a reasonable manner. In time, it'll come together.


What about strumming? One tell-tale sign that you could use some work on strumming is if you can't tap your foot and play a rhythmic strumming pattern on guitar at the same time:

If you look closely at guitarists who are strumming an acoustic guitar, you'll see that most of them are tapping one foot and their strumming hand looks like it's in in perpetual motion. This is the tricky part of strumming, and it takes time to learn.

Strumming can be practiced, but it is something that requires a more personal touch, a customized way of learning it. My recommendation is to either find an online course for strumming, or audition a bunch of guitar teachers in hopes of finding the one that has taught strumming to many other people.

Chord progressions

What about chord progressions? These are the movements of one chord to another while strumming. If you can play basic chords and you can strum but have trouble combining chord movements, then you are having trouble with chord progressions. Believe it or not, this is a fairly common problem.

The trick with chord progressions is to keep the strumming going while you move from chord to chord.* There are ways to address awkward movements of two chords that will save you time. First, try to get all the fingers to arrive at the new chord at the same time. If that's not happening, it might be time to do an online course on chord progressions, or audition a guitar teacher who has years of experience teaching beginners to do them.

Pick the easiest problem to solve

Although each of these examples require a bit of examination and a some focused practice, at least you've identified a smaller, more manageable problem as opposed to lumping everything into a tangled mess and telling yourself that you suck. The smaller you can make the problem, the more solvable it becomes.

So here's some tips on how to not suck at guitar:

  1. Find and define the problems you are facing.
  2. Isolate the easiest one to work on.
  3. Attack this problem mercilessly.
  4. Find allies that can help you solve that one problem faster.
  5. Pay for good advice to get shortcuts.
  6. Practice deliberately and routinely.

So, no more of this, "I suck at guitar and I'm the worst guitar player I know" nonsense. No more silliness. Quit complaining, and get it done!

*Here's a hint for you: if you keep the strumming going, you'll do a better job of masking the fact that the chord progression sounding bad. It's always nicer to hear the correct strumming pattern and wrong chords than the right chords and broken strumming.