Helping the "Career" Beginner Guitarist - 055

Today, I help “career” beginner guitarists. Getting stuck at the beginner stage sometimes can last for a really long time.  Today, I help you break that cycle and get to the next level.




In guitar, what does that actually mean?

The definition of it is someone who is just starting to learn or to do something.

But, in guitar, that’s not always the case. There are a lot of people who consider themselves a beginner, that have been playing guitar for a really long time. The term starts to take on a bit more than just starting out.

To some, it’s more of a feeling. Maybe you feel like a beginner because you aren’t doing what you think you should be. You started out and never progressed to what you think you should be doing as a next level (intermediate) student.


The Question

Today,I’m going over the question: How do you break the cycle of the “Career Beginner” and get them moving forward in a way that they haven’t experienced before? Then I’ll define the different problems you find with someone in this situation, the common questions that I get from them and finally how to help move forward again.


Different Situations

In my time teaching, I’ve come across two main situations that have led to this.

The first is the person who just started playing to have fun. This type of student didn’t have big goals when it came to guitar. They just started to pick up the guitar one day and learned enough to have an enjoyable experience. Guitar wasn’t the most important thing in their life and they didn’t have the drive to really move forward with it. From time to time, they pick it up and play the same things that they have been playing for a long time and have fun.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. Playing guitar is supposed to be fun. And if you are satisfied with just being able to play a little, great for you. What happens to a lot of these players is that, over time, they start to feel like they are missing out. It could be because of a change in their life or their situation. For some reason, the same old things that they have been playing aren’t doing it for them any more. Trying to learn some new things, when you have been fairly set in your ways, becomes pretty tough, and they start to look for help.

The other type of “Career Beginner” that I have found is the player who started, gets frustrated and periodically sets the guitar down for awhile and then picks it back up. The next thing you know, you have been playing on and off for years without a lot of progress.

There are several reasons why someone might go through this.  It could be that you really wanted to play guitar but it wasn’t clear what you were getting yourself into. You didn’t realize the effort it was going to take to play, and when it gets difficult, you lose interest. Or, I’ve see students with focus problems or who struggle to find the time needed to progress. And the big one is family life or your profession that makes any kind of progress difficult.

Whatever the reason, a lot of guitarists dealing with this kind of guitar frustration still have the drive to learn the guitar. The allure of playing is still there.


The Common Questions

Although these two types of long time beginners come from two very different places, what is really interesting to me is that they tend to ask the same types of questions. Paying attention to these questions have really helped me workout how to get them moving forward. Here are a few of the main ones:

  • How do I get past just knowing parts of songs?
  • What do I need to practice to get better?
  • I have no idea what to do. Where should I start?
  • What style should I start with?
  • How do I get past just playing the same (chords/pentatonic shapes) over and over again?
  • How long do I need to practice to get good?

Do any of these questions sound familiar to you? Just hearing them gives you that feeling of someone who is a little confused and is struggling. Sometimes, just answering each specific question, only gives a temporary fix. If you say, “Oh OK, just start with this chord book, or this website”, you get a temporary fix but the rut tends to continue. A better way to help is to…


Define the Problems

After trying to help a good number of students like this, I’ve found some general problems in common. When you start to deal with them, one on one, the student starts to get results. Here are the main problems that I’ve found keep the student stuck in beginner mode:

  • Indecision
  • Mindset
  • Lack of information
  • Lack of time
  • Negative feedback
  • Isolation
  • Not wanting to start over or take a step back

If you are someone who has struggled with moving past the beginner stage, chances are that you are being held back from one of these problems.



especially on the subject of guitar, where there are so many different styles and so many different ways to play and learn, can be crippling. It’s very hard to get better at one thing when your attention is split between many different styles or methods.  Jumping from one study to the other can be a lot of fun to get an overview of all of the different things you can do with the guitar, but it doesn’t usually mean that you are going to progress very quickly.

In students that are stuck by wanting to do and be too much at one time, I try to get them to think in seasons. Just because you are focused on one style of music for awhile, doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do something else. But by picking one style or technique to focus on for a season (an extended amount of time), you give yourself an opportunity to really see yourself getting better. When you can really see you own progress, there is a momentum and an excitement that is so precious. You get to experience a “Win”. Sometimes, just one “Win” is all you need to build hope and confidence that you can really do this.

Then after this “season” of focus, you can reevaluate the direction you want. Pick another topic to work on for another season. Taking the pressure off of making decisions about what to spend your time on, by giving yourself an out at the end of the season, might just buy you enough time and focus to get on the progress train. And once you are onboard, I’m sure you won’t feel like the Career beginner anymore.



If you check out episode 31, “What’s holding you back from getting better at the guitar’, I go into detail about the mindset issues beginners, intermediates, and advanced players have. For beginners and intermediate players, staying positive and finding motivation are key to going forward.

For the career beginner though, it’s tough to do these things when you haven’t seen results for a very long time. This can give you a negative or hopeless feeling towards your guitar playing. This could result in saying things like, “Well, maybe playing the guitar just isn’t for me.” Getting some quick “Wins”, just like in the last section, is key to turning this around.

Getting a setlist of cool songs to play is one of the best “quick wins” you can find. Spending the time imagining what songs you would play if you had a band or played a gig. This means, learning the songs from the beginning to the end (not just parts). Starting to build a repertoire and seeing it grow over time as you add more and more songs to it is very satisfying. And once you have a group of songs you like that you could play at a moments notice, your mindset shifts from, I’ll never be able to do this, to what can I add to make things even cooler. It’s a positive thing and something that is your own.


Lack of Information

Not knowing how to get out of a rut is depressing. If you know that you are missing things in your playing and you want to fill them in, how are you supposed to know what to do. There are so many great free videos and blog posts available. Just jumping in and trying to learn new things when you are missing foundational skills can just lead to more of the same. The easy answer is to take a few lessons and see if that works for you. Or you could ask some other guitar player friends what they think you are missing in your playing. But what if you don’t have access to either of those. If all that you have available is free youtube lessons, here is a way to get some structure. Pick someone. Find an online teacher who resonates with you.

Who do you watch that teaches the way that makes the most sense to you. Instead of going for a youtube ride with several different teachers, Stick with that one teacher. Go to their channel. Take a look at their videos for beginners. See if they have any playlists that guide you through a sensible routine. Go to their website. See what they have to offer. Most important, find their email address, send them a message, and be honest about your problem. Say something like, “ I’m not able to purchase your content now, but I love the way you teach. Could you point me in the right direction with your free content.” Something like that. I’m sure you will get a response. Even if you are not able to buy their stuff now, you could be a future customer. Most likely you could get some help.


Lack of Time

This is an ever growing problem. We are all busy, and not spending enough time on the guitar will definitely keep you from progressing out of the beginner stage. You are not going to get better if you aren’t on the guitar. You can’t get around it. If you are to the point where you have had enough of the Career beginner status, you need to carve out time for yourself with the guitar. This has to be productive time as well, away from distractions.

If playing the guitar is that important to you, get serious and make a time commitment. If you have listened to the show before, you know to start seeing results, you don’t need to spend hours a day. The focus should be on repetition not marathon sessions. Give yourself from 15 minutes to a half an hour daily to work on the basics, and you will be surprised how quickly you will start seeing results.


Negative Feedback

The worst thing to me on this list is the negative feedback beginners get from others. It could be your family or friends that do the most damage. Here you are, trying to do something positive that is pretty difficult. You are having fun but you aren’t a stage performer just yet.

All it takes is one off color remark from a friend or loved one to make you want to stop and give it all up. I don’t know why this happens but I hate it. It seems that people who don’t try new things are always the first to criticize others. I don’t know why that is, but it’s terrible.

A lot of players quit because of feeling inadequate. That is such a shame. Who knows, you could have been just one practice session away from a breakthrough that could have set your playing on fire.

If you are struggling with the guitar and you have others saying negative things about your playing, stop listening to them and don’t give up. Learning the guitar is hard but it’s not rocket science. You can do this! You can prove them wrong. This is definitely a skill that can be developed over time. Try finding a time and place to practice away from opinionated ears. Try to find just one person who thinks that it’s great that you are learning guitar. To keep things positive, maybe save your talk about learning guitar for them. Don’t give the negative minds a chance to steal your fun.



When I first started playing guitar, I practiced in my room. I enjoyed figuring out different things on the guitar. It was fun for me, but, at some point, I knew I was missing something. Everything I learned started to sound the same. I started to get bad habits that I wasn’t paying attention to. I was focused on certain things ( like scales) but was lacking in other things that I didn’t realize (like rhythm).

When I finally started to jam with other guitar players, everything changed. It was scary at first. I didn’t want to suck. Just being able to compare my playing with someone else’s told me everything that I needed to know. I could see and get feedback about the things I did well and the things that I needed to work on.

If you are stuck in a certain stage of learning the guitar, and all you ever do is practice by yourself, try to get together with another player that you think you would be comfortable with. It could go well. It might not. Either way, you will leave your jam session with a new perspective on your guitar playing.


Not Wanting to Start Over, or Take a Step Back.

This is really important. There is so much to learn on the guitar. The basics that you learn are the foundation for everything to come. If you have been struggling with something for awhile, chances are that you are missing something, and that could be holding you back. There is no shame in going back over something. In fact, periodically revisiting the basics is a very smart move.

I’ve seen students that decided that chords were a waste of their time because they were now playing lead. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Most lead guitarists don’t get to play lead over the whole song. What are they doing the rest of the time: chords.  

I know that it is so much fun to move up the learning guitar ladder, but remember, there is a reason you learned the basics: because you are going to need them. I’ve told this before, but the first chord that I learned was the C major chord. I don’t think I have ever played a gig where I didn’t play some version of that chord. I still need it.

Plan on revisiting the basics. You just might find the one thing you missed that has been holding you back for quite a long time.



Today I answered the question: How do you break the cycle of the “Career Beginner” and get them moving forward in a way that they haven’t experienced before? I did this by:

    • Understanding the different situations of career beginners
    • Looking at the common questions that career beginners ask
    • Then I set out to answer the question by defining and solving all of the common problems of career beginners. Which are:
  • Indecision
  • Mindset
  • Lack of Information
  • Lack of Time
  • Negative Feedback
  • Isolation
  • Not wanting to start over or take a step back.


If you have played guitar for a long time but never felt like you’ve made it out of the beginner level, you are not alone. I hope that I’ve put a highlight on some of the issues that could be holding you back and have given you some ideas to put into practice. Breaking through this common problem might seem very difficult but changing your approach to the guitar can make all of the difference.

My question for you is: Have you ever felt like you are stuck in the early stages of guitar and weren’t sure how to move forward? I’d love to hear about it. You can answer below in the show notes.



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