6 Important Life Lessons You'll Learn from Guitar

You can learn a lot about life through your study of the guitar
The process of learning guitar can teach you a lot about life. As a guitarist looking to improve your playing, you should look to embrace the wisdom that music has to offer.

No doubt learning guitar is difficult, just like anything else that’s worth doing. But if you can become an excellent guitarist, you can become excellent at many other things.

In this post, I’ll share with you a few general principles I learned from playing guitar that you can apply to other areas of your life.

1) Take Your Time

for guitar playing, slow is fast

My motto as a guitarist? Slow is fastThe slower you go, the faster your progress will be. This seemingly-paradoxical idea isn’t only true for guitar playing, either. In virtually any other activity, from dancing to dicing an onion, the key to improvement is to go slowly at first, then speed up later.

People rarely take their time for anything these days. We want to do everything fast. We’re bombarded by ads that promise us fast results in everything from dieting to learning a new language.

Unfortunately, while the idea of saving time is admirable, you rarely do something well when you try to go too fast.

Speed Is Nothing without Accuracy


In my mind, we’re not really living up to our ideal when we try to go faster than we should. That’s because no one values speed for speed’s sake. 

Our true goal is to go fast while doing something well, since, as we all know, it’s very easy to do something fast but badly. You can play a certain tune faster than anyone in the world, but if you’re not playing it well, no one will want to listen.

When we do anything faster than we should, we tend to make mistakes. Personally, I find that the faster I talk, or the quicker I blurt something out, the more often I embarrass myself or regret what I’ve said.

Fast talking leaves little time for thinking, and talking without sufficient forethought is bound to lead you into trouble. Of course, talking fast is nothing compared to driving fast, which can be fatal. Extreme consequences or not, it usually pays to slow things down.

In short, if you’re struggling to do anything well, don’t be afraid to take your time and trust that going slow is often the fastest way to get the results you want.

2) Embrace Difficulty

2) Embrace Difficulty

We have a tendency to avoid difficulty at all costs. Even when we’re looking to do something we know to be challenging, we often seek out the easiest way to do it.

You can bet that a post titled “Easy Pumpkin Pie Recipe” will be much more popular on the web than one titled “Pumpkin Pie The Hard Way: Amateurs Beware.” We love to think everything can be made easy.

However, when it comes to many things, there’s simply no easy way available. You could spend all day reading advice on how to learn guitar the easy way, but you’ll eventually find that learning guitar is hard, no matter how you swing it.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t better or worse ways to learn. It just means that guitar isn’t easy for anyone—not at the beginning, anyway.

Attitude Matters


I’ve learned from playing guitar that when you’re faced with something difficult, you might as well try to enjoy the challenge. Your attitude matters here more than anything else. If you’re stuck thinking that so-and-so is too hard, or that you’ll never get the hang of it, then you might give up before you even try.

In my experience, the most intimidating types of guitar practice are also the most worthwhile. If I can learn to love those sessions, I can guarantee steady progress on the instrument.

Similarly, I’ve found that when making choices in other dimensions of my life, such whether I should cook dinner or order take out, the more difficult option is usually well worth the effort.

If you can learn to embrace difficulty on the guitar, I bet you’ll start to do it everywhere else. Never shy away from a challenge!

3) Learn from the Best

3) Learn from the Best

Never forget that we’re still no more sophisticated than “monkey see, monkey do.” We overwhelmingly learn by example, whether in person or online.

Given that we’re living in the age of information, we don’t necessarily have to rely on the physical proximity of our instructors. So theoretically, every skill we want to cultivate from guitar-playing to knitting should be easier than ever.

Monkey Sees Too Much at Once!


Unfortunately, the internet gives just as much as it takes. Because there’s such an endless flood of information, we can struggle to find the good examples we should be learning from.

In my own case, I didn’t even know classical guitar existed until I’d been playing for years. My current role models for guitar playing (John Williams, Ana Vidovic, etc.) were buried in my guitar searches by higher-ranking content from lesser guitarists.

Once I found the “best” examples for my guitar goals, my “monkey see, monkey do” mechanism could finally work for me. In any case, I realized that learning from the best wasn’t nearly as easy as it might have seemed.

I’ve found this to be the case for all sorts of things. There’s really no better way to learn something than by studying someone who can already do it, but it still takes a lot of effort to locate a good example, first, and second, to trust and take up their advice.

That said, I still think there’s no faster way to learn than by imitating a master. This has helped my guitar playing immensely, and it’s taught me the power of learning from the examples of others.

Always seek out the best role models available to you and study them; if you study them hard enough, you’ll begin to resemble them before long!

4) Have Lots of Fun

guitar playing should be fun

As James Taylor points out, “The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time.” We often feel like practice time has to be serious business, even a kind of chore. I’ve learned that the more I love to practice, the more time I spend with the guitar and the faster I improve.

Try to do everything in your power to make your guitar practices fun. Ask yourself, is playing guitar something I want to do when I have free time, or is it something I make myself do?

There are many strategies that I use to make my practice time more fun. For one thing, I always zero in on the music itself, on the details of every sound I make.

Although this may seem totally unfun to you, I’ve noticed that focusing on the music leads to more beautiful music, which in turn leads to a better experience playing.

I believe we all have strong musical preferences, even those of us who “don’t have a musical ear.” When we’re making music that sounds wrong, I think it tends to put us in a sour mood, leading to even worse playing.

Try Fusing Practice with Meditation


I’ve mentioned before that effective practice can be like meditation. One way to enjoy practice more is to focus inward, separating guitar time from the hustle and bustle of normal life.

Try to leave your worries outside the practice room. If you can create a practice atmosphere that’s calming and joyful, your progress will accelerate as a result.

One secret to succeed at anything is to find a way to have fun doing it. For example, all of the most educated people I’ve met have a very simple thing in common: regardless of their specialty, they truly love what they study.

If you’re forcing yourself to do something you hate, I would either try to learn to love it, or simply choose to do something you love instead.

5) Be Patient

Patience is a virtue for guitarists

I wanted to become an amazing guitarist overnight just as much as the next person. But good things take time, and our patience is always rewarded in the end.

Guitarists or not, I see a lot of people who expect to see results too soon after they’ve started a new venture. This attitude can be a huge obstacle to progress, and often causes people to quit when they might have seen their situation improve if they’d held on a bit longer.

Learning Guitar Is Like Starting a Blog


Aside from my experience with guitar, I’ve learned a lot about patience through my foray into blogging. My site is still in its infancy and will be for some time. That means I’m working a ton behind the scenes without seeing much of a reward for it in terms of readers.

Guitar playing is much the same. New players are bound to feel like failures, feeling like they’ll never be any good with such a slow start. I would urge you to remember that guitar playing is a marathon, not a sprint.

You can definitely improve quickly, but you’ll never see much progress in the timespan of days or even a few weeks. Much like blogging, you’ll need a good few months or even years to receive the fruits of your labor. We all have to work in the dark as beginners, hoping that things will get better in time.

If you work hard and pay close attention to the music, your effort will be rewarded before long. Even great leaps in progress will seem sluggish on a day-to-day timeframe. You might be revolutionizing your playing without even knowing it.

6) Face Your Fears

6) Face Your Fears

Many guitarists struggle with phobias that limit their potential. Common ones include fear of music theory, fear of technical practice, fear of ear-training, fear of fingerstyle, and fear of sight-reading. These fears may not keep us awake at night, but they do devastate our musicianship.

Nothing is ever as scary as it seems. We made monsters out of dust bunnies as children, and we continue to do this as adults. Sometimes you just need to summon up your courage and face the beast.

Once you do that, you’re likely to realize that you were making a big deal about nothing. You might even realize that you were avoiding a great source of pleasure and fulfillment.

For me, that’s been the case with sight-reading music. For those who don’t know, sight-reading is the art of playing music (tabs or standard notation) that you’ve never encountered before (more discussion on sight-reading here).

If you’re a good sight-reader, someone can put a new song in front of you, even a fairly difficult one, and you’ll be able to play it right away, both musically and in time.

Obviously beginners won’t be there right away, but the reward of learning this skill is great: you’ll be able to play any new piece extremely quickly, often with no practice.

Conquering sSight-Reading Phobia


I learned from watching videos on how pianists practice that they often incorporate sight-reading. This was a new idea to me as a guitarist.

For months, I didn’t even try to sight-read, thinking the same skill wasn’t really possible with guitar. I was afraid to feel like a talentless amateur.

Then, I attended a masterclass by the Italian classical guitarist Massimo Delle Cese. I was stunned to see him sight-reading advanced classical pieces that he’d never practiced. He played them beautifully without even looking at his fingers on the guitar. His eyes never left the score.

Massimo gave me a new perspective on what was possible for guitarists. If he could become such an excellent reader, I knew I could too. Clearly, it was a matter of practice and experience.

I began an intensive sight-reading regimen, putting new pieces before my eyes and struggling through them for hours each day.

After about six months, I had memorized all the notes on the guitar and could move my left-hand fingers to almost any position without looking at the fretboard. I could now play many pieces of music right away, just by looking at the score.

Now, sight-reading is my favorite kind of practice. I put myself through the ringer, but I’m a totally different guitarist as a result. Never underestimate the value of confronting your fears head on!


The guitarist’s journey has much in common with any other life journey. There will be times of excitement and fun, but also times of tedium and frustration.

The best thing you can do is take every life lesson to heart, knowing that the longer you stay on the road to guitar mastery, the wiser you’ll be, and all the happier.

Are you looking to upgrade your gear or browse some awesome guitar learning materials? Check out my recommendations page to see all my favorite stuff. 

Want to streamline your fingerstyle guitar progress? I just released my new ebook, Fingerstyle Fitness, which presents 10 easy exercises to quickly develop your fingerstyle chops. Grab it today!