by Scott Zimmerman

Over the years of teaching adult beginning guitar players, I have been able to see some common misconceptions that my students have or pitfalls they fall into that cause them to give up on the guitar. I have distilled them down into three categories or reasons why beginners quit. In this article, I’ll share with you what these three things are, and how you can avoid them so that you can stay playing for a long time.

Why do some beginning guitarists quit playing? There are three main reasons why beginning guitar players quit: 1) Setting expectations too high, 2) Lack of a practice routine, and 3) Failing to set goals.

Reason #1: Setting Expectations Too High

This is probably the most common pitfall that my adult beginners experience. Maybe you have always wanted to play guitar and love music, but have never had an opportunity to learn. Then, maybe because of a life changing event, i.e. retirement, out-of-work, or you realized you need a hobby in your life, you decide now is the moment to learn guitar and check that off your “bucket-list”.

To that end, you are going to practice every day for three hours until you master the guitar and play like your favorite guitar player, and maybe even share the stage with him or her. O.K., granted, I am being a little facetious; but, if you recognize any of these “symptoms” beware that you are probably setting yourself up for failure on the guitar. Zeal is a good thing, but it needs to be tempered by prudence.

Make up your mind in the beginning that you are going to take the “long view” in regard to learning guitar. You will also need to train yourself to appreciate small accomplishments. It can take months for a beginning student to develop the muscle coordination necessary to play guitar. So, you will want to measure your progress realistically. Try not to measure your progress against where you think you ought to be, or by the ability of other guitar players. 

Reason #2: Lack Of A Practice Routine

Establishing a practice routine from the outset is critical in determining your success. It does not matter how much you practice, it does matter that you regularly practice. Your practice routine should be realistic and fit your state in life. For example, a simple practice routine could be: twice a week for fifteen minutes. The key is to set the day and time, and will yourself to practice at those times even if you don’t feel like it. In the beginning stages of learning guitar, you will only be able to rely on your practice log for objectively measuring progress.

Most likely, you will feel that you are not making progress; however, if you can look at your practice log, showing consistent practice, you can, on faith, know that you are in fact moving forward. Without the regular practice and logging it down, you will quickly become doubtful of your progress and most likely give up. In addition to the practice log, make a short video recording once a week of what you are learning.

This will also help you to measure your progress objectively and be a good reminder that you are working towards your goals in a “slow and steady” manner. However, be careful not to set your practice routine goals too high, start small and work up to more time and more days a week, if that is practical for your schedule.

But remember, the goal is not to continue to increase practice time without limit; but, to find the right amount of practice time that allows you to have a balanced life and progress at your own pace. See here for more information on practicing.

Reason #3: Failing To Set Goals

It can be easy to “stall” in terms of making progress on the guitar without setting goals. Setting goals, working towards achieving them, and achieving them, is the process that will keep you playing the guitar. In the beginning, the goals will be very simple and basic, but accomplishing these small goals will give you the confidence to continue, knowing that you are making progress. See here for some basic goals for the beginning guitarist.

Keep a record of the goals you have accomplished so that when you are having moments of doubt you can look back to what you have achieved. A good option for setting goals is to commit to learning and finishing a small course on one aspect of the guitar, e.g. chord playing, melody playing, blues improvisation, etc.

A word of caution, there is nothing wrong with jumping around and learning something at the moment; however, make sure to commit to also learning material in sequence either from a book or online course. This will ensure that you have a strong foundation and actually develop your skills in a measured way. Here of some examples of structured mini-courses: 

Play Guitar In Seven Days: Chords 

Play Guitar In Seven Days: Melody 

Beginning Fingerstyle 

Beginning Improvisation 


Keep in mind that playing guitar is therapeutic but not therapy. In other words, learning to play guitar will not “fix” the things in our lives that we wish to change. However, if we keep a good perspective and follow these simple admonitions, and remind ourselves of them periodically, playing the guitar will yield a lifetime of enjoyment.

For more in-depth information on learning guitar at home see here and here.

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.