How long should you give it before you decide to quit taking lessons? It happens every year, students look back  and wonder what they’ve really accomplished by taking  lessons. If it’s been a relatively short time, less than a year for example, they really need to assess the situation.

A recent example of not giving yourself a chance. Right after the holidays I had a student cancel lessons, even though it had only been a few months. (He started in October.) During that time he missed lessons because of working overtime, having car trouble and being sick, so he took about 12 lessons. He felt like he hadn’t made a lot of progress and he was right, but how much time and effort did he give? I had him playing several chords, working on songs that he liked, and doing what I would consider reasonably well considering the circumstances and his previous skill level. The skills amounted to playing a couple of months on his own and trying to learn from the internet. Unfortunately I didn’t have a “talent pill” to give him and he started to realize that with or without a teacher, you need to put in the time.

What can you do to change it?  The short answer is to make time to practice. We’re all busy, but the students who make the most progress find time to practice. Missing a day or two can’t be helped sometimes, but the desire to play and finding the time are essential to reaching your goals. If you don’t have goals, get together with your teacher and write some down. You may be surprised to find that he or she will suggest going a lot slower than you think you should go.

Lower your expectations. There, I said it, lower your expectations. Learning the guitar or the banjo is a time art. You need to commit to a practice schedule, set some goals, have a nice place to practice and put in the time.

Don’t think you’ll make progress every week. We’ve all been told that practice makes perfect, so we think every week we’ll get better. Sometimes psychological, physical or mechanical problems hinder our progress. It’s easy to get discouraged when you think you got worse instead of better.

Trust your teacher. I tell students this because a lot of times I can see and hear progress that they can’t. I hear them play once a week, while they hear themselves every time they practice. Most teachers will tell you exactly what they hear, not what you want to hear. An honest teacher will be straight with you, so if you indeed haven’t made much progress, or any progress, they’re not going to tell you what a great week you had!

Believe in what your teacher is telling you. I’ve had students think that I’m just trying to make them feel better when I tell them they’re getting somewhere. I take into account the fact that you’re nervous, you played better at home or you’re having a bad day. Believe it or not I can still tell whether you’ve practiced and if you’re getting better.

Be patient. I tell my students that in the beginning learning will be painfully slow. This is especially true if you’ve never played an instrument or if you’ve never played an instrument with strings and frets on it. You need to keep pushing and understand that your hours of practice will pay off with some persistence and dedication.

So there’s your answer. Give it a chance, be patient, work hard, don’t make excuses and believe in yourself. A few lessons or a few months of trying to play isn’t always an indication of what your results will be down the road.

Categories: Blog


I play and teach guitar, banjo and ukulele.


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