Learning to Play Guitar in 2021? Avoid These 3 Traps

Gil the Guitar Guy
7 min readJan 13, 2021


Since last year, guitar companies have reported increased sales of guitars.

Fender has reported more sales in 2020 than any other year, according to chief executive Andy Mooney. I, like many others, thought the guitar was going to fade over time.

The increase in sales might be attributed to the COVID lockdown situation world-wide. It may be because we turn to music in times of stress and strain.

I believe learning to play the guitar provides some relief to our lockdown burdens.

And based on my research, it appears there are more people learning the guitar now than ever. I’ve been playing for over 16 years, and this is a pleasant surprise.

But, allow me to save you time, money, and heartache in learning how to play.

Capitalizing on this interest in the guitar, there are sales funnels and subscription schemes disguised as expert lessons. I’ve subscribed to and even followed some of these schemes.

My simple advice: don’t fall for them.

Let me explain.

There are many traps that exist which set unrealistic expectations for you. Ever saw an ad telling you “you suck at guitar unless you do this one trick!”? Or “play like an expert in 2 weeks!”?

These traps subscribe you to a sub-par course in guitar playing and have no thorough instruction about how to really improve.

For each trap I fell into, I found their “lessons” only hurt my knowledge of playing in the long run. Digging the internet for guitar programs, I’ve also learned to spot potential scams.

I also found that some paid lessons aren’t customized for learning guitar at all; in fact, I felt cheated after using certain content, only to compare it to better resources online. And for free! They were just trying to sell more stuff most of the time. Their content made me question music more than it gave me answers.

Don’t get scammed!

There are great musicians and teachers out there. But some just either want your money or are not even worth your time.

Here are three tips to avoid the “get better, faster” trap. These traps will promise you that you’ll improve quickly but will hinder you in the long run.

Avoid Unrealistic Promises

If you’re a beginner, spotting non-sense ads and videos is a bit difficult.

To identify that an ad or lesson is unrealistic, be cognizant of the points below:

  • The ad/lesson has an introduction, promising you that you’ll play at a high level in a short time. Don’t believe this. A lot of scams have this promise in common.
  • You got there via sales funnel; most of the time, it’s best to leave that resource alone. If you’ve watched a video of a person telling you about some emotional journey for 15 minutes…and then they want you to buy something, it’s usually better to look elsewhere to learn.
  • The intro video refers to theory, music, and technique using silly names (see my 3rd tip).

I remember seeing an ad many years ago that I’d learn one simple trick and play like Eddie Van Halen in 1 week. All it was was a video of a guy tapping different frets. I tried it for a week. I still didn’t understand it afterward.

It was only until I learned more musical scales and realized something; I needed to build more music knowledge before using techniques that were above my level. Once I understood scales and triads, and composing arpeggios on my guitar, tapping made a lot more sense.

I didn’t want to play to look cool. I actually wanted to get better.

One thing people don’t know about Eddie Van Halen is he actually took piano and music lessons at a young age. Not only does the guy sound amazing on a guitar, but he understood music composition and building solos.

(RIP, Eddie!)

Ever fell into a scheme where an ad promises that you’ll become an expert in a week or two? Don’t fall for it.

Also, avoid resources that claim that you can learn a few tricks to “sound cool in front of your friends.” After showing off your tricks, people usually ask you to play something. Then they find out that, well, you can’t really play.

If you watch guitar players share their months/year-long journey in learning to play the guitar, you’ll find things they can still improve. Many things.

Even if you’re a guitar prodigy, there will be slop here and there in the first year. And that’s okay. It really does take time and effort to get better at playing.

One of the best pieces of advice from a guitar teacher I’ve heard is to be patient when learning. If you’re greedy, you can learn too much and build sloppiness into your play.

But if you practice and learn at a steady pace, you’re playing the long game; you’ll ultimately be much better as a player.

Don’t Pay if a Free Equivalent Exists

Have you ever subscribed to a paid video series where you can find the same lessons online for free? I have. Sometimes, it really sucks.

This is usually true for websites, videos, or resources that are not widely established on the web. Reading reviews on multiple sites helps you gauge whether or not to give a guitar teaching site your hard-earned dollars.

Here’s the thing. What happened in the past decade is that guitar teachers have released more content on video-sharing platforms every day.

Musicians want to market their teaching services, so a lot of free content exists.

This means if you want to learn something specific, you can usually find it for free.

Beginner lessons are a dime a dozen on YouTube!

Don’t get me wrong, though. Some of the best lessons come from 1-to-1 instruction and practice. An experienced teacher can help you spot your specific weaknesses. They can prescribe the right exercises to improve.

However, paying for anything related to guitar lessons, technique, or theory is only worth it if you couldn’t find what you need for free.

For instance, looking to improve your alternate picking? Free videos exist online.

Looking to clean up your chords? Lots of great advice for technique exists for free.

Heck, you can even take a free course on basic music theory from Michigan State U. on Coursera.org. Just sign up with a free account!

So, let’s assume you’re on the path to improving your guitar play. Here are a few recommendations on YouTube channels to help you improve over time:

  • Marty Music: Marty Schwartz has some basic lessons, but also teaches how to play many pop, rock, blues, etc. songs in a no-frills style. I like this channel in particular to learn songs quickly, and without fluff.
  • Guthrie Govan (music lessons): his lessons are sprinkled into several YouTube channels. Guthrie is the real deal. He is both musical and technical as a player. His lessons can break down a lot of interesting music theory and technique as well.
  • TomoFujitaMusic: Tomo is one of my favorite teachers. He’s an associate professor at the University of Berklee. He specializes in Blues and Jazz. Tomo is one of the most musically comprehensive instructors I know of. I had subscribed to his courses, and his free content is just as good.
  • BERNTH: a shred guitarist who specializes in metal. He provides a lot of great tips and musical advice for advanced players. If you like to shred or play fast, he’s the guy to watch.
  • Troy Grady: a technical guitar player with incredible video production. He breaks down specific techniques, and provides in-depth analysis as well. His tips help you play like guitar legends Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Angelo Batio, and more.
  • By the way, full instructional vintage videos from Paul Gilbert (Intense Rock series) and Ted Greene’s lessons exist online. These are perfect for aspiring musicians who want to take it to the next level.

Avoid Fake, Make-Believe Musical Terms

I’ve seen “notes” and general music notation referred to all kinds of nonsense, such as “feelings” or “pattern positions.”

I’ve heard the diatonic scale repeatedly referred to as a “grid.”

These words can be applied in the right context for a new learner. One example is “you can visualize the diatonic scale as a grid on your fretboard.”

However, a musician substituting a simple musical term as something else…that’s a big tell that something might be off. It can also be indicative that the person doesn’t understand what is being discussed.

A “note” in classical music is a pitch and duration representing a musical sound. That’s it. You can find the same definition in a dictionary, and even in Wikipedia.

There are situations where strange terms can be used for new learners. Musical concepts are not easy to learn at first. And you don’t have to learn every single piece of theory.

However, it will help guitarists long-term to learn actual theory and musical terms.

As more music is learned, more theory can be learned as well to break down how music is understood.

I absolutely encourage players to learn cool things like rhythmic subdivisions, modes, and chords online.

And as for finding a good teacher, or a good resource, here’s a rule of thumb: if the teacher can’t explain how open chords are built using triads in the diatonic scale, it’s safe to look elsewhere.

This is the point: if you can’t understand the above, an experienced musician worth your time can explain it to you.

Imagine sitting with a band to jam, and one musician says “okay, we’re playing in A Minor. Watch the key switch to E. Mixolydian mode works in E.”

And the bass player asks you “is it 12/4 timing?”

Imagine being embarrassed because you didn’t understand a thing.

Back when I used to play gigs, I certainly remember similar instances where I was the dummy. It quickly turned into an impromptu music lesson…

So yes, keep learning.

The same concept can be applied to guitar parts. If you want to talk with a guitar luthier, then use the right lingo. For example, say “machine head” instead of “tuner twist thingy,” and “bridge” instead of “string-holder backplate.”

Music theory can equip you to discuss music with other musicians. It also allows you to more deeply understand music, and appreciate it more.

This language is universal to musicians all around the world.

So please think twice before listening to someone who downplays music theory.

These are a few tips for avoiding common traps for new learners. Although I believe in customized 1-to-1 instruction, I also believe a lot of good supplemental education can be found for free.

Follow these tips, identify the traps, and you’ll be fine.

Keep learning, and I hope you all find relief in playing music!



Gil the Guitar Guy

Guitarist, TEFL certified English teacher, writer, freelancer, and a dude with experience in many careers.