Skip to main content

Learning to Play an Instrument: Common Challenges and Tips

Amelia writes, sings, plays the cello and guitar, and bakes (just to mention a few things) and loves to share her experiences with others.

Learning by Doing

Learning a musical instrument takes practice—there’s no way around that. But sometimes you just don’t feel like it, or maybe you think you aren’t progressing enough, or even catch yourself thinking about giving up sometimes. Here are a few tips based on personal experience, that may help you find solutions to those challenges before deciding to give up playing an instrument altogether.

Practice Makes Permanent

Practice Makes Permanent

Thinking you Aren't Good Enough

This is possibly one of the biggest challenges, and it can apply to many different parts of life. If you don’t believe you are good (or at least not bad) at what you are doing, this can easily result in discouragement, especially when you feel as if you are working really hard without improving. For me, this belief was connected to constantly comparing myself to others, especially one girl playing the same instrument. She was a few years younger than me and had started playing a lot earlier. Unless you can turn other people's success into a source of inspiration and motivation to practice, this attitude can have very negative consequences. You might find yourself wondering why they are so much better than you, or imagining that you'll never be as good as them. Instead, try to see others’ success as a personal goal for yourself—after all, why should you not be able to do what they can? I managed this by telling myself „You can do it too!“ whenever I felt like I needed a boost. It takes a bit of effort to think like this, especially if you don’t believe it from the beginning, but eventually it can be very helpful and encouraging.

Believe in yourself

You can do it, too!

Praise and Encouragement From Others

Another cause for a lack of confidence in yourself may be the attitude of the people around you. If you feel like your family or friends are not taking your musical interests and goals seriously, try to talk about it with them, even if it seems hard. It’s always helpful to share your feelings and problems with others—it will make you feel less alone and they will learn how to encourage and support you.

Criticism can be a positive thing, but sometimes it’s just discouraging, especially if you don’t get a lot of praise for what you are doing right. If you feel like your progress and improvement aren’t being acknowledged, you might want to consider finding a new teacher or talking to them about the issue before stopping to play altogether. For me, this was a big step with a very positive effect. If you realize that you don’t particularly like your teacher or simply can’t work with them anymore, again, talking about it can be the first step to improvement: sometimes people just aren’t right for each other, and everybody is different. Maybe you need a different type of motivation? Some people prefer gentle, easygoing musical lessons while others need that push from others and work best with a little pressure.

Take Diligent Notes

Take Diligent Notes

Feeling as if You Aren't Improving

Sometimes it can feel as if all your hours of hard work are hardly making a difference. The key thing to remember here is that improvement takes time—being patient and setting yourself small goals, as well as appreciating even the smallest accomplishments, is extremely important to stay motivated. Sometimes you just have to keep going, even if you feel like nothing is changing. It can help to change your approach to practicing: a little time every day is more productive in the long run than one or two hours twice a week. Also, make sure to talk to your teacher—they may have useful tips and insight.


Practicing Schedules, Long-Term Plans, and Goals

When learning to play an instrument, it can be very helpful or even necessary to have a schedule for when you can practice and how long, especially if you are thinking about playing professionally. On the other hand, a schedule can make it feel more like work or more stressful and less like a fun activity. The important thing is to find out what works for your personal situation. Finding personal goals, like a specific piece you want to be able to play, and being aware of where your musical journey is going in the future, can also be inspiring and motivating.

Be Passionate

Finally, returning to something that was already mentioned above: you have to want it. Playing a musical instrument should be a rewarding, passionate experience, no matter what the circumstances. This article is supposed to help you overcome the challenges when playing an instrument, to help you get through the tough times, but sometimes you may just have to realize that your heart is simply not in it. If you aren’t at all passionate about your instrument anymore, you may want to consider choosing something else.

Doing it for others, to please your parents or impress your friends, isn’t enough. You have to do it for yourself.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is a complication of learning an instrument?

Answer: One thing that may make it difficult to learn an instrument are the necessary resources. Apart from actually owning or at least having access to the instrument itself, you usually also have to find a teacher nearby who you get along with, and who will really give you the support you need. Additionally, the lessons themselves and taking care of an instrument can be expensive.

© 2018 Amelia Bodner


Amelia Bodner (author) on March 18, 2019:


Unfortunately it can be very difficult to name specific challenges, as they vary from instrument to instrument and person to person. One big difficulty anyone may encounter, especially at the beginning, is playing fast pieces of music and sticking to the right rhythm and speed from beginning to end. I still struggle with this sometimes! Other things might be playing the piano with smaller hands (as that could make it difficult to reach all the keys) or reading different clefs at the same time. Hope this answers your question :)

Catherine on March 18, 2019:

Could you please tell me what are the specific challenges encountered in playing musical instruments? or common musical instruments like guitar, piano, ukulele etc.

wow on July 01, 2018:


Amelia Bodner (author) on February 01, 2018:


My pleasure! Great to hear you're planning to play more, that's the first step. Slow progress is still better than no progress, right? You'll get there!

Kate on February 01, 2018:

Really helpful tips, thank you so much! I've been meaning get ahead with my piano playing for ages, but always find some excuse or get impatient and frustrated by my slow progress when I do finally sit down. Must try harder, thanks for the Motivation!