Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

The Secret to Improving Your Guitar Skills and Battling Frustration


I got an email yesterday from a YOUTUBE fan that prompted me to write him a response at 2 am. He’s actually in New York City as well and came to my house once for a private lesson.

He expressed his overwhelming frustration with trying to improve his guitar skills. The ups, the downs – one day it feels good, the next day it doesn’t, he feels “stuck” and so on. He feels that he has hit a wall.

While it may appear to the public that I am a streamlined pro guitar player, don’t be fooled. It’s like seeing a cute baby but NOT seeing 26 hours of bloody labor ๐Ÿ™‚

I have had many hours of frustration over the years, and put in hard work. One of the most encouraging moments during my teenage years was receiving a letter from Pepe Romero – basically assuring me that he too put in many hours of hard work and had his frustrations, his ups & downs.

I can remember back in my college years spending hours – pushing against myself as I practiced, always angry at myself for not being better, staring in disbelief at my own playing and feeling it was just not good enough.

There is a LOT of psychological stuff at play here. The more you see the cup half empty – it just gets emptier…so this is a terrible trap and it is in fact a psycho spiritual issue. It certainly helps to have a teacher who can guide you at this point.

But let’s say you have no teacher and your frustrated, what should you do? Here’s what I wrote at 2am yesterday:


Re: My Frustration Defies Description..!

Good to hear from you. I want you to feel good and get better!!!

Here’s what you need to do. Do one simple thing on guitar that you can do, no problem and let yourself do it and enjoy it. Forget about the idea of improving for a moment . Take a deep breath and step into the enjoyment. It sounds like you are grabbing tightly, so use the energy of appreciation and gratitude to get mellow! ๐Ÿ™‚

Naturally, you guitar playing will expand and variations will come, but you may have to let it, rather than force it.

Also – get your guitar set up so that it is easy to play, so that you are not straining. Any virtuoso has an instrument that is easy to play, so it is not like wrestling or weight lifting. You’d be surprised to hear how guys play lighter than you think.

I am telling you this having gone through many many frustrating hours myself as a young guy studying classical. Everything seemed like a struggle on guitar.

You need to always look for the easiest most comforatble and reliable way to finger something, rather than force your idea of how it should be. It’s a spirit of discovery…

Find a simple piece that you can master, allow your touch to warm up when you practice. PLAY SLOW! Never put a microscope on yourself and be gentle with yourself if you make a mistake, give up the idea of perfection. I practiced one song all night tonight, and took the attitude “well it’s coming, let’s see where it is in one week”. I just kind of let it spill out over and over and found a new thing here and there, but with little clutching.

Easier said than done, I know. As I said – I know frustration well. Hang in there!!! You got the talent and passion – you just need guidance.


Doesn’t this echo life? It’s not just guitar – but when we allow things be be, and to see the fullness and beauty that we have, and are thankful for it – it expands naturally without effort or strain.

The guitar has taught me much of life – and life has taught me much guitar. I say thank you to the Universe, to Source, to God – for this incredible journey!

Until next time…keep pickin’


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

8 thoughts on “The Secret to Improving Your Guitar Skills and Battling Frustration

  1. Adam this is SO true. Sometimes the fingers just don’t go where I want them to and I feel like pulling an old-school Pete Townshend on my Seagull Artist… then I realize that this would be economically ill-advised and take a deep breath instead.

    That’s a great idea when frustrated to step back and play something within one’s comfort zone. I find personally the best way to get some peace back is to remind myself how far I’ve come, and that although I may never be an Adam Rafferty or Tommy Emmanuel, I will always get better so long as I continue to grab the guitar and play a bit every day.

    Some days I suck, some days I can see a little progress, and some days I really make myself smile. :-)) I bank those away and try to remember them when all I hear is suckage. heh.

    Thanks for your great inspiration!

  2. Hi Adam,
    First time I read your blog, interesting but it would be, coming from the very talented guitar player you are.

    I think that frustration or no frustration is a state of mind. It has little to do with how good the player is, as there’s always room for improvement, and more furstration on the way.

    I have no intention of ever playing really seriously, let alone becoming a pro, but can still feel frustrated, at times, but not much overall. As for a pro guitar players, even if it may seem they’ve ‘made it’, I can see many more reasons for them to feel frustrated (sometimes).

    One factor that can contribute to frustration is when comparing to others, although it can also be a great source for learning and improving. I believe in that respect, that just bit of frustration is usefull.

    Youtube for instance is wonderful to check out and learn from very talented guitarists, professionals who allow you to really see what they do (like you), but I don’t see the point in overdoing it, I have found a few guitarists who really inspire me, but for the majority, however talented they may be, I wouldn’t necessary want to try doing the same thing. I think it is very important for any guitar player, at any level, to remember why they want to play, what they like, what’s the meaning of the tune they are playing.

  3. this was awesome. I really enjoyed the letter you wrote and agreed with everything. Thanks for an awesome inspirational letter!

  4. Yes I would like to say I have been playing almost 34 years now and I feel that I have mastered quite a bit of various great artists over the years. I would like to point out some very key issues that have been overlooked by you frustrated people and that is the weather. The guitar is far from being a perfect instrument, things change on it over night and that can be from the strings and the bridge. I have spent countless hours adjusting my guitars to how I had them set the day before. If you play acoustic and the weather is cold your strings will be stiff and less flexible compared to when it is warm then they will have more action. As for an electric, there are various bridges and adjustments but as for what really works the best is the type of bridge that is used on the Fender guitar or any guitar that has that similar bridge. The wood contracts over night thus making your adjustments on your strings tighten up making the stuff you felt at ease with the previous day a little more complicated to play. There is a set screw on the back of the bridge to move the saddle closer or further away making the flexiblility on the string have variations to it. There is also two allen wrench screws that adjust the height of the individual string to where you will be able to get the maximum performance of each string. Each one of the 6 strings are adjusted differently for the scale patterns to been played but also flexibility to each one that can be chimed and and be able to be played at a masterd level. I know all of this from over the years of being frustrated knowing that my strings had changed over night and it doesn’t matter what type of guitar you have, I have 18 of them and every one needs work on it the next day. So if you ever wondered why you play good one day and the next day you don’t, your instrument needs to be adjusted each day for maximum performance. This is a very true from experience story. I can say this much, once the height of the string has been achived for greatest performance, then most generally all you need to adjust is the string going back and forth and most generally you will need to loosen it more than tighten. Now you all have a secret.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s