Are you kidding? This motor learning is hard!

I gave myself a guitar as a quarantine gift this past year. I have always wanted to play and felt ready to commit.  I play piano regularly and even learned violin as a child. I can read sheet music and play a bit by ear. I  figured guitar would come easily.

Nope. It didn’t. Still doesn’t. Not even a little bit.

My fingers do not go where they are told to go. My palm keeps resting on the neck of the guitar, even though I know it’s not supposed to. 6 strings do not ring when I strum. And if I have to stop and think about what my left hand needs to do, my right hand stops moving.

I knew I needed help so I quickly searched for beginner lessons on YouTube. Ha! These were not beginner lessons in the least. They assumed I knew the chords, and could keep a beat. Yeesh! I didn’t even know how to hold a pick!

I knew I needed to find the right teacher. I didn’t want to give up on learning but I needed someone who understood I would need to start from the very beginning. I lucked out and found the perfect online match for me. Every time I get stuck he simplifies. He focuses on one motor skill at a time. He plays along with me and slows the songs down to my speed. And then slows them down some more. I learn something new at each lesson. And he does it all while teaching me age-appropriate contemporary music. No Twinkle Twinkle for this 40-something.

I have been practicing daily for weeks and weeks and I am still terrible. Nobody would recognize the songs I am playing but I am a little less terrible now then before. I am frustrated at how hard this has been for me to learn but so very grateful about the gift it has been to me as a CRP.

It has been so long since I’ve learned something that was this hard. Everything I do is a well practiced skill. It is emotionally, mentally and physically challenging to be learning something this unintuitive. I am still just trying to make a chord sound right. Some days I get it and some days I certainly don’t. I don’t know why…my posture maybe, tired fingers, middle age? Thank goodness my teacher never gets frustrated or sighs loudly  in defeat.

There is so much I am learning as a student that I need to always keep with me as a CRP. Learning a new motor skill is hard. Really hard. Just because I understand what I’m supposed to be doing with my fingers on the frets doesn’t make it any easier for me to do it.  I need practice to build strength, flexibility and the motor memory to do it fluidly. Until that happens I need continuous prompting, correcting and coaching. I need to trust that my lessons are going to be well prepared, interesting and skill building. Learning requires so much effort from me and I appreciate that my teacher has put effort into his teaching as well. I look forward to his lessons. But I have especially appreciated how well the enormous skill of guitar has been broken down for me, in a way that makes me feel successful and engaged at each step. And when I hit a bump, the task is broken down into even smaller steps so I never feel that I can’t manage or succeed. I’m able to see the progress despite taking these really small steps.

Learning the guitar has been a much different experience then I expected. It is hard when I was expecting a pleasurable hobby. But it has been a real gift to be able to feel the frustration and experience the difficulties of learning a new motor skill.  It has given me a better perspective and made me a much more thoughtful and thorough CRP. Hopefully a few more years of practice will also make me a better guitar player.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM, The Reason I Jump,Jasmin Gibbons lives in Quebec, Canada. When she’s not diligently  practicing her guitar, she is a production assistant, trail companion and CRP to one incredibly active teenager.



The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through trainingeducationadvocacy and research I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C)with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

8 responses to “Are you kidding? This motor learning is hard!”

  1. Rosemary Crossley says:

    Loved your story Jasmin. When I was 11 the piano teacher took one look at my hand skills and said ‘No point in even trying’.
    Possibly why, 60 years later, I’m still a one-finger typist – or tapper! Fortunately then typing wasn’t an essential skill.

  2. Tami Barmache says:

    Yes! It’s one thing to imagine what it might feel like when someone first starts to learn to spell, and it’s quite another when you experience something like it first hand. I don’t know if we could ever understand the complexities of that process for them, but I love the details that you pointed out. Your instructor is respectful and stays calm (no heavy sighs or eye rolling); he keeps coming back and tries to find ways to make it more comfortable for you; he believes in you and doesn’t patronize you by teaching you very basic songs that you’d never really want to play in the first place. A great story…thank you! And best of luck on your guitar journey:)

  3. Terry Goulet says:

    Hi Jasmin. It’s Auntie T. I was so happy to read this, as guitar lessons were on my pandemic and bucket list as well. Reading about your perseverance has brought me one step closer. If you can find the time, I should be able to. I like the fact that although you seem to be struggling through this, it gives you some pride and satisfaction. Inspiration for sure ! I will touch base with you soon. Keep persevering.

  4. Roberta Lowenstein says:

    Very interesting analogy, thank you for sharing!

  5. Rose Chand says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with learning a new skill Jasmin. I have a similar experienced during the Pandemic learning ukulele I committed to playing daily starting with three song I loved. I learned along the way. I still play for myself as it is certainly not good but improving.
    We do hard things

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