Learning How to Play
The hardest part about learning to play an instrument is learning to be patient with yourself and not giving up. You have to give yourself permission to be bad for a while, maybe as long as a couple of years. This can be tough, especially if you're surrounded by other songwriters and musicians who are accomplished players. If you want to feel better, ask one of your favorite musicians how bad he or she was during the first few months of playing. The answer may surprise you. Rather than be intimidated, look to these friends as a source of encouragement and inspiration. Someone probably helped each of them get started and most of them will be glad to pass it on.Ways to Learn
The options for learning an instrument are almost unlimited. You may want to employ several at once or switch off from time to time. The best way to start is probably with lessons. Group lessons are offered at some colleges and community centers and are usually affordable. Private lessons are more expensive, but the one-on-one attention is worth it if you're serious about learning.
Either way, make sure you find a teacher you can communicate with and with whom you feel comfortable enough to state your goals, ask questions, and take a direct hand in your lesson plan. Most music stores offer private lessons with accomplished, reputable teachers. You can also find private music teachers in the classified ads of your local newspaper, on music store bulletin boards, through local music schools, or by asking friends who play.
Always record your lessons, so you can check how things are supposed to sound and hear the exact words of your teacher instead of trusting to memory. In this way, you can take in more material and absorb it later on your own time. Ask for detailed explanations of anything that seems difficult or unclear.
Instruction books can be another great way to learn your instrument. Literally hundreds of books are available for guitar or piano instruction. The advantages of learning from a book are that it's usually very affordable and you can pick a book that concentrates on the things you want to learn. If you're starting from square one, figuring out a book and an instrument at the same time may be too much to juggle, so you might want to consider taking lessons for a while, then adding in some independent study from a book.
Videos and software, while sometimes a bit more expensive than books, can provide a more accessible learning experience, with information presented in sound and video formats as well as text. When you can watch and hear someone play the lesson being learned, it can make understanding it much easier. Once you've learned how to play a little, you may also find learning opportunities in instrument-specific magazines. For those on a limited budget, the Internet may offer some solutions; in the past few years, a number of Web sites, some of them free, have begun offering lessons and learning materials online.