If you’ve stopped playing guitar for a long time and want to get back into guitar, this guide is for you.
Maybe you stopped playing guitar for a year and feel a bit rusty.
Or maybe you took lessons as a kid and want to start playing guitar again as an adult.
The way to get back into guitar after a long break is to take it slowly and gradually build your skills back up. Start with some basic exercises and practice every day.
It doesn’t matter how long the break has been since you played guitar last, if you follow the steps in this guide, you’ll get back on track with the guitar.
I’ll give you a step-by-step list to follow to get you started, then I’ll cover some important tips to keep in mind.
Step 1: Get Your Guitar Set Up Properly
Depending on how long of a break you’ve had from guitar, your guitar may not feel the same.
If your guitar has been sitting in a closet for years, then it will probably need some adjustments to get back into performance condition.
Start by replacing the strings.
A fresh set of strings will feel easier on your fingers and sound much better than an old set.
When you take your old strings off, give your fretboard and guitar a good wipe down.
Next, make sure the action and intonation are set up properly.
The action on your guitar is the distance between the strings and the frets as shown below:
A guitar with poor action can feel horrible to play. The last thing you want when restarting your guitar playing is for it to feel horrible to play.
Alternatively, you can take your guitar to a guitar shop if you don’t feel confident doing any of this.
Once your guitar is set up properly, you’re ready to get started.
Step 2: Work on Basic Finger Exercises
The most important point to keep in mind when you’re trying to restart your guitar playing is to take it slow.
Don’t try to jump into all of the songs you used to be able to play. If you do that, you’ll likely get frustrated when you realize that you can’t remember them or your skills are rusty.
A better starting point when getting back into guitar is to start with some basic finger exercises.
Try this one as a warm-up:
Tip: Don’t know how to read the above exercise? Check out this Guide on How to Read Guitar TAB.
Play the first fret with your first finger (index), the second fret with your second finger (middle), third fret with your third finger (ring), and fourth fret with your fourth finger (pinky).
Hold down each finger in position after playing the note so you end up with all four fingers held down by the end of each bar.
If you do this properly, you should feel a stretch in your hand.
Don’t get frustrated if it feels awkward or you don’t play every note perfectly.
Why these exercises are important
You’ll soon fly past these exercises – but they’re an important stepping stone.
It doesn’t matter how good you were in the past, if you’ve taken a long break from guitar, your skills will slowly fade away.
Understanding why this happens will help you avoid frustration, so read the below to understand why guitar is different to something like riding a bike:
That’s why these finger exercises are so important when you want to restart your guitar playing after a long break.
Finger exercises retrain your brain to pick the fine motor skills back up, so you can then go on to play songs like you used to.
More finger exercises to work on
Check out this Ultimate List of Finger Exercises to start retraining your fine motor skills needed to play guitar.
Tips for this step:
- Practice 3-5 exercises every day for a week. Once an exercise feels easy, find a more challenging exercise to work on instead
- Go through the exercises when you wake up, then again in the evening for the best results
- Don’t rush. Even if you think the exercise looks easy, take your time and play it properly. Rushing these exercises will give you sloppy technique
Step 3: Re-learn the Songs You Used to Play
You might be tempted to skip to this step, but I highly recommend you spend some time working on finger exercises before you do so.
Skipping the first two steps can cause a lot of frustration, so work on your finger dexterity and control first.
Once you have mastered the basic finger exercises, the next step is to relearn the songs you used to know.
There are two reasons why this is an important step:
- If you played a song in the past, it will be far easier to relearn that song compared to learning a brand new song
- Relearning songs you used to play can help you remember why you enjoyed playing guitar
Something magic happens when you try to relearn a song you used to play. A part of your brain seems to unlock and you start making rapid progress.
I’ve noticed this happen to many students over the years and it’s incredible.
Start by picking one song you used to know that you feel won’t be too challenging to relearn.
Pick a song that will give you an easy starting point or a song that you think you might remember how to play.
Load up the Guitar TAB or transcription for the song and start going through all of the parts.
If you don’t have a Guitar TAB or transcription for the song, check out this guide on the Best Free Guitar TAB websites and find the song.
Take your time with the song and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come back to you straight away.
Eventually, something will unlock in your mind and you’ll be playing the song as easily as you used to.
Continue to relearn a few more songs you used to know before you move on to the next step.
Step 4: Learn Some New Riffs
Once you have relearned how to play a few songs that you used to know, the next step is to learn some riffs that you haven’t tried before.
Learning a variety of different riffs can help you get comfortable with learning new things and pave the way for any new songs you want to learn.
The riffs in that guide are easy and will give you practice at a good range of skills.
If you used to play some of these riffs, relearn those first. Then go on and make sure you learn some riffs from songs you’ve never played before.
Step 5: Refresh Your Chords and Scales
Now that you’ve relearned some songs you used to know how to play and learned some new riffs, it’s a good idea to refresh your chords and scales knowledge.
Nobody learns guitar wanting to practice chords or scales, but they’re important elements to being a good guitarist.
An easy way to get started is to work on these simple chord-based songs.
Even if you didn’t really play many chord-based songs in the past, it’s worth spending some time learning to play some chords. You might surprise yourself with how much fun they can be.
Learn how to practice chords effectively in this guide. The guide will give you an easy way to work on the chords and memorize new chords in the shortest time possible.
If you want to improvise, play some solos, or write your own songs, it’s a good idea to work on scales.
Find out how to practice scales in this guide. The guide includes exercises and tips to get the most out of your scales practice.
It’s up to you how much time you spend working on scales or chords, but the more effort you put into them now, the easier it will be to learn new songs later.
Step 6: Pick One New Song to Learn in Full
If you feel like you have mastered the previous steps, a good challenge to set for yourself is to pick a new song that you’ve never tried in the past and try to learn it from start to finish.
This is a great challenge because it forces you to work on something new rather than merely repeat what you already know.
Pick a song that you really want to learn how to play and commit yourself to stick with that song.
You can always add more songs later on, but for now, focus on only one song.
It doesn’t matter if it takes you a week or a month to learn the song, the important point is that you don’t give up.
This is a really important step to work on because it teaches you that consistent practice is worth it.
If you work on the song every day (even for five minutes), you’ll gradually make progress.
Once you learn a brand new song in full, you’ll have the confidence and will know that you won’t give up the guitar again.
Every one of my students who completed this step managed to stick to playing guitar. Students who tried to learn multiple songs at the same time gave up.
So if you can complete this step, you’ll be in the clear and won’t be likely to give up the guitar again.
Step 7: Try Something New
Now that you’ve regained many of the skills you used to have (you might even be a better guitarist than last time), it’s time to branch out and try new things.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Use Guitar Pro to work on your skills
- Learn to break out of the pentatonic box
- Learn some simple fingerpicking songs
- Try a 7 or 8 string guitar
- Experiment with alternate tunings
- Grab some essential guitar pedals (or pedals for acoustic guitarists)
- Learn how to record your guitar at home
- Learn to use a guitar slide
There are so many different things you can try as a guitarist, so check out the guides and lessons on this site for some ideas.
Tips to Get Back Into Guitar
Here are some useful tips to help you get back into guitar after a long break.
Be Patient – Don’t Get Frustrated
The longer the break has been, the harder it will feel at first to get back into playing guitar.
This can be frustrating, but it’s only temporary.
If you follow the steps covered in this guide, you’ll get back the frustrating stage.
It might take you weeks or months to regain the skills you have lost, but if you are patient, you will get there.
The good news is that people who pick up the guitar after a long break soon discover that they end up as far better guitarists than they used to be.
The key point is to take it easy and give yourself time.
Watch Out For What Stopped You Last Time
If you gave up the guitar in the past because you were frustrated by it or you couldn’t learn the songs you wanted to play, you’re not alone.
I’ve had many students over the years who came to me wanting help relearning guitar after 5, 10, 20+ years of not playing.
An important thing to keep in mind is why you gave up the first time. Avoid the same trap that stopped you the first time.
Maybe you gave up the first time because you had a bad teacher (there are many out there). In that case, find a teacher that you enjoy learning from.
If you gave up because you were frustrated by how much practice you needed to put in, learn about effective practice here. You might be surprised by how little practice you need if you spend the time wisely.
If you gave up guitar last time because you couldn’t find time to practice, find out how to set up an ideal practice space.
The key point is to be aware of what stopped you from playing guitar last time and make sure you avoid falling for the same traps.
Don’t Mindlessly Play Guitar
A trap a lot of guitarists fall into is that they mindlessly noodle on their guitar.
While it’s perfectly fine to relax and enjoy what you’re playing, it becomes a problem when you never play with focus or purpose.
An example of mindlessly playing guitar is if you only know how to play three chords, so you sit back and strum those chords over and over instead of trying to learn some additional chords.
This can quickly become boring and can make you wonder why you started playing guitar again.
Unless you push yourself forward and try new things, you’ll run into a rut and give up guitar again.
Build a Habit of Playing Every Day
A common reason why so many people give up guitar is that they find they gradually play guitar less and less over time.
If you want to start playing guitar after a long break, the first thing you need to establish is a consistent habit of playing.
Practice guitar every day, even if you can only play for five minutes.
Every day you pick up your guitar, you will strengthen the habit of playing. This not only makes it easier to relearn the skills you have lost, but it will help stop you from giving up again.
If you have followed the above advice and have successfully relearned how to play guitar, congratulations!
Have a look through this list of guides and lessons to keep pushing your guitar skills forward and learn new things.