Your experiences are likely based on two factors:
First, you're probably not "presenting" the tools correctly to the workpiece. That can be explained in pages of writing, but is better demonstrated. I'd really suggest spending some time looking for a woodturning club in your area...They're full of people that would happily give you all the free instruction you need. It is VERY EASY to form bad habits when you try to learn turning without some basic instruction. It is all about tool presentation (angles, bevels, etc.). If you're getting catches I would almost certainly attribute it to improper tool presentation.
Second, your tools may not be sharpened correctly or sharp enough. Frequent sharpening is fundamental in turning, so plan on getting a decent grinder setup and hopefully some sort of jig like a Wolverine.
You can turn any wood on the planet regardless of hardness, when using proper technique and sharp tools. But for learning I'd suggest you get your hands on some maple turning squares (2x2). They're cheap and of average hardness to teach you quite a lot.
Don't sweat the lathe speed that much. Start slow and speed up some as the wood gets to fully round. Thick pieces should be turned slower, skinny pieces turned faster. The actual number doesn't matter.