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4 Methods For Teaching Yourself Guitar

Updated on February 15, 2011

If you want to teach yourself to play the guitar, there are a number of different paths you could take. The method you choose will depend on your resources and preferred learning style, and it’s important to give some thought to this before beginning – because if you don’t learn in a way that’s enjoyable to you, you’ll be more likely to get discouraged and give up.

Here are the most common methods people use to learn guitar at home, with some of the pros and cons of each.

1. Playing Along With The Music You Enjoy

A lot of people have developed their guitar skills by listening carefully to the records they love, identifying the chords (and notes, for lead guitar parts), learning those chords/notes and playing along. To make things easier, you can also get songbooks for most popular artists, which show you the notes and chords, and there are lots of sites online with guitar tabs too.

Learning to play by ear like this is an extremely valuable skill to have, and should be a part of any practice routine. But for most people, it’s not an ideal way to learn guitar alone. It’s more efficient and effective to include some more formal instruction, in the form of a high quality guitar lesson plan. This will teach you the things that just playing along with music doesn’t cover, such as technical exercises, scales, music theory etc. All of these are necessary if you want to be a really well-rounded guitarist and musician, rather than just someone who can play some songs and riffs. You can get lessons of this type from guitar tutor books, DVDs, or online guitar lesson courses.

2. Guitar Tutor Books

A quick trip to your local music store or a browse online will reveal a huge choice of guitar instruction books, covering different types of guitar playing and musical styles. Books like this have been around for decades, and can still be an effective way to learn. They’re low in cost, and you can learn at your own pace. A good quality book will provide thorough explanations and lots of clear photos and/or illustrations to show you what you should be doing. Most modern books come with CDs, so you know how the music should sound when played properly – this can be invaluable when you’re teaching yourself, and are learning unfamiliar music.

Learning from a guitar tutor book does have its limitations though, the main one being that it can be difficult to fully understand how you should be playing. Written instruction and pictures are static, and can’t show you how to position and move your hands in real time, and even with the clearest instructions, it can be easy to get it wrong, and fall into bad playing habits. For this reason, many people prefer to use guitar lesson DVDs or online video lessons.

3. Guitar Lesson DVDs

Teaching DVDs are also widely available, although not to the same extent as books. They are relatively cheap, especially when compared to private lessons. They’ll typically feature a teacher who shows you how to play, with close-ups of both hands playing simultaneously. This is the next best thing to having a teacher there in the room with you, and it’s very helpful to see exactly what you should be doing. Often the music (in tab or notation) will scroll across the screen, so you can follow along while watching.

On the downside, the quality of guitar instruction DVDs does vary somewhat, some have region-specific encoding, and they can be frustrating to navigate when you just want to find a specific few minutes to watch again. The explanations aren’t always as detailed as those you find in books, and some people learn better from written instruction. However, some DVDs come with an accompanying book or booklet, which can give the best of both worlds.

4. Online Guitar Lessons

As more and more people have come online and connection speeds improved, internet-based guitar lessons have become extremely popular. There are countless sites offering both free and paid-for guitar instruction in one form or another, and the best of these provide fully developed, professional courses that feature a mix of written and video instruction, audio files and jam tracks, software learning aids, and usually a community area where you can connect with others following the course too. Some of these lessons are downloadable (such as Jamorama – see my Jamorama review for more info), whereas others operate a membership model, where you pay for monthly access and view the material online.

The multi-media nature of high quality online lessons makes them appealing to people with different learning styles, and they provide a convenient way to learn – all you need is a computer and internet access. They’re also reasonably priced, and you can get a complete course of online lessons that will keep you going for months, for the cost of two or three private lessons with a teacher.

On the downside, the quality of internet guitar lessons does vary a lot, so it’s important to be vigilant and make sure you go with a plan produced to a high standard, by a teacher (or teachers) who know what they’re talking about. It’s always a good idea to look for reviews from others who have tried the course, and remember that the best ones will usually offer a free trial or free ‘taster’ lessons, so you can see if you like their teaching style or not. Most also offer a money back guarantee.

So, there are various options available if you want to teach yourself to play guitar. Whichever you choose, make sure you stick with it – it can be hard to keep going when you’re struggling (as almost everyone does at some point), and don’t have a teacher to encourage you, but choosing a course that you enjoy working with will make the process easier.


Submit a Comment

  • GuitarLover profile image

    GuitarLover 7 years ago from UK

    I've been checking out JamPlay recently - might have to join for a bit, as I see some interesting material on there. There's so much good stuff online, it can be quite overwhelming.

  • 6 String Veteran profile image

    6 String Veteran 7 years ago,, and JamPlay (especially the first two) have excellent teachers, judging from some instructional vids leaked on YouTube and the instructors' own profiles (again, YT, sigh). YT is quite an education in itself for the discerning 6- (or 7- or 8-, etc.) stringer.

  • Trevor f profile image

    Trevor f 7 years ago

    Excellent, started playing guitar with tutor books.