Before you start searching online for ways to learn to play the guitar, you should know that there are essentially two possibilities: either you learn with a teacher, or you learn on your own. That’s pretty much it.
However, this simple distinction obscures the different tools available to the beginner guitar player – or to anyone who is engaged in the process of learning how to play guitar.
Alongside the guitar teachers themselves, there is so much material to learn from: online guitar lessons, video lessons, guitar tablature libraries for you to learn and play songs, banks of chord shapes, guides for music theory, and – of course – the guitar music of all your favourite players.
If you want to learn to play the guitar with a teacher, you can do it within a dedicated establishment like a conservatory, a cultural center, or a music school – or even take guitar lessons at home.
If you want to learn by yourself, there is, as we just mentioned, a large number of support materials, such as books, ebooks, the Internet, videos, and other tutorials, and that doesn’t include friends with whom you could begin to scratch out a few chords.
Everyone has their own temperament and personality and not everyone can learn through the same style. Some will prefer to have a teacher for support while others will be more capable of figuring things out on their own.
It all depends on what you want to do. Do you want to play blues guitar, jazz guitar, rock guitar, or classical guitar? Rhythm guitar or lead guitar? Do you want to play just power chords and your favourite Green Day guitar solos, or do you want to learn the fretboard like the back of your hand, engage with barre chords and fingerstyle, and practise you ear training?
Below are some thoughts on the various approaches, to give you a clearer picture of what possibilities you have. And before you sign up to some expensive guitar course, when all you want to do is learn some basic guitar chords, you might want to hear about the options.
Some people need more guidance, and constant support, so they prefer to someone professional who will encourage and advise them as needed. Having a competent educator is reassuring: you’ll learn how to play the guitar with one of the best guitar players around, who can show you some of the best songs to learn for beginners, and who can talk you through your first guitar struggles.
Guitar teachers are particularly useful for you in terms of beginner guitar lessons, when you need to learn the basics of chord progressions, fingerpicking, and different guitar songs. You’d think that a Hendrix or a Clapton would have a little less use for a guitar instructor – as these guys would know where their weaknesses are, and they probably do enough guitar practice anyway.
By taking guitar lessons with a teacher, you will be able to benefit from his or her experience: your teacher will have been through the same process as you, so he or she will understand you easier. Getting used to your new guitar will take a little while – but they’ll know how to handle your struggle.
With the advantage of hindsight, he or she will be able to advise you, to help you avoid the pitfalls or basic mistakes that he or she made – and in the meantime let you know why it is actually important to learn the pentatonic or major scale, the basic chords or open chords.
Your teacher is someone who follows a path, an instructional method: with the aim of making your lessons as coherent and enriching as possible, he or she knows in which order to address the different subjects, ideas, and techniques.
The ability to play all sorts of guitar tricks does not just come out of nowhere. Effective guitar instruction will introduce you to new guitar licks, to your favorite songs, and to different parts of the guitar when you are ready.
Quite obviously, your teacher has a different understanding of music culture than you, surely richer and more diverse.
Alongside the guitar basics, alongside dexterity training and chromatic exercises, alongside fingerstyle guitar and barre chord practise, your teacher will introduce you to the different musical styles so you can study their techniques, and have you try new songs in through you’ll discover new artists that you hadn’t thought of.
If you encounter any difficulties as you learn to play the guitar, as you advance in a particular technique, the teacher will identify goals that will help you progress, at your level and at your pace.
You should understand that there are certain negatives to learning to play the guitar with a teacher.
The greatest challenge lies there: you’ll have to find a guitar teacher that works for you.
Other than his or her capabilities on the guitar and as an educator, the relationship between student and teacher is not always as evident beforehand.
The greatest resource for someone learning the guitar is a guitar teacher!
We should not forget that if you live in a small town, it’s not always easy to find a professional close to you.
The guitar teacher often comes from a different musical background from you and he or she could have the tendency to direct you towards techniques or songs that don’t correspond to your tastes or goals (such as learning to play the guitar if you’re left-handed).
Obviously, learning to play the guitar with a professional requires a certain budget: competence and experience aren’t free.
By being guided by a teacher, you will lose your personal agency: you will be kept on a leash and you won’t have a lot of room for free experimentation.
Some guitarists or aspiring guitarists have enough natural fluency and ease to learn alone, without any outside help.
Professional guitarists who got there on their own are rare, and even among them, it’s rare that their abilities are unique or even interesting.
Let’s look at the the advantages of learning to play the guitar on your own, without a teacher.
This doesn’t exclude the possibilities of finding help online, in books or DVDs, studying written methods, or discussing things with other musicians.
This is the greatest satisfaction of learning to play the guitar on your own: you will get used to looking for and finding solutions to challenges for yourself, you will never be limited by any one exercise or by one style of music.
You might ask yourself the following questions: How do I learn to play the guitar?
Even if your tastes evolve, if you want to change styles (going from classical to blues, from rock to pop, etc.), you can evolve as well.
You know this by heart, you know how you study, how much time you need to learn.
And the inevitable question: When to practice the guitar?
You are totally freed from any obligation to work on any particular technique or song during the week, you can actually work on two or three songs at the same time: it’s you who sets your pace.
Whether you invest in written materials, sheet music, in DVDs, or if you follow programmes online, it will always be less expensive than a one-hour, weekly guitar lesson over the course of a few years.
You must admit: once you’ve mastered the basics on the guitar, if you can play a few songs and begin to write your own songs, you’re going to impress your friends.
You’ll be able to brag that you got there on your own.
Facing the guitar on your own also brings with it some difficulties and inconveniences.
Thanks to the Internet, you have access to thousands of details, pieces of advice, and information about learning to play the guitar.
It becomes difficult, often, to sort through this mass of information that is aimed at both novice and expert guitarists.
Without a teacher or professional by your side, the risk that you’ll adopt bad habits or bad instincts is significant.
Bad habits can obviously be corrected but it’s harder than creating good habits from the beginning.
If you aren’t curious by nature, if you don’t seek out new information for yourself, if you don’t try new techniques, your playing level will stay the same.
You’ll get bored, going in circles, so much so that it’ll discourage you as you learn to play the guitar, leaving you wondering what is the best way to learn the guitar?
You should definitely invest in guitar lessons for beginners – but don’t hesitate to be picky when choosing your new teacher! Once you have the basics, you can always choose to continue on your own.
Whether you decide to learn the guitar on your own or with a teacher, there is now a plethora of forms of support that will be of great help as you learn the guitar.
There are all kinds of written materials, some of which are very good while others you’ll quickly forget.
Go old school – and learn guitar from a book!
Ideally you’ll be able to look through them to make sure that the subject is treated exhaustively and educationally.
Verify that all of the steps are addressed in full: for example, if a particular method is teaching you to play a rhythm on the guitar, and indicates that it’s enough to simply strum the strings with your pick, it’s unlikely that you’ll make any progress.
Some methods offer a CD or DVD so you can listen to songs and exercises as complements to the written materials.
Some well-known written materials are:
Having replaced the CD as a tool, DVDs allow direct access to a particular chapter along with high-quality sound and superior imagery.
This quality won’t diminish over time, you’ll be able to watch the sections you want again and again.
It’s a very effective method because it offers the opportunity to have both visual and audio support, almost as if a teacher were sitting in front of you.
Magazines offer good support as you learn the guitar but the educational rigor leaves a little to be desired.
Magazines are great source of help to learn guitar.
Nevertheless, you’ll find exercises, songs, and parts from well-known songs, as well as news about your favorite musicians and summaries of the materials provided.
A very good complement that doesn’t cost much.
These days, everyone has access to the Internet and everyone can find everything; it’s a fantastic tool for getting started with the guitar because you find written methods, free lessons, audio samples, educational videos, and tracks to play with.
You’ll be to share your doubts, your expectations, and your questions with other musicians in discussion forums or on social media – an interactivity that will provide motivation as you learn the guitar.
As you can see, whatever your method for learning the guitar, you’ll have to commit yourself to it, really invest yourself, because playing an instrument like the guitar doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers.
You really need to understand what you hope to achieve on the guitar, and decide if you to want reach a level at which you can play with friends or learn to truly master your instrument.
After considering these questions, you can steer yourself towards one method or another.
Ready? Set: motivate! Follow Superprof’s tips for getting started learning the guitar…