Teach Yourself Guitar

What are the pros and cons of teaching yourself to play guitar instead of getting lessons form a tutor? This article discusses why it can be a better way to go.

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If you want to learn to play the guitar one approach is to hire a private teacher and have lessons. This is great, and many people take this route, but there is another way to learn the guitar, and that is to teach yourself. This article will address some of the ways you can do this, and explain exactly what you need to do when teaching yourself guitar.

It's always good, when learning any new skill, to set yourself targets to work towards, both long and short term. This helps you to focus your learning time, and by breaking things down into small chunks, you won't feel so overwhelmed by all the information you'll have to absorb. It is a good idea to figure out what you want to achieve when teaching yourself guitar do you want to play in a band, or write you own music, for example? Having a set goal in mind will give you the motivation to keep learning and improving, as well as making it easier to chart your progress, and see how well you are doing.

You will need to have some learning resources at your disposal for you to work from when trying to teach yourself guitar. Traditionally, this would comprise mostly of books, and many self taught guitarists have, over the years, amassed quite impressive collections of these. These days, however, you have more options. The internet and new media offer an enormous amount of information for you to delve into, both paid for and free. Finding it is as easy as typing into Google, and the resulting internet sites, containing videos, audio, lessons, and more, will be enough to keep you occupied for months on end.

The key to successfully teaching yourself to play the guitar, is to work logically and systematically, and not to take on too much at one time. Start off with the basics, and progress only once you have mastered those. If you try and rush things, you'll make less progress and just end up getting frustrated.

One of the great advantages of teaching yourself guitar is that you're not restricted by traditional methods and techniques. You are free to experiment, and you should take advantage of this freedom, as it is a fantastic way to develop your own unique style and sound. Many of the greatest guitar players were self taught, and often, the reason they are revered is because they had they're own distinct way of playing, which only came about through experimentation, and the freedom of not knowing the correct way to play things. Having said that, it is always a good idea to learn proper technique as well, as this will make you a better and more diverse musician.

Without a guitar teacher to keep them on track, many people who teach themselves often find it hard to stay disciplined and focused. This can be a problem and, at the end of the day, only you can decide how much time and effort to put into learning the guitar. However, if you do it right, once you start to see progress this should be more than enough inspiration to continue, and work even harder. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy teaching yourself guitar.

So that winds up this article about teaching yourself guitar. I hope it has made a few things clearer for anyone thinking about taking it up.

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Chris Lake is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher. He writes for several guitar websites including his own. To check out more of his writing please visit Teach Yourself Guitar.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    MarkWakefield
    Good article, its how i taught myself pretty much just its kinda the wrong audience ya know ultimate guitar for guitar players :L
    sooperduper19
    what would've been helpful about this to a beginner? all it says is teaching yourself is hard.
    maltmn
    Hey Chris, I'm impressed that you set short term, and long term goals. However, you are 100% wrong in the advice you explain afterward. Learning guitar in a step-by-step logical way is the worst and slowest way to learn guitar. This is actually why getting a GOOD guitar teacher is very important. A bad teacher is going to teach you the basics before moving on to the more advanced stuff. Which makes learning really boring and slow. And once you get to the advanced stuff, it's really hard. So if you want to learn guitar by yourself, at least do it right. Study 10 minutes of music theory, practice improvising for 10 minutes, practice various techniques for 10 minutes, practice playing only chords for 10 minutes, practice songwriting for 10 minutes, practice your EAR TRAINING for 10 minutes, practice EVERYTHING YOU KNOW HOW TO DO for 10 minutes. If you WAIT to practice something later on, when you HAVE mastered the basics, you're going to feel like a total beginner all over again. This is not how you want to feel, after trying to master a solo or song for three months, then all of the sudden you feel like you suck all over again. Read more by checking out this article: http://breathingmusic.us/Struggle_Playin... tml
    Squire_Guy08
    jee5678 wrote: Well then where would you draw the line? Guitar teachers basically just give you tabs and advice (e.g., UG and Youtube)...sooooo, are people that pay for lessons "self-taught"?
    I understand all of the rest of your points. People who get taught by a teacher usually do better than self taught people. I started off self taught and then went to a teacher myself so I know a little bit from both sides. However I cannot agree with that comment. There is something different from an actual person sitting in front of you showing you how to play than a person on youtube. The teacher can teach you a chord. Then he or she can look at your hands and tell you where to put them if you have them in the wrong place. The alternative to that is playing broken chords until you find the right one, which could take a long time especially if you haven't developed your ear. Yes you could look at a tab and see the chord in front of you but sometimes even then they don't show you an easy fingering (giggity) for it. A teacher can also answer any questions you have right away too. That might take a long time if your on the internet. My point is there is a difference from being taught by a teacher and being self taught. That is why people say they are self taught. I agree that it doesn't make a person better than the next. Some people may be better at being self taught than getting taught by a teacher and vice versa. All I have to say is if you have the money than try it out and pick out a teacher who you like. If you end up not liking them switch... there are plenty of others. If you don't have the money, teach yourself with the tools necessary and ask your friends (if they play guitar) for any tips to get that personal touch. However teachers are professional (well... usually.) So to get the best personal touch, go with teachers.
    jee5678
    Smokinjoerules1 wrote: *sigh*
    It's so hard to be you, isn't it? You have the talent of Hendrix (without practicing for years on end, apparently), and when you tell random internet strangers who would have no reason to believe you, all you get is skepticism in return. I know how you feel...I keep telling people on sports forums that, even though I haven't picked up a basketball in the last decade, I can dunk on a 16-foot goal (and I'm only 5'8"), but they refuse to believe me! IT'S BULLSHIT! *SIIIIIGH*
    jee5678
    Smokinjoerules1 wrote: @Woopery and 6025, erm, I'm... not marketing myself guys, I'm just telling everyone how easy it CAN be to learn the guitar by themselves and if you feel it's easy then carry on, because you may end up being a great guitarist some day. Please don't take me to be some big headed c*nt who loves to brag about how eay I took to the guitar. Ya see this is why I dont say that I'm good anymore, people just think your a pr1ck if you do...
    Maybe I can help you out. Follow this example...if I wanted to tell people I did well in school, I would say, "I did well in school," and not, "When I was in kindergarten, the teacher was awestruck every day at how amazingly intelligent I was. When I was in the first grade, they recommended that I be put in high school classes. In high school, several professors estimated my IQ at well over 150. My senior year, the president came to my house to congratulate me on how awesome I was at school, but I told him I didn't have time for him. Several schools saw my performance in high school and offered me honorary doctorates before I took a single college credit hour because I'm JUST THAT SMART." See what I'm getting at? We have no way of knowing how well you play (and this is something people typically have a pretty poor gauge of, anyway), so why go on and on about how good you are?
    Smokinjoerules1
    @Woopery and 6025, erm, I'm... not marketing myself guys, I'm just telling everyone how easy it CAN be to learn the guitar by themselves and if you feel it's easy then carry on, because you may end up being a great guitarist some day. Please don't take me to be some big headed c*nt who loves to brag about how eay I took to the guitar. Ya see this is why I dont say that I'm good anymore, people just think your a pr1ck if you do...
    seanramon
    I agree, guitar is probably the easiest instruments to learn by yourself, aided by excellent online resources. It seems many indeed learn it by themselves. Compare this with violin - no one will think to learn it by himself/herself.
    CactusMax
    In my opinion, when being taught to play there's someone there to correct your mistakes and imperfections, and being "self taught" is figuring those things out for yourself without people telling you exactly what to do. Just my opinion, everyone's is different.
    WooperY
    6025 wrote: Smokinjoerules1 wrote: I've been teaching myself guitar for only the past 4 years, yet I sound like someone who has been playing for twice as long... I learnt my first solo after FIVE months of playing (AC/DC -its a long way to the top) After 2 months of playing i could play the riff from AC/DC's Thunderstruck after 2 years I could play Freebird... I now learn anything I feel like, I've been known to learn whole songs within a matter of an hour (including the solo) just by listening to it. Thing is, I've not practised that much in the last year or 2, i just play or learn songs... Imagine what I would be like if I played all the time :O Sorry bragging over now, sometimes I feel kinda ignorant when I play infront of people who've been playing 7 years cos they ask how do I do it? And i just say, I just found it easy to be honest and they reply with... "What the **** seriously?!" so sometimes I feel obliged to say I just practised none stop even though I didn't. Fascinating. I take it you can teach pigs to fly, as well?
    haha +1 @Smokinjoerules1 cool story, now stop marketing yourself.
    6025
    Smokinjoerules1 wrote: I've been teaching myself guitar for only the past 4 years, yet I sound like someone who has been playing for twice as long... I learnt my first solo after FIVE months of playing (AC/DC -its a long way to the top) After 2 months of playing i could play the riff from AC/DC's Thunderstruck after 2 years I could play Freebird... I now learn anything I feel like, I've been known to learn whole songs within a matter of an hour (including the solo) just by listening to it. Thing is, I've not practised that much in the last year or 2, i just play or learn songs... Imagine what I would be like if I played all the time :O Sorry bragging over now, sometimes I feel kinda ignorant when I play infront of people who've been playing 7 years cos they ask how do I do it? And i just say, I just found it easy to be honest and they reply with... "What the **** seriously?!" so sometimes I feel obliged to say I just practised none stop even though I didn't.
    Fascinating. I take it you can teach pigs to fly, as well?
    Smokinjoerules1
    I've been teaching myself guitar for only the past 4 years, yet I sound like someone who has been playing for twice as long... I learnt my first solo after FIVE months of playing (AC/DC -its a long way to the top) After 2 months of playing i could play the riff from AC/DC's Thunderstruck after 2 years I could play Freebird... I now learn anything I feel like, I've been known to learn whole songs within a matter of an hour (including the solo) just by listening to it. Thing is, I've not practised that much in the last year or 2, i just play or learn songs... Imagine what I would be like if I played all the time :O Sorry bragging over now, sometimes I feel kinda ignorant when I play infront of people who've been playing 7 years cos they ask how do I do it? And i just say, I just found it easy to be honest and they reply with... "What the **** seriously?!" so sometimes I feel obliged to say I just practised none stop even though I didn't.
    Vermillionpart2
    MarkWakefield wrote: Good article, its how i taught myself pretty much just its kinda the wrong audience ya know ultimate guitar for guitar players :L
    I half agree with you; some people here might still be in the process of deciding whether an instructor is needed by looking at some music tabs.
    jee5678
    Dean27 wrote: You made up your own definition of what "teaching yourself" is and then criticized it -_- SIGH
    What? See comment above, because I THINK it answers this, but I'm not really sure...I don't think I criticized anything really. As stated above, I'm trying to give beginners the right impression..."teaching yourself" by ANY definition will (probably) take way longer and (probably) be less fruitful, unless you consider the ability to tell others "I taught myself guitar" (which again, I say is a bit of a misnomer) a tangible reward
    jee5678
    Well then where would you draw the line? Guitar teachers basically just give you tabs and advice (e.g., UG and Youtube)...sooooo, are people that pay for lessons "self-taught"? My point is that the line between self-taught and taught is blurry at best; everyone gets help from someone (whether they are in the room with them or not, paid or not). All I'm trying to do is take some of the luster off saying "I taught myself guitar," because honestly, teachers are a great resource (I've done it both ways...with a teacher, a several-year gap, and then "by myself," by this guy's definition); beginners shouldn't be drawn in by the desire to sound like they're a "true artist" or "dedicated." At the end of the day, people who take lessons are (probably) going to learn faster and (probably) have more refined technique than those who don't--beginners should be introduced to this fact before they decide!
    jee5678
    "Teaching yourself" doesn't mean discovering something for the first time, it just means learning without any formal instruction. And yes, I've 'taught myself' to the extent of never taking any formal music lessons, but I use tabs from UG frequently and occasionally watch song covers on YouTube to see how other people play a song, but that doesn't mean I'm not still self-taught. You're basically saying that anybody who reads guitar tabs was taught by them. It's only 6 lines with numbers along them. You still need to teach yourself how to play what is written. The tabs don't show you chord formations, how to hold a pick, etc.
    Dean27
    jee5678 wrote: I don't necessarily disagree with this guy, but...well, people glorify "teaching themselves guitar." Again, that's a bit of a misnomer. You're learning with the aid of online resources, books, video, whatever...chances are, you're not really "teaching yourself" (i.e., sitting around with a guitar and playing notes until you figure out that they are logically connected in scales and chords, which would take about 300 years). Guitar teachers essentially organize the information that you would find on the internet or in books and present it in a way that should be easy to follow and progress through. Without a teacher, you can EASILY become frustrated and quit altogether because you can't figure out how to tremolo pick, do a pinch harmonic, etc (believe me, that's not just directed at people who would describe themselves as "quitters"). All that to say, when someone tells me they "taught themselves," I: A) call bullshit, because that's exactly what it is, and B) am thoroughly not impressed.
    You made up your own definition of what "teaching yourself" is and then criticized it -_- SIGH
    xHellbound
    ryan392 wrote: Although I have to agree with you on the fact that someone who is just starting playing guitar will probably not be reading Ultimate Guitar.
    That's not necessarily true, when I was first starting to play guitar (self-taught through Youtube, tabs, friends) I found UG right away, and 5 years ago this article definitely would have been helpful, lol.
    surfandtachi
    i think online is great. I personally self teach my self. When i did take lessons about 4 years ago. I found it easier to mimic my teacher. In other words i could figure out a song much more easily than looking at a tab. Problem of course (that i agree with this guy) i started sounding like him. Which isn't bad my teacher was good but i really wanted to have that freedom. Once i was pretty comfortable with the music theory on the guitar after learning plenty of scales and applying them to my own music. I left and went my own way. I think it's good to get lessons when you first begin playing guitar and to know the essentials or the keys that can set you off to go on your own. That way you have the musical knowledge of the fretboard and can evolve on your own from there.
    FretboardToAsh
    Also, the moment you read this article, you were no longer teaching yourself how to play.*snickers*
    ryan392
    My mistake. MarkWakefield was the one who mentioned that Ultimate Guitar was the wrong audience. And jee5678, I can tell you that it is very frustrating teaching yourself at times. Pinch harmonics are very difficult when you're not entirely sure how to do them.
    ryan392
    Good article. I agree with you that if you want to successfully teach yourself, you need self-discipline. Also, I like how you mentioned the fact that a lot of great guitar players found their playing styles through experimentation and because of ignorance.
    jee5678 wrote: I don't necessarily disagree with this guy, but...well, people glorify "teaching themselves guitar." Again, that's a bit of a misnomer. You're learning with the aid of online resources, books, video, whatever...chances are, you're not really "teaching yourself" (i.e., sitting around with a guitar and playing notes until you figure out that they are logically connected in scales and chords, which would take about 300 years). Guitar teachers essentially organize the information that you would find on the internet or in books and present it in a way that should be easy to follow and progress through. Without a teacher, you can EASILY become frustrated and quit altogether because you can't figure out how to tremolo pick, do a pinch harmonic, etc (believe me, that's not just directed at people who would describe themselves as "quitters"). All that to say, when someone tells me they "taught themselves," I: A) call bullshit, because that's exactly what it is, and B) am thoroughly not impressed.
    "Teaching yourself" doesn't mean discovering something for the first time, it just means learning without any formal instruction. And yes, I've 'taught myself' to the extent of never taking any formal music lessons, but I use tabs from UG frequently and occasionally watch song covers on YouTube to see how other people play a song, but that doesn't mean I'm not still self-taught. You're basically saying that anybody who reads guitar tabs was taught by them. It's only 6 lines with numbers along them. You still need to teach yourself how to play what is written. The tabs don't show you chord formations, how to hold a pick, etc. Call them what you want, but there are people who "learn guitar without taking music lessons" who can benefit from reading this article. Although I have to agree with you on the fact that someone who is just starting playing guitar will probably not be reading Ultimate Guitar.
    jee5678
    I don't necessarily disagree with this guy, but...well, people glorify "teaching themselves guitar." Again, that's a bit of a misnomer. You're learning with the aid of online resources, books, video, whatever...chances are, you're not really "teaching yourself" (i.e., sitting around with a guitar and playing notes until you figure out that they are logically connected in scales and chords, which would take about 300 years). Guitar teachers essentially organize the information that you would find on the internet or in books and present it in a way that should be easy to follow and progress through. Without a teacher, you can EASILY become frustrated and quit altogether because you can't figure out how to tremolo pick, do a pinch harmonic, etc (believe me, that's not just directed at people who would describe themselves as "quitters"). All that to say, when someone tells me they "taught themselves," I: A) call bullshit, because that's exactly what it is, and B) am thoroughly not impressed.
    maltmn
    I started playing left handed, and you can check out my 2-month video here