Two Things You Can't Learn Online (And Three Things You Can Learn)

Can you learn everything you need to know from information available online, or should you still take lessons with a private teacher?

Ultimate Guitar

It has never been easier to find guitar lessons online.  There are thousands, and new lessons are added every day. There are also countless tabs and song guides. But students who learn guitar online often struggle with some "missing pieces" in their musical learning. That's because these pieces are most often learned from playing with more experienced musicians, or from a teacher. And although anyone can find guitar lessons online, not everybody has access to experienced musicians.  

Last year, we set out to create a new online guitar learning site. We wanted to find out what was currently missing out there in the "lessonscape" and fill in some gaps.  

We researched the top 50 free online guitar sites. We interviewed guitar students and teachers, and gathered information.  

What we found is that guitar players who primarily learn online often report at least one of these issues:

Challenges With Online Lessons

Lack of clear structure. The lesson landscape was full of learning examples, but guidance for navigating through this landscape was lacking. Because each student learns at a different pace, is interested in learning different materials, and has a different overall level of ability, it's impossible to give the same practice plan to every student.  

Lack of feedback. Learners reported that, without a teacher, they weren't sure if what they were doing was correct. Most were aware that their guitar habits might be formed over many years, and were wary of spending so much time building "bad" habits.

So there are benefits to having a private teacher, especially if you find one that can offer you these missing pieces.  

But you can definitely learn a lot by yourself if you're committed. And no matter what resources you have available, the most important thing is what you practice, how you practice, and how often you practice. 

What Is the Internet Best at Teaching?  

Studying on the Internet can be an important part of learning-central, even. Here are some of the things the Internet is best at providing:

Limitless songs. Although you have to be careful when learning tabs to make sure that you're getting accurate information, no teacher has a library of songs that matches the number found on the Internet. Most teachers will gladly use tabs and charts printed from online, so long as they appear to be accurate.

Guitar Fretboard Knowledge. Diagrams of chords, scales and arpeggios are plentiful.  

Techniques and tricks. No one teacher is familiar with the techniques and tricks used in every style. Thankfully you can find passable demonstrations of almost every technique somewhere out there.  

Why You Should Consider Guitar Lessons 

Using the web, you can usually find WHAT you want to learn, and hopefully you can also teach yourself HOW to play it. But playing with other musicians and learning from a teacher are useful in helping you understand WHY. And that's an important step in deconstructing what you're doing, setting your priorities, and deciding what you need to work on during today's practice.

About the Author:Grey is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, a professional guitar teacher with over 10 years of experience, and a presenter for

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Ive been mostly learning online and try to jam with others as often as I can. I feel like I am learning theory pretty well. Recently, I decided to get some 1 on 1 lessons with a real teacher (even Joe Satriani still gets lessons, so why not?) and it REALLY did show me some bad habits ive been doing, and its really taking me to the next level. If you are debating back and forth on getting real lessons or on your own, I would suggest: 1) learn at least your open chords, power chords and are able to play a couple different Bar Chord shapes. 2) Learn Major and Pentatonic scales. Always using alternate picking. 3) Learn a few strumming patterns. 3) Always practice with a metronome and keep rhythm (that is my biggest issue to master right now-I get lost and lose the 1 beat) THEN go to a few lessons and see what feedback you get.. At least you wont be wasting money and time to be told to learn chords/scales and can jump into more Lead/Rhythm/Jam Improvisational techniques practices..which is way funner.
    Good points! These are some of the most important basics, and whether you have a teacher or not you'll have to spend some time learning them.
    Very powerful article for those that are on the fence with taking lessons privately. I understand that funding can be an issue for some people with regards to this type of instruction, but in all honesty, having an instructor for me was crucial when I picked up drumming since I had some nasty habits that I accumulated over the years. I am now considering them for guitar as well since I feel like I am repeating the same nasty-habit pattern over again. Please guys, even if it's just for 4 months once-a-week.. Take lessons and learn what you can from instantaneous feedback. It is a powerful tool that can be godly with the tools of the Internet.
    There are also books. Books can be great if you already had some formal lessons on another instrument and picked up at least some theory along the way. I love them. Playing with friends who also play guitar is also a good way to learn some tricks and tips.
    Smart people do the same for other activities. One should not consider taking up golf without getting lessons first, not developing bad habits for 3-6 mos and then taking lessons. Worked very well for a family member who got drums and immediately lessons from a teaching & working drummer. Also agree you should not stop getting 1on1 instruction. Even pro race car drivers have coaches (amateur drivers call them instructors for a reason). Also if you are with a sufficiently advanced group of musicians that have learned to play well with others outside of the music you can learn a lot. Jams where you take turns picking and starting the song can lead to insights on improvement (some not always welcome or taken well by others).