Here's the Best Way to Learn to Play Guitar on Your Own

Get the most potential out of every second you spend playing.

Ultimate Guitar
Most of us aren't inclined to go take lessons. I don't know about you, but guitar lessons are "something that school kids do". Or maybe those folks who have delusions of playing in a rock band. Or rich, drug-head kids.

While I may be delusional, I'm not that delusional, right?

My Wife Finally Talked Me Into Taking Lessons

She comes from a very accomplished family. Everyone plays at least one instrument, and most of her siblings play 2 or more instruments. (They should have started their own band).

Considering the fact that she is accomplished at both the cello and the piano, I figured she might know a thing or two, and it couldn't hurt to try.

I've got to say, I was pretty impressed. Knowing that twice a week, I would have to perform my piece in front of someone else, really drove me to practice more than I was apt to on my own.

The real-time feedback was also nice, and my instructor picked up on several bad habits I had developed.

Instructors Are Not Always Feasible

They cost a lot of money. And you have to meet with them at specific times. Very cool.

I found it eating up a lot of my free time.

At the same time, I really appreciated the real-time feedback the instructor offered. I was also amazed at all of the handy tips he had to provide, that really sped up my learning. I felt like a young magician learning at the hut of a wizard.

Alas, as it so often happens when working with an instructor, life moves on and I had to quit. But the secrets he had imparted were mine to keep! And if you stick around for a couple of minutes, I'll share them with you.

These Secrets Will Supercharge Your Practice

Some of these "secrets" will "go against your grain." You are going to read them and think they are absolutely crazy. And some of them you will be surprised at how hard they are to do. At their heart, they are designed to eliminate distractions, and optimize your practice time so that you get the most learning potential out of every second you spend playing.

So, no matter how crazy these ideas may sound, I encourage you to incorporate these steps into your practice. I think you will be surprised at how much it speeds up your learning.

Scattered Practice Is Not Practice

There is a TON of free information out there about learning how to play guitars. Just hop on YouTube and you can find tabs or chords for just about any major pop song.

What I learned while taking lessons is that this can be a very inefficient way to learn how to play guitar. You end up with gaps in your training. This leaves you fighting and fighting to learn the fingering on one specific chord, instead of learning a few intermediate chords or fingerings as you "work your way up."

You also end up spending most of your practice time hunting around on the internet for the information you need.

With my instructor, we learned slowly and build on that knowledge in a very linear fashion. This left me feeling a lot more successful and sped up the progress. I also didn't have to hunt around for the knowledge.

What I learned was that it is very important to have a good program to follow.

Finger Drills Are the Bomb-Diggity for Supercharged Learning

Maybe you already know about finger drills, but I didn't.

Most of the instrument playing relies on neuromuscular development. There are some finger-shapes that will simply take hours of practice to train the body to consistently form.

A lot of people expect that as they play, their fingers will learn the patterns. This is true. However, what really accelerated my learning was spending 15 minutes everyday warming up with finger drills.

It was amazing how, after a few weeks, I was so much more accurate and could make faster gains. It was just like I woke up as a new person and my body could do things that I never knew it could do. Truly an out-of-body experience.

Don't Learn What You Already Know

We all practice our drills and songs from "the top" or start of the song. We play until we mess up, and then we start over (or we quit and go play a song that we love more).

What happens with this method is that we get really good at some parts of the song and really bad at other parts.

Instead, what you should do is focus on practicing the problem areas. Hone in on those difficulties and spend the time you need to become proficient in those areas.

We even got to the point where we would play songs backward just so that we could learn to focus on notes instead of what our ears were expecting to hear. It was a little weird, but it is amazing how dramatically changing up the practice music changes your time helps to push your development into new areas of brain growth.

Make Practicing Easy

My third lesson with an instructor was really embarrassing. I didn't know the music, and as I stammered my way through the lesson (you'd think that for a $40 session I'd have gotten better prepared). My instructor finally stopped me. "How much did you really practice this week?"

It is hard to carve time out to practice. So stop thinking of it as a time that you must practice.

Instead, make practicing your guitar as easy as getting on Facebook. Leave it sitting on your bed. Leave your music out and on its stand (it has been proven that people who use music-stands practice more).

And then just pick up the guitar every time you walk by and spend 2 minutes playing with it.

Sure, the longer practice sessions are key. But what I found is that 2 minutes would become 5 minutes and 5 minutes would stretch to 10 as I lost track of time.

Suddenly I was practicing an extra half-hour a day with no effort. And I also found myself more motivated to set aside the 30 minutes I needed for the more intense practice sessions.

Practicing doesn't have to this big, intimidating thing.

Learning to Play Songs Is Easy and Inspires You to Practice

There are a lot of easy songs that even a beginner can learn how to play. They only require knowing a few chords and you are singing along in a matter of minutes.

There are few things that will increase your enjoyment as a guitarist more than knowing even just one song that you can play with friends. It gives you such a feeling of accomplishment.

While I think it is important for a beginner to spend most of your time learning the fundamentals and working on your drills, you've got to start seeing some real-life benefit, or you will quickly lose motivation. My instructor used the last 10 minutes of each session to run over simple chords and help me work on a simple pop song.

It made me feel good, inspired me to play more, and gave me something to show off to the buddies.

My only caution is that you do not get so distracted by learning new songs, that you don't have time to learn the fundamentals that will greatly speed up your overall success.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Ok, here's the least-fun part of learning anything.

It's probably the biggest reason that most of us fail.

We don't want to be publicly humiliated if we fail, but we can't find the inertia within ourselves to push forward and do the work we need to do.

An instructor is an excellent "accountability partner." If you don't have an instructor, you need to find your accountability partner somewhere.

In the bluegrass circles, weekly jam sessions are a big part of the culture and kids are rapidly brought up the ranks simply by grabbing an instrument and hopping in.

So you might re-create that. Grab a few friends who play, or use a site like meetup. Com to create a group that plays your genre. Jam once a week, and you guys can swap tips and inspire each other to improve.

On top of that, you might find an occasional instructor session to be helpful. If you look online, you can find many instructors that will teach you over Skype. While that does help save the frustrations from commuting, it does not reduce the cost - or negate the fact that you still have to find a time to practice.

The upside of Skype lessons is that you can actually (with a little digging) find professional stage guitarists who give lessons. Try searching for your genre + professional stage guitarist + Skype lessons. Especially for those who dream of being a stage musician one day, this can be a real opportunity to learn from professional guitarists who offer lessons online.

This article was given to us by the lovely people of Trusty Guitar.

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Guitar pro 5 was the easiest thing to obtain and it helped me immensely, tunings, tablature, theory, metronome, importing ascii and midi, scales of all kinds and with ultimate-guitars contributions to go with it I figured it was all I needed, and It was for me at least. It only took me 7 years but I learned cliffs of dover and everything I ever wanted, now Im off creating my own tunes all thanks to Ultimate-Guitar and Arobas music \m/
    Good article. very True. I've been playing for years, I've done cover bands, original bands. I'm no virtuoso but I can play lots of different styles. Never took lessons except for a classical guitar class in college. I decided after my last cover band called it quits, 2 years at least 120 shows at local venues, I decided to do lessons. Was the greatest experience ever, and vaulted me to a better place with my playing. Never to late, or too experienced to take lessons. The important thing you have to be able to evaluate , is whether or not the teacher is of the skill and level to instruct you. Discernment on your part is very important. Find out how your instructor, after meeting you, plans on developing a strategy for you to learn/continue. If after a couple lessons it doesnt feel right or that your not learning you might want to look elsewhere. Definitely lessons. I might be going back to my teacher again. Hope he has room!!
    Sound advice, and something I absoluately concur with, especially the motivational aspects. Good job!
    What finger drills do you recommend? Is there a particular instruction manual or website that you like?
    Check out the YouTube channel "creative guitar studio" he's the best on there in my opinion.
    I just wanted a drum set, but couldnt afford it so i bought a cheap guitar and started learn a songs with guitar pro 5. For 1 year i improved a lot because i really like it. Played like 6-8 hours a day. After year and half of tab learning and improving some techniques i started to learn some music theory .. the internet is full of usefull information. You just should know what kind of music you want to play. It's not difficult, people just need a time and attitude.
    I think like you say, people who already have study skills may find it easier to teach themselves, but I would still like to have lessons if I could afford it though.
    practice 6 hours a day .you can watch tv and practice.get of the computer and practice .
    i took a few lessons to start after having put in the blood sweat and tears of the basic chords and callouses on my fingers. before i even knew what a tuned guitar sounded like. i had steel strings that were older than me on a classical plywood guitar that was even older out the attic for like 20yrs with seriously almost ONE INCH ACTION from about fret 9 up the main things i gleaned from my lesson experience was 1. actually being exposed to another guitarist. that was DEFINITELY BETTER THAN ME. so it was kind of like.. 2. COMMUNION with another member of "the tribe" and had similar tastes as me and my initial aspirations but also introduced me to some diversity in playing. 3. the ease and casual manner which i saw and heard the licks and riffs from my instructor kinda brought the whole intimidating, "this-is-=going-to-just-take-tons-and-tons-of-boring-monoton ous-practice" myth down to earth for me and made it real and tangible that I COULD DO IT TOO. also motivated me to at least START learning some scales (I HATE studying/learning/trying to wrap my head around and memorize theory and any scales past pentatonics, majors, minors or chord theory of sus and augmenteds and such. DONT ask me about modes cuz... whew im starting to have a panic attack
    anniekincaid · Aug 06, 2016 09:13 AM
    with so much stuff on the net you do not need a teacher .and teachers charge 20 dollars or more.hell I teach peoplguitar I charge 2 dollars I tell people 20 dollars is stooped .
    $20..?? I wish! Here in Australia you're looking at around $50 an hour, that's around US$35. I can't justify spending that amount. Everyone here wants to charge top dollar per hour but doesn't realize that cheaper rates means more people like me would shell out for regular lessons.
    It's usually about $20 a half hour once a week at most shops in the US. So you're coming $5 USD ahead lol.
    Did you skip English grammar in school? Charging $2 a lesson is indicative of what you value yourself and your guitar skills. If someone offered me guitar lessons at $2 a pop, I'd run like hell for the redneck hills of Georgia! Anyway, as the guy pointed out in the above article, "with so much stuff on the net" you don't know who's teaching you correctly and who's teaching you bad methods.
    Yup, and once a bad habit sticks, it's hard to unlearn - I know, I'm self-taught It's not impossible but you WILL make unnecessary mistakes that set you back. And that is the main reason why people eventually get frustrated and quit. There's no need to make your teacher rich but a lesson every now and then helps a lot. And yes, I'd also avoid teachers who charge less than the clichéd Vietnamese hooker down at the docks
    shanekajrisner · Aug 09, 2016 08:45 AM