Teach Yourself Guitar. Part One - Making The Decision

The beginning of a new series looking at teaching yourself guitar. This installment focuses on decided whether to get a teacher or to teach yourself. It also includes the introduction.

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Hey, I'm Tom Colohue. Welcome to the beginning of a brand new series here at www.ultimate-guitar.com. This series will be focused on teaching yourself guitar. If you've never picked up a guitar before and you've come to this site considering it, these articles are for you. If you were taught by a teacher or have been self taught for years, I hope that you take something from this. Even if it's sympathising with the difficulties of a guitar beginner, it might be something you haven't considered before. This series is aimed at electric guitar owners, however, that doesn't mean that acoustic and bass guitar owners can't learn anything from it. The instruments are not as different as some other instruments, such as the violin and the tuba. Whether electric, acoustic or bass, they are all guitars and governed by the same principles. Take what you can get from these articles based on your chosen instrument. There are going to be several sections to these articles. My aim is to guide and advise rather than directly instruct, based on personal knowledge and experience. The articles will likely be structured as follows: Part One: Making The Decision Part Two: Taking The First Steps Part Three: Knowing Your Instrument Part Four: Learning Songs Part Five: Balancing Practical And Theoretical Part Six: Practical Application Part Seven: Being A Balanced Guitarist Part Eight: Playing With Others Nevertheless, this set up is subject to change, without prior notice, at any time. So anyway, onto the content.

'Teach Yourself Guitar' By Tom Colohue

Part 1: Making The Decision It was October '06 and my mother was due to marry a man she had met only four months previously. In the effort to get to know somebody who would, undoubtedly, become a large part of my life, I joined some classes he was teaching on 'Meditation and Spirituality.' I was later kicked out of the classes for being negative and depressed. One member of his group then killed herself, followed by another finally admitting to a cannabis addiction. Anyway, I won't get into that. After a month of sitting in the back of a cluttered little shop learning how to breathe, another of the students gifted me with a guitar. This was not because I had ever shown any interest in such a thing, but he believed that I would be good at it, and he wasn't using it himself. The man who had given it to me, by the name of David, had only known me for that month. He was gay, worked at the Job Centre, and was probably the happiest man I've ever known. He also suffered from Superplex Cognita Hypergrypholsis. This meant that, while his upper body was fully formed, his lower body was that of a child. How he was so happy all the time is beyond me. Regardless, the guitar he gave me was a Mexican Fender Stratocaster. The wood was light and smooth - the colour a deep and noble red. Accepting such an instrument felt like quite an honour. Before the day was over I had given her a name; she was to be called Charlotte, and she demanded that I learn how to play her. Now, if you have a guitar then, at some point, you've likely thought exactly what I did at that moment: How can I advance in skill as fast as physically possible? The answer, fortunately, is an easy one: The more you practise, the faster you will advance. So, with that in mind, what should you practise? Not only that, but, for a complete beginner, how do you practise? This will bring you to your first major decision. Do you want a teacher, who will tell you what and how to practise, or do you want to seek those answers yourself? In this article, I am going to provide information to help you make that decision. I will supply both for and against arguments for either option. Nobody can make decisions for you; it all comes down to how well you know yourself. My apologies for the long and drawn out introduction; I felt it was necessary.

Getting A Teacher

The Positives 01. A teacher will instruct you in exactly what to practise. This means that you'll be put on your guitar and your teacher will walk you through something that you can then practise at home. Whether it's the first half of Smells Like Teen Spirit or the intro riff from Master Of Puppets, it's forward motion. 02. You'll also be told the intricacies of how to practise. This means that technique will be explained, as well as the often forgotten details of holding a pick or your guitar. 03. You will be under constant examination, which means that, should you begin to show signs of bad technique, your teacher can correct it. Technique, when learned incorrectly, can become seriously troublesome further down the line. 04. If there are any problems you are having with what your teacher has taught you, you can use some of your allotted time to ask questions and find out more. This will help you to understand the practise you have been given. The Negatives 01. You only practise what they have taught you. Say, in the first lesson, you learn the main riff of Ironman. Until the next lesson, that's all you can use to practise. 02. When seeing a teacher, you're on a very limited amount of time. From the moment you say hello, every sound and every second is on the timer; best make sure it's well spent because it all costs. This brings me neatly onto my next point: 03. Teachers cost money. If you're young, chances are you won't be able to afford it without the help of your parents. There are many options once you do have disposable income. The prices of teachers vary depending on their level of experience and how good they think they are. Obviously it's very possible that the teacher you choose will be overpriced for their skill level. With no form of comparison, how would you know? 04. Depending on the teacher's knowledge, you might find yourself limited. Unfortunately, a teacher can only teach you what they already know. This means that if, for example, you want to learn Guns n' Roses, but they want to teach Foo Fighters, you might have a problem.

Being Self Taught

The Positives 01. You decide what you want to learn and when. The means that you can play the music you love from the moment you own the guitar. If you only picked up a guitar to learn Greenday or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers then you can focus entirely on the band you want to sound like. 02. Learning on your own can fit to any schedule, as long as you find the time and the dedication. Even if you don't play nearly as much as you'd like to, whenever you do play, you will be improving. 03. When you ask a question of your teacher, you will recieve one simple, concise answer. If you ask the same question of the internet, you will get a vast array of different answers, suggestions and ideas. There will likely be song suggestions, technique suggestions and occasionally queries will develop from your original question. There is an incredible network of information out there just waiting to be found. 04. Teaching yourself will cost you nothing. Apart from being good for young musicians, this is also good for those with disposable income. Instead of spending money on a teacher, spend it on your guitar. The Negatives 01. If you being to practise your technique in a way that is likely to hinder your playing, there is nobody there to correct you. This means that, chances are, you will continue to practise in that way, which will be damaging to your playing. Most self taught guitarists develop a bad habit or two, meaning a lot of time trying to train themselves out of them. 02. You won't be aware of many techniques or pieces of theoretical knowledge as quickly as a teacher can provide them. A teacher should already know a wide selection of techniques that they can pass on to their students. However, being self taught means that you're going to have to discover it all on your own. 03. In order to learn, you're going to be spending a lot of time reading from books and the internet when you could be practicing. A teacher would instruct you while you were using your guitar. 04. When learning from a teacher that teacher would ensure that you remain focused. If nothing else, you'd want to make sure you weren't wasting your money. However, without a teacher, you're more likely to become distracted. This means that, overall, you're likely to practise less. So the option stands before you and the facts stand behind. It's up to you whether to seek out a guitar teacher or not. If you choose to teach yourself, then I hope to see you for the next article. If you'd prefer to learn from a teacher, I'd still hope to see you. In the next section we'll be going through the basics of holding your guitar, pick and strings, as well as giving you a few bits of information you might find useful as a beginner guitarist. Thank you for reading. I hope to see you again soon. 2009 Tom Colohue

74 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    AmplifySilence
    Cool, first.. Ok, nice article. Not tellin the reader what to do, just giving the pros and cons of each.
    Pannenkoeken
    ticklemeemo wrote: I think the focus spent to "advance in skill as fast as physically possible?" is more harmful to new students than beneficial. Giving them the false idea that they can play anything better than beginning level music is only going to make someone give up that much more easily. Learning guitar takes time, just like any other instrument, and there are no shortcuts if you want to be good.
    There aren't shortcuts to be a great guitarist. However, you can make the process take a lot longer by developing bad habits and by not being focused on getting any better.
    ZeGuitarist
    syfmyspof wrote: colohue, sorry man, but you are clueless
    Sir, I beg to differ.
    Pannenkoeken wrote: Yes, I think the line "You only practise what they have taught you" makes it sound like a teacher will slow down your skill progression.
    Not true, because you're only looking at it from one side. On the other side, a teacher will help you progress FASTER in the things he DOES teach you... It's in there, man Cheers!
    qsceszxdwa
    you know i taught myself. but i would still want a teacher to teach me the things i missed when i should have learned.
    07bevanm
    intorduction innaproptiate much? other than that i am quite skeptical about this article
    Pannenkoeken
    ZeGuitarist wrote: Pannenkoeken wrote: Mr. Colohue, I greatly respect your opinions on being self-taught, but please do not make it seem like haaving a teacher will hold anyone back. Does he? I was under the impression that he summed up the PROS and the CONS of being taught by a teacher, as well as being self-taught. Therefore, I find his article not very biased at all... Cheers
    Yes, I think the line "You only practise what they have taught you" makes it sound like a teacher will slow down your skill progression.
    blood_and_gold
    VertigodowN wrote: i like the article but im not sure if i want to take everything that he said to be fact considering he has only been playing for two years, that and he cant spell practice
    For the future reference of all American readers (or ignorant Brits :-P): In Britain, there are two types of practise/practice. Practice is the noun form - a doctor's practice, piano practice etc. Practise is the verb form - to practise guitar, to practise for the Olympics etc. Please bear this in mind before you attempt to verbally bash Mr. Colohue's spelling. Thank you.
    tyler112493
    True about the practicing bad habits thing. I practiced without my pinky from the start to about a year in and it took a while to learn to use it.
    dopiother
    VertigodowN wrote: i like the article but im not sure if i want to take everything that he said to be fact considering he has only been playing for two years, that and he cant spell practice
    Ha,so true. I have a teacher and seriously, with the right teacher it can be very helpful. my teacher teaches whatever i want to learn and he likes to learn new things so if he doesnt know it he can probably learn it. he is very good at guitar.
    VertigodowN
    i like the article but im not sure if i want to take everything that he said to be fact considering he has only been playing for two years, that and he cant spell practice
    strat0blaster
    Very interesting, but
    This series will be focused on teaching yourself guitar.
    If he's telling me how to teach myself to play guitar, then I'm not really teaching myself - I'm still learning from someone else a pre-determined 'correct' way to do it, right? The information is good, though.
    ticklemeemo
    I think the focus spent to "advance in skill as fast as physically possible?" is more harmful to new students than beneficial. Giving them the false idea that they can play anything better than beginning level music is only going to make someone give up that much more easily. Learning guitar takes time, just like any other instrument, and there are no shortcuts if you want to be good.
    Pannenkoeken
    Not true, because you're only looking at it from one side. On the other side, a teacher will help you progress FASTER in the things he DOES teach you... It's in there, man Cheers!
    I think you are looking at it from only one side. He said that you can only practice what your teacher teaches you, making it sound like having a teacher will hinder your progress. That's all I'm trying to say....
    Sora2810
    I like your theory. I started out with Mood for a Day by Yes, So I get where your coming from, Unfortunatly I learned right handed guitar, yet I'm left handed. It hasn't horribly hindered me yet, so here's hoping I don't get snagged.
    wingedpeople33
    i am completely self taught and i totally agree with this article. and will be reading the next. hopefully i'm not using wrong playing techniques. hah. great article
    Marshu
    This is probably the bitchiest question you can make; whether to teach yourself or to get someone to do that for you. I have decided to teach myself until I can find a good teacher, and get the best teacher affordable then to teach me the advanced stuff.
    Nirvana11_3
    yes they do but can a prerecorded lesson correct you if start doing something incorrectly?
    psychocello316
    If I take guitar II in school, should that be enough of a springboard in technique and such that I can pretty much teach myself from there without worrying about doing it all wrong? I want multiple opinions, seeing as we seem to have a teacher v. self-taught battle going on here. Thanks!
    Jondy
    fireblade wrote: fnmpm wrote: Unfortunately, I found no information on "Superplex Cognita Hypergrypholsis". I even googled Superplex Cognita Hyper Grphosis. Could you link me to the actual condition? Also, great article, but I felt that you used more words than you needed to. For example: "Teaching yourself will cost you nothing" could become "It's free" I found several of these types of long sentences, but other than that, I really liked it, as I think it will guide players in the right direction. Thank you Autosomal-dominant inheritance of distal arthrogryposis. Maybe?
    any 2 of those words would make an awesome metal song.
    TheSmashing
    lol this was awesome... and me being self taught i can relate to most of this coloumn i hope the rest are as helpful as this
    Francis Jubal
    no shit man! You got a pumpkin in your pants, say what=?"8! you got a pumpkin in your pants, no maaannnnn an apple in me trousers, dont talk so much lump man its inapropiate! I cant bare it any more! but I like this guide very many by the way it does remind me of my homeland, Gibraltar
    grille
    Haha my option was between learning by my self. or waiting 4 years to get a guitar teatcher
    Colohue
    fireblade wrote: Nice article BTW
    Thanks, and thanks for clearing that up for me
    pero_o
    foundationer: on the top bar of this site, you can find the Ultimate Guitar forums, it will help you a lot
    RLucas
    Good article! Meditation is supposed to help with negative thoughts and depression. What was this dude teaching?
    ZeGuitarist
    Jimbleton wrote: ZeG has some competition now, uh oh and this should be cool, i have recently stopped taking lessons and this might help me decide if i wanna start them again or just go it alone (amd with the help of UG)
    Lol, this is not competition... On the contrary, you will find that Tom's articles and mine will be very complementary! Also, I won't be posting new UGG chapters for the next month (see my blogs for info)... So Tom will keep you guys learning new stuff! Cheers!
    smaniato
    Weak arguments in my honest opinion >.< Will keep reading your articles though, along with UGtG ;
    Equivalence
    Good article! I am a self-taught player. I have a question: where can I find help when I get stuck with something? Can somebody recommend some forums? Thanks!
    ug forum
    aaciseric
    I've been playing for a while now but i'm sure i'll enjoy reading parts parts 5-8. Good article.
    justinb904
    foundationer wrote: Good article! I am a self-taught player. I have a question: where can I find help when I get stuck with something? Can somebody recommend some forums? Thanks!
    I'm self taught too. I have found answers to almost everything I've needed on UG's forums. Just use the search bar or ask.
    foundationer
    Good article! I am a self-taught player. I have a question: where can I find help when I get stuck with something? Can somebody recommend some forums? Thanks!
    GrayFoxz
    Jimbleton wrote: ZeGuitarist wrote: turtlewax wrote: could this be UG's next big column? And yes, it will be. You will find that this Guide will also be very complementary to the Ultimate Guide to Guitar... The UGG covers strictly theory and technique, while Tom's TYG guide covers the more practical aspects of playing guitar! Conclusion, it would be absolutely beneficial to read both. I will definitely refer to this guide in my UGG later on... Cheers! ZeG has some competition now, uh oh and this should be cool, i have recently stopped taking lessons and this might help me decide if i wanna start them again or just go it alone (amd with the help of UG)
    with UG, i can safely say that you don't need lessons, as long as you use the correct lessons, at the correct moment. if you're keen on getting a teacher. get a very good one, one who's able to listen and instantly learn and teach u a song by ear. that in my opinion, defines a good teacher..but yeah, theory and technical stuff, he/she's gotta know that too.
    wesselbindt
    On the negatives of the "getting a teacher" list; only 3 is true. The positives for learning by yourself are also for those who are smart enough(or rich w/e) to get a teacher.