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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    lockdown91
    Well I don't agree. If you have a teacher, that certainly doesn't mean you can practice only what he tells you to. I have a teacher and people I know that have a teacher of course learn a lot of things on their own aswell, since having a teacher is not a reason to not look up a few tabs on the internet.
    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.
    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
    pero_o
    foundationer: on the top bar of this site, you can find the Ultimate Guitar forums, it will help you a lot
    aaciseric
    I've been playing for a while now but i'm sure i'll enjoy reading parts parts 5-8. Good article.
    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!
    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.
    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!
    GrayFoxz
    this guide would be the very basic of basics of guitar. and, sorry, but most of it would be something you can pull some grass, sit down and think for 5mins and figure it all out, with maybe one exception or two that'll take experience to find out...and since u write disbelief stories...ure guides sound story-like, has that feel..but good first guide anyway. agreed the intro was special...i name all my guitars lol but i haven't had a Charlotte yet. and what you're doing is something big for some1 who has had 2 years of guitaring experience only...but yeah...it gives the practical aspects and it does well with ZeG uber guides for begginners
    Jimbleton
    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)
    ZeGuitarist
    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!
    ZeGuitarist
    Very nice work, Tom! Your intro was... special, I don't have any other word for it. If you feel it was necessary, then it shall be so, it's YOUR writing work after all! The pros and cons of having or not having a teacher were very well thought out. I'm sure many beginning guitarists can relate to this, if they are unsure if they should or shouldn't get a teacher. Bravo, Tom! You lived up to my expectations for this guide... And I will continue to read from here on, no doubt about that! Cheers man!
    AmplifySilence
    Cool, first.. Ok, nice article. Not tellin the reader what to do, just giving the pros and cons of each.
    RLucas
    Good article! Meditation is supposed to help with negative thoughts and depression. What was this dude teaching?
    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.
    Pannenkoeken
    I disagree with a lot of this article. It is far from a bad article, but I think that there are some clear flaws that should be addressed. "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." This part of the article really bothered me. I have a teacher, and I practice what he tells me to practice (techniques, etc), but I also practice songs that I want to learn how to play. Having a teacher does not limit what I want to do; having a teacher helps me progress faster than I would without one. In addition, I could practice twenty hours per week, but if I'm developing bad habits in the process, my practice won't do shit for me. Alternatively, I could practice the same sang fifty times, but that does not mean that I will become a more proficient guitar player. So no, "The more you practise, the faster you will advance." is not accurate. It should say "The better and more focused your practice time is, the faster you will advance." I would like to make it very clear that I am not against being self-taught. Lots of poeple have financial issues or they just don't want to have a teacher, and that's fine. Hell, I'm mostly self-taught; it was just recently that I decided to get serious about improving and got a teacher. Having a teacher has helped me in too many ways to count, and I highly reccomend anyone who is serious about playing guitar to get a teacher who cares about their student's improvement. I realize that there are a lot of good guitarists who are totally self-taught, but it's a lot easier to become good when one has a teacher to guide them. 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.
    Colohue
    Oujou wrote: Practice* It bugged me the ENTIRE time I was reading the article.
    Don't complain about your ancestry .
    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?
    I'm also having problems actually, but that's exactly what he told me he had. He wrote it down because I was having difficulty working out how to spell it...
    vash_08 wrote: Marijuana is not a drug. I used to suck dick for coke. Now that's an addiction. You ever suck some dick for marijuana?
    Gladly no. I've never been addicted to any drug. Also, http://www.talktofrank.com/drugs.aspx?id...
    ZeGuitarist
    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
    Kevhah
    hmmm that thing up there is not right anyway, you'll get my point...
    Kevhah
    quote]Pannenkoeken wrote: I disagree with a lot of this article. It is far from a bad article, but I think that there are some clear flaws that should be addressed. "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." This part of the article really bothered me. I have a teacher, and I practice what he tells me to practice (techniques, etc), but I also practice songs that I want to learn how to play. Having a teacher does not limit what I want to do; having a teacher helps me progress faster than I would without one. In addition, I could practice twenty hours per week, but if I'm developing bad habits in the process, my practice won't do shit for me. Alternatively, I could practice the same sang fifty times, but that does not mean that I will become a more proficient guitar player. So no, "The more you practise, the faster you will advance." is not accurate. It should say "The better and more focused your practice time is, the faster you will advance." I would like to make it very clear that I am not against being self-taught. Lots of poeple have financial issues or they just don't want to have a teacher, and that's fine. Hell, I'm mostly self-taught; it was just recently that I decided to get serious about improving and got a teacher. Having a teacher has helped me in too many ways to count, and I highly reccomend anyone who is serious about playing guitar to get a teacher who cares about their student's improvement. I realize that there are a lot of good guitarists who are totally self-taught, but it's a lot easier to become good when one has a teacher to guide them. 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.[/quote] totally agree...
    Colohue
    Okay. There's a fair chunk to handle here so let's see what I come up with.
    turtlewax wrote: could this be UG's next big column?
    I wouldn't go that far. It's just one article at the minute, give me a chance to build up a head of steam
    GrayFoxz wrote: but most of it would be something you can pull some grass, sit down and think for 5mins and figure it all out
    I mostly disagree with the '5mins' here. A lot of people develop bad habits and I'm hoping to prevent that, as well as keeping the focus on areas that it would be best to start on as early as possible.
    GrayFoxz wrote: and since u write disbelief stories...ure guides sound story-like, has that feel
    I can't help that unfortunately. I got told off for that in college a lot too.
    GrayFoxz wrote: with UG, i can safely say that you don't need lessons, as long as you use the correct lessons, at the correct moment.
    This is another thing I'm hoping to highlight by making references to other guides as I go.
    ZeGuitarist wrote: 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!
    I am hoping not to tread on your toes. I'm planning everything out quite carefully and, honestly, I have enough work to do without trying to do anything you've covered already. I'll be making plenty of reference, I pretty much need your support, so I'm very glad I have it. No competition here guys. The intro is mostly introductory here, so I'm sorry if it's not particularly gripping. I did go off the track a little, but I want you guys to be a little more aware of the column writer. Thanks for reading. I'm very grateful.
    vash_08
    followed by another finally admitting to a cannabis addiction
    Marijuana is not a drug. I used to suck dick for coke. Now that's an addiction. You ever suck some dick for marijuana? heh
    fnmpm
    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
    jasonmetal love
    Oujou wrote: Practice* It bugged me the ENTIRE time I was reading the article.
    Lol, that's Europe for you Anyways, great article Tom. Will keep reading.
    Oujou
    Practice* It bugged me the ENTIRE time I was reading the 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.
    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
    decayingdave
    You make some good points, and for a learner who's just got his first guitar, I found it very helpful to have an un-biast second opinion. As for the decision on whether to get a teacher... well, I made that choice five years ago and I lasted 1 week on guitar because of my useless teacher advising me little other than to play power chords. I was bored in a day and in a week I quit, and worst of all I then became a drummer in a band - But from my experience in a band and my natural sixth-sense for adapting to rhythm, I became a guitarist again just a few weeks ago and I have direction, I've achieved plenty (for a novice!) and my fingers hurt like hell... but I still practice 4 hours a day and I enjoy it. ...So as for the decision, I'd say if you know nothing about guitars and you've got no talent OR if you want to learn guitaring like a science, then get a teacher, otherwise I'd advise you at least rty and teach yourself.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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.
    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
    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.
    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.