So you’ve bought that new guitar, or picked up an old one that you haven’t touched in ages. Maybe you want to shred in front of an audience, or maybe you just want to play for your friends around a campfire.
Either way, you’re going to have to go through the process of learning a new instrument.
Then, how hard is it to learn guitar? Can you really teach yourself, or do you need an in-person instructor? Read on to find out.
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The Several Ways Of Learning Guitar
It should come as no surprise that just like any other field of study, there are several ways to learn how to make your guitar work the way you want it to.
A lot of beginners dread the process of learning guitar, but a few tips and words of wisdom before you get started on your new journey can help make the entire process much smoother for you.
Some are free, some need you to pay, and some will require more time than others. But fret not! We’re here to give you a low-down of the pros and cons of every method out there, including the time and effort each one would require.
Online Lessons – Paid (Guitar Tricks)
Let’s begin with Guitar Tricks. Ask any guitarist out there, and they’ll ask you to get a teacher to help you learn the ropes. What Guitar Tricks tries to do is just that – they teach tablature and simple music notation.
Both of these are skills that in-person instructors would also begin with. They have specialized teachers to guide you through your lessons, and they are available for all skillsets.
However, they are a paid option – there is a choice to take a free trial with 12 instructors and 24 sample lessons, following which you’re going to have to pay $19.95 a month. For the price, though, they give you 45 teachers and more than 11000 lessons.
Think of it as a substitute to the in-person learning method, just with a little less being asked of your wallet. They provide a solid framework for absolute beginners to base their learning on, even though more intermediate or advanced players might not want to spend so much of their paycheck when great free resources are out there.
If you’re considering an online resource like Guitar Tricks yourself, here’s a useful video that reviews it in detail:
We recommend Guitar Tricks for folks who are looking to take up learning their instrument seriously, and have the budget to invest in it. Of course, the fact that it is online is an added benefit for people who find it hard to stick to regular in-person teaching schedules.
But if you’re looking to just learn chords and play a few fun songs, this may not be the best method for you. Guitar Tricks stands in between having an in-person teacher (which can turn out to be quite expensive) and the library of free resources on the Internet.
Online Lessons – Free Videos on YouTube
If you’re coming back to your acoustic, chances are you’ve tried this method before.
With YouTube channels like JustinGuitar and JamPlay out there providing free, detailed lessons to just about anybody who is willing to learn, it’s easy to wonder why you should bother paying to learn your instrument.
Free videos available online are often concise and to the point, but in doing so, sometimes they don’t go into much detail.
This method could be considered similar to having to teach yourself how to play, but a quick search will show you devoted websites and YouTube channels with a playlist to teach you everything you need to know from the ground up.
This offers a more structured means of learning, all while giving you the freedom to schedule your own learning time.
If you need a refresher for your memory and want to look up how to perfect that particular technique, free videos are perfect. They often don’t bother with intricacies and jump straight into what’s important, and have a wide variety of songs and techniques to pick from.
If you’re not an absolute beginner and don’t have the budget for an app or an instructor, online or otherwise, free videos usually work just fine. Keep in mind though, if you’re just starting out, you’ll require a little more individual attention – everyone’s guitar needs are different!
The disadvantage of free videos is the complete lack of personal attention. If you go wrong in any of your techniques, there’s no one to correct you.
And you may end up internalizing a bad habit that’ll stop you from playing correctly for years! I’ve been there, with a wrong picking technique that took me more than a year to fix.
An App (Ultimate Guitar, Yousician)
Looking to learn on the go but want a more interactive experience than what videos provide? An app is probably the solution you’re looking for. The market is full of apps that cater to players of every skill level, from Yousician (for beginners) to UltimateGuitar (for intermediate and advanced players).
Most apps usually offer a free trial session, after which you would have to pay to avail services; or else most services are kept behind a paywall. They offer a much more tech-savvy and intuitive alternative to learning from just online videos, and are really helpful in a pinch!
Apps will keep you accountable using a checkpoint system, and expect a certain amount of time devoted towards learning everyday.
Most of them will even let you go through the process of learning how to play using your favourite song, which makes the experience even more rewarding and engaging. They usually also have an inbuilt chromatic tuner, which comes in handy for intermediate learners.
Even though they promise immediate and fast results, the responsibility of learning rests on you, and if you have the budget and are short on time, we say go for it!
Beginners should keep in mind that most apps will not be in a position to check or comment on instrument ergonomics and proper fingering technique, which is a major con. So again, you should not internalize a wrong technique by using an app.
Music theory books are plenty and easy to find, and if you have the time and energy, you could test out the practicals of music theory on your guitar.
Of course, this would lead to a more in-depth and intricate understanding of what you could do with your instrument, and is not recommended if you are taking up playing as a fun hobby.
If you find a book promising to teach you guitar playing, chances are it might come with an audio CD. This could help you figure out what your instrument should sound like as you progress in your playing.
This is perfect for people with a lot of time to devote to their instrument, who are not very interested in interactive learning and prefer to go at their own pace.
The book, however, will most likely begin from the absolute foundations and include some information you might not need. If you think you want to get really familiar with your instrument but cannot schedule classes, this is the method for you.
Of course, this would require you to keep yourself in check and create a daily habit of your own. It’s perhaps the most self-involved process there is.
An In-Person Teacher
Inarguably, the best method to learn any instrument is with the help of a person willing to guide you.
It is the most interactive method, and offers you the choice of having a learning curve specifically suited to your experience and skill set. If you’re serious about learning and want to block out a certain part of your day for your guitar, there is no better method.
A teacher could help you with learning proper posture and ergonomics and guide you through the entire process – both of which are hard to find in any other method, and which will save you a lot of pain, metaphorically and figuratively!
Working with your teacher could help you understand what you should be spending more time on, and help you hone your ear.
There are certain very minuscule details, like correcting that very irritating fret buzz or understanding how to get the best sound without sacrificing finger dexterity, that only your teacher will be able to help you figure out.
This may be a bit more expensive than all the other learning methods, but if you know what you want and are willing to spend time and money towards your instrument, this is the best method.
This is definitely not needed if you’re looking forward to playing for small jam sessions, but if you want to get into the industry and use your guitar to help you do that, this is what you should be looking for.
Besides, you know who you can count on if you need to learn what your electric guitar pedals do when you can’t get that tone in your head!
How Fast Can A Beginner Learn Guitar? Will It Take Long?
As any teacher would tell you, not every beginner is the same. Everyone begins with different levels of knowledge about their guitar, and everyone has separate levels of motivation and discipline when it comes to learning.
If you know what you want out of the lesson, which is the single most important thing you should know before you begin learning, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.
If you want to sing along to simple chords, it won’t take you as long as someone wanting to play blues licks! This video should clear that up a little more:
The time that you’re going to be able to devote towards daily lessons and practice will not be the same for everyone. As may be obvious, if you spend more time learning, you will be able to play your guitar much earlier than others.
However, you also have to remember that certain types of techniques (like hammer-ons, pull-offs, bending, etc.) will take more time to master than other, simpler techniques.
Even in chords, a barre chord is a more advanced technique than an open chord. So even if you’re looking forward to playing around a campfire, keep time in your calendar to factor in learning those pesky barre chords – they’re needed in more songs than you think!
The method also plays a big role in how much time you’ll need to learn. If you try to learn from a book, chances are it will be the method that will take you the longest.
Having a learning method that keeps you on track, like a teacher, an app or even an interactive online lesson, will help you make it to your lessons on time, and not miss homework.
Speaking of homework, learning the guitar requires a lot of homework and practice. Along with remembering tablature and chord patterns, you will need to practice simple finger exercises and dexterity exercises.
These aren’t quite as necessary as learning the actual music, but they do go a long way in helping you keep playing at your best for a long time.
To sum this section up, the amount of time you’ll be spending learning to play guitar will depend mostly on how much time you’re willing to invest in learning, what you intend to learn, and whether the method you’re using to learn it is efficient enough to help you get there within the time frame you have in mind.
So if you expect to learn to play the solo to November Rain as fast as you learned to play the intro to Hotel California – you’re going to have to lower your expectations a little.
And try not to skimp on fingering and dexterity exercises if you can. If you’re really serious about learning to play, these will come in handy before you know it, and the time spent practicing will definitely not go to waste.
Can I Teach Myself Guitar? How Hard is That?
Teaching yourself guitar is certainly not unheard of and you definitely can be your best teacher. But be warned – this will take way more time and dedication, as well as a lot of research on your end.
Once again, this is where what technique you want to learn comes in and plays a major role. The resources you will need to seek out will be vastly different, and so will the amount of time you will have to spend grinding.
If you have a basic knowledge of music theory, this will help you progress smoothly and more efficiently, but having people write down tablature in a little notebook is something that we have also seen.
Music theory isn’t necessary if you want to learn, but it does provide a good foundation to base your new knowledge on.
The Internet is rife with resources willing to help you out no matter what it is you want to do. There are chords available for just about any song you want to learn, as well as tabs for rhythm, lead, bass and just about any other electric guitar-based track that you want to pick up.
If you want to learn on a song-to-song basis so you can show off your new guitar skills to your friends, you’ll need to spend time honing the song you learned.
This will include having to learn and get the feel of changing chords, as well as learning to play on time with tabs. This is where your personal drive will determine how easy or difficult you find the process, and how much time it takes you.
If you’re willing to go through the daily routine of practicing your fingering and dexterity, practice exercise charts are also out there. This video will help you figure out good finger exercises for you:
If you’re looking to minimise the amount of time you spend having to figure out which finger goes where and how to pluck the strings or strum best to suit the rhythm and timing of the song, these guides will be your best friend.
A little bit of extra time spent practicing early on will pay off massive benefits later when you need to learn a tab in a pinch, or pick up a strumming pattern by ear.
If you know a friend who can play the guitar at an advanced level, consider taking their advice, or reaching out to them when you’re stuck!
They could guide you through how to hold the guitar best so as to avoid neck strain, and even give you tips and tricks on how to recover fast from sore fingers.
These are small details that are difficult to remember when you’re trying to nail a song, and which only come into play once you’ve spent a significant amount of time with your instrument.
Consider learning the absolute basics from a teacher or online instructor. If you’re a complete beginner, learning how to navigate your instrument can be difficult.
Someone who is well-versed could help you overcome those early speedbumps faster and with more ease, so you can set your sights on your long-term goals with your guitar.
Consider learning songs you really want to play right at the beginning. If you go ahead with an idea about what songs you should be able to play at a certain checkpoint in your guitar learning journey, you might just end up frustrating yourself and abandoning the exercise entirely.
Focus on songs you love and want to be able to sing along or play along with. When you know how the song already goes, it is easier to recognise when you’re making mistakes, and tweak little intricacies that might not be audible to you for a new track.
Hold yourself accountable. One of the most difficult things to do when you’re teaching yourself guitar is to keep up a steady schedule and stick to it.
Keep your goals grounded, and know what you want to accomplish or practice on a day-to-day basis. Considering how you will not have an app or instructor to do the same for you, you might just have to give yourself a little nudge in the right direction from time to time.
Invest in guitar tools that make the job easier, like a chromatic tuner or a capo. There is nothing better than being able to tune your guitar by ear, but when you’re starting out on your journey, this could lead to mishaps like broken strings.
A chromatic tuner will help you keep your guitar in tune, and prevent frequent visits to the shop for a string change. With time, you’ll learn to recognise when your guitar is out of tune, and know how to fix it!
A capo is a tool that is often used even in the studio, and can help you out during the early stages of learning how to play barre chords or power chords, as well as keeping pesky open strings muted.
Using a capo when you first start learning a song using these techniques will help you understand what the finished product should sound like, and help you move towards that goal slowly and steadily!
Most importantly, remember to have fun. The fact that you’ve set out on the daunting task of teaching yourself how to play a whole new instrument deserves enough praise on its own – but don’t forget why you started in the first place.
Learning the ins and outs of your instrument by yourself is a wonderful experience. Do not let expectations of how you should be able to play by a certain time period take away from the magic of learning by yourself!
How Easy Is It To Learn Guitar? Final Thoughts
Learning how to play the guitar is going to be difficult in the early stages, but the payoff is always worth the time and effort put in.
Getting comfortable with your guitar and knowing how to navigate the instrument is a process that takes years, but begins with the simple will to learn.
Before you know it, once you’ve started and dedicated those first few months to really get to know your stuff, you’ll be ready to rock out in front of an audience of friends and family, or even adoring fans!