Guitar is an extremely fun instrument. I taught myself to play when I was around 12 or 13, and have kept it as a second instrument ever since.
While I definitely put more work into keyboards, I have a special love for guitar. There is nothing like the feeling of an acoustic guitar resonating against your body as you play it. It’s very satisfying.
I ended up teaching guitar to beginner students for a couple years, which taught me a lot about the pitfalls that cause beginning students to quit.
Guitar is one of the easier instruments to teach yourself.
But if you start working on the wrong things, you’ll end up quitting out of frustration.
Going to a good guitar teacher is a great way to keep yourself interested and get a head start on the guitar.
At the same time, with the advent of YouTube and guitar lesson sites like TrueFire (amongst many, many others) there are many ways to teach yourself.
In this guide, I’ll go over the best way to teach yourself guitar – ensuring you keep at it and have fun the whole time. Rememebr though, you can shortcut your success by learning via online guitar lessons.
Teaching Yourself Guitar, How To Get Started
A lot of people start with the assumption that learning to play guitar is hard. It’s not hard. Playing your favorite songs on guitar will take a couple weeks of regular practice. That’s it!
Becoming a truly good guitar player is hard. Being good at anything is hard. You’ll quickly realize that the more you learn about playing guitar, the more you’ll have left to learn and appreciate in the playing of the greats.
But you’re not trying to become the next John Mayer. You just want to play and sing your favorite songs. Here’s how to get started.
Learn How To Play Simple Chords & Strum
The first thing you should do when learning guitar is practice chords.
Start with the usual suspects: C, G, D, Am, and Em.
These chords use lots of open strings, and you can play literally dozens of songs with them.
The best way to get your fingers around a chord is by learning an actual song.
Learning just the standalone chord is much less exciting than learning a group of chords, so that you can eventually play a song.
Pick something straightforward like early Taylor Swift or some folky Bob Dylan. Most of these songs will be based around G and C, and are very fun to play.
Work at getting the chords to sound clean.
When you start, your chords will be squeaky and buzzy. This is just a technical issue.
You need to work up the strength and dexterity in your fingers in to play chords cleanly. You must also arch your fingers over the strings so they aren’t accidentally muting the strings, causing buzz.
This comes with practice, but it also comes with patience. You need to be patient with yourself when your chords buzz. Just take your time, figure out which finger is causing the buzz, and fix it.
Then, work on strumming the correct strumming pattern for the song.
This requires a lot of listening. Listen carefully to the strumming patterns and imitate them.
If you are having trouble, looking up a good YouTube cover of the song, and watch the guitar player. Note the up and down strokes, and then imitate that.
Here are some great songs to learn with your chords:
- “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Bob Dylan
- “Breathe” – Taylor Swift
- “22” – Taylor Swift
- “Sweet Caroline” – Neil Diamond
- “Leaving on a Jet Plane” – John Denver
Learn To Play Some Fun Riffs
Strumming chords is a super satisfying way to learn guitar, because you can quickly learn to play several songs.
That said, some guitar players are more excited to learn riffs and licks – basically, they want to play lead guitar.
When I was teaching lessons, I would usually try to suss out what the student was excited about, and create goals around that.
So, if you are starting on an electric guitar and are excited about learning to play lead, here’s what you should do.
Start with “Day Tripper” by The Beatles. Look up the tab on Ultimate Guitar.
“Day Tripper” is all single notes, uses lots of open strings, and stays below the 5th fret. It’s also instantly recognizable and isn’t at a super quick tempo. For this reason, it’s a great first song to learn.
Make sure you are playing all of the notes cleanly without much buzzing. Work at it slowly at first, and build towards playing along with the song.
Also, note the tone on the album version. Work with your amp and whatever basic gear you have to make your guitar sound more like The Beatles guitar.
Much of what is inspiring and beautiful about someone’s guitar playing is the tone. Developing an ear for good tone early will be hugely useful later on.
Other great guitar riffs to learn are:
- “Seven Nation Army” – The White Stripes
- “Sunshine of Your Love” – Cream
- “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones
- “Redemption Song” – Bob Marley
Consistency Is Key When Teaching Yourself Guitar
If you’ve started learning guitar by picking one of the two above places to start, you should be having fun already!
That said, it’s still challenging when you start out. Most beginners quit within the first month, because that’s how long it takes to get over the beginner’s learning curve.
The key is not necessarily quantity of practice, it’s consistency of practice.
When you start learning guitar, you should be playing 20 to 30 minutes/day, at least five days per week.
Again, when you’re starting out, you should be playing songs you like that are easy to get your fingers around. It should be fun, relaxing, and challenging at the same time.
To make consistency easier, try following these tips:
Put Your Guitar Somewhere Accessible
It’s easy to go on Instagram or check Twitter. Your phone is in your pocket, it’s right there.
It should be just as easy to pick up and practice guitar.
Where do you spend the most time in your house or apartment? Wherever that is, it’s where your guitar should be. Just leave it sitting there, and I guarantee you’ll be more likely to pick it up.
Make A List Of Songs You Want To Learn
You can’t stop learning new songs when you’ve mastered one! Before you even get started, make a big list of songs you want to learn to play.
That way, when you’ve mastered one song, you can easily pick a new one and start learning it.
Take An Online Course Or Private Lessons
Nothing forces consistency like paying for your growth.
If you’re looking at online courses, pick one that is about 20 to 30 minutes long, is aesthetically pleasing, and easy to access.
You should be able to sit down, press play, and learn/practice for 20 minutes very easily.
If you’re hiring a private instructor, go for weekly lessons. Just take 30 minute lessons and make sure you’re well prepared for each lesson.
This forces accountability and regular practice.
Find A Practice Partner
For thousands of years, humans have made music together.
Making music is interesting, because much of the practice we do is in solitude, but most of us ultimately want to end up playing with other people.
Find a friend who is also learning guitar (they can be slightly better or slightly worse than you, but if the learning curve is too steep, it’s less fun) and start jamming.
Pick songs to learn every week or two, get together, and play. Make your own arrangements of the songs, sing them, make harmonies, and have fun. It’s literally one of the most fun things you can do.
Film Yourself Playing, Or Try Performing At An Open Mic
I believe that music is meant to be shared. I think it’s an important part of the creative process.
Knowing that you’re going to show your music to other people is a great motivator. It gets your practicing and perfecting the little things that you otherwise might let slide.
If you’re not sure where to play live or aren’t comfortable playing live, try releasing a video of a cover song. Even if it’s just a little clip.
Filming yourself playing is not just a satisfying way of releasing your progress, it’s also a great way to improve.
When you watch yourself play, you’ll quickly find out where you need to improve.
Finding open mics is pretty easy, tons of bars host them on Mondays and Tuesdays to bring people in.
Go up and play one or two songs you’ve been working on. Be friendly and meet other people who have a passion for music. It’s a great way to get out into the world and make new friends.
What Is The Best Way To Teach Yourself Guitar, Conclusion
The most important thing to do when you’re learning guitar is simply to not get discouraged.
Anything worth learning is going to be challenging. Figure out what parts of guitar playing you love, and focus on that first. Focus on your strengths, and before you know it, you’ll be playing guitar way better than you thought you could.
Over time, you’ll start to pick up on things that need improving, and you’ll start improving them.
Above all else, keep it fun. Whatever makes playing music fun for you is what you should do.
If that means playing in a band, releasing cover videos, playing open mics, or writing your own songs – great. Do it.
Music is supposed to be fun!