Are you thinking about trying to learn to play guitar but don’t necessarily have the time or money to take lessons from an instructor?
I was in the same situation when I started learning guitar 20 years ago as a teenager. To answer the question, “how hard is it to learn to play guitar by yourself,” let me say this.
It’s extremely hard. It was for me. But here’s the great news (sort of). It’s STILL hard to learn to play guitar even if you have the best instructor in the world! Why? Because learning the guitar is hard. Period. But so is learning any new instrument, or any new skill for that matter.
At the end of the day it’s still you that has to physically learn to make your fingers play chords, scales, licks, riffs, etc. Is that bad news? I hope not. I hope you didn’t expect be be a virtuoso in a few month’s time.
Like Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own…”If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”
But I don’t think that’s the REAL question you’re asking are you? You know learning the guitar is going to be difficult no matter what approach you take. You know that learning any instrument is going to be hard work, both physically and mentally. Here are the questions I’m guessing that are really on your mind.
- Is it wise to tackle a new skill like playing the guitar without taking lessons in person?
- Is it reasonable to expect to learn to play at home, by yourself?
- What methods of instruction are available to me if I do choose to try to learn at home?
- Of the instruction available, which instructor should I use?
Let’s tackle each of those questions one at a time.
Is it Wise To Learn A New Skill Like Playing The Guitar Without Taking Lessons In Person?
I’m going to give you the answer everyone hates to hear.
First of all, I am assuming that you are going to be using some sort of instructional material, and not just picking up the instrument and fiddling around expecting to see any sort of significant results. If you are planning on doing that, that is definitely NOT a wise move.
With that being said, let’s proceed. There are too many factors in play here to make the determination if it is wise or not. You have to consider things like…
- Does the person teaching me know what they’re talking about?
- Do they know how to convey the knowledge to me in a way that will produce results for me?
- Does my teacher know how to play the kind of music I want to play?
- Are there alternatives to taking lessons in-person? (Spoiler alert. With the internet, yes of course).
- What will I be missing by the lack of in-person communication?
Here’s my story: I learned to play guitar at home, “by myself,” and my main source of instruction was an instructional VCR tape (remember those?) that included a book.
The guy on the tape was pretty good at explaining what I needed to know. He conveyed the knowledge to me as he demonstrated how to play the music in a clear and effective manner. I could see and hear him playing the music with my own eyes and ears, and it sounded good.
Those skills that the teacher on that tape was teaching me, helped me to form the foundation of my guitar skills that I still use to this day. (In case you were wondering he taught me to play the G, C, and D chords.)
To answer the question, “is it wise?” I’d say…it can be…if you follow some solid advice (which I will give you in this website).
As to there being alternatives to taking in-person lessons…of course there are! With the explosion of the internet, I might go as far as to say you’d be silly to NOT take advantage of the many alternatives to taking lessons in person.
There are a ton of people on YouTube that are brilliant guitar teachers, who do a great job of laying out the basics of what beginners should know. Here’s the only caveat.
Without one-on-one attention, you won’t get someone looking at you. Monitoring you. Noticing bad habits. Noticing good habits. Critiquing you. Correcting you. Helping you. Encouraging you.
Another thing you get from in person instruction is simply watching someone play the instrument properly right in front of you. That in itself, is an inspiring thing. In fact I might say that is the one thing you will miss out on the most by not taking in person lessons. So let me speak about that for a second.
I’ll issue a warning…if you are the type of person who gives up easily on extremely hard challenges. Don’t even invest in a guitar, don’t sign up for lessons, and it should go without saying, don’t try to learn guitar by yourself at home!
You need to have some “stick-to-it-ive-ness” in you if you ever expect to become a musician. Here are some examples of the challenges you’re going to be up against, whether you learn by yourself or not.
- Your fingers are going to hurt. Only at first though. When you learn proper technique it will be a breeze. When I first started playing, that first week my fingertips hurt so bad.
- Your going to sound like crap at first (it’s ok, everyone does). Can you deal with that ego blow?
- You’ll need to learn to read chord charts and put some effort into this.
- You may need to spend hours a day for many days in a row to learn the correct way to play something super simple.
- You’re simply going to get frustrated by the lack of perceived progress. It’s going to seem like you’ll NEVER get to where you want to be.
These are a few, but certainly not all of the challenges I faced when I started. You won’t have a “coach” if you decide to be “self-taught” and learn by yourself. Can you handle that? Or, do you need someone pushing you along?
Here’s the biggest question of all, and really the only one that matters.
How bad do you want it?
I wanted it so bad that I didn’t care about aches and pains in my fingers, hands, joints, etc.
Note: When you get better, and your technique improves, you won’t have any aches and pains. In fact, it will start to seem effortless.
But I wanted to be able to play that thing so bad, nothing was going to stop me. And it didn’t.
Here’s the bottom line on “is it wise?” If you want to play the thing bad enough, and play it well, a teacher may help you along in the beginning, but ultimately, it’s YOU that are the one teaching yourself anyway. Eventually the lesson is over and you go home with your instrument. It’s all on you then my friend!
If I decide to learn by myself at home, what methods of instruction are available to me?
With the explosion of “the internets” the doors have been opened to so many possibilities, including…
- Paid courses
- DVDs, and dare I say “tapes”
- Websites, like this fine one you’re on right now.
- Combinations of all of the above
Let’s start off with what you have available for free. We all like free don’t we? In general, I would agree with the statement “you get what you pay for,” but I must say, these days, many high quality guitar teachers have videos on YouTube that could easily provide all you need to get started.
One of the most popular recommendations for beginners is a guy named Justin Sandercoe. Here is his YouTube channel, and here is his website. I’ve watched many of this guy’s videos and he explains the concepts extremely well, and provides very good instruction. The guy has put up a TON of videos on YouTube, and they’re all free. Honestly, he’s probably better than many people you could find in person.
There are also tens, probably hundreds, of other guys/gals I could recommend on YouTube, but I’m going to save all that info for another article. There are also paid courses. Paid courses may provide you with better quality instruction, but they may not. Quite honestly, as a beginner, I’d save the paid courses for when you want to specialize in a certain type of style of music. At that point, you may need to invest in a paid course.
You WILL need a couple books, or at the very least, a printer so you can print out chord sheets, scale diagrams, “tabs,” chord/lyrics sheets for some beginner friendly songs, and sheet music if you want to learn how to read/play with standard notation.
If you’re willing to venture outside the realm of “by yourself” you can even take “virtual” online lessons from instructors over a streaming service like Skype.
I’ve never personally done this but I’ve read some stories of students getting some good results. There’s a couple guys I know of, that offer Skype lessons, that I’m interested in taking lessons from. I may very well do that in the future. You’d have to have the proper setup for it of course. By this I mean a good camera and a fast, reliable internet connection. And of course, these aren’t free.
Of the instruction available, who should I use to get started?
Here’s what I’d do if I were advising a brand new, aspiring, beginner guitarist today, who wanted to learn how to play from home and “self-teach.”
First, get an affordable guitar. Doesn’t have to be too fancy, but you want something decent. I’d probably advise against yard sale guitars. There’s usually a reason they’re being sold there.
I recommend getting an acoustic guitar for several reasons. Make sure you have some accessories like some picks and a strap if you want to eventually play standing up.
Get started watching the free videos at Justin Sandercoe’s website. This guy does a fantastic job of talking about the things you need to know as a beginner.
Follow his lesson plans. He lays it all out in a great digestible manner.
The one last word of advice I’ll throw in before I end the article is this. Only try to conquer one thing at a time.
Most likely in the beginning you’re going to be focusing on playing chords and probably a scale or two. Master one thing you’re trying to do before you take on something else. For instance, before you practice changing between two chords, make sure you know how to play the chords cleanly, and accurately, by themselves first.
Hopefully this article answered your question about how hard it is to learn to play the guitar at home by yourself vs the private lessons route. My short answer…learning the guitar isn’t going to be easy whether you have an instructor sitting right in front of you or not. Don’t let it discourage you from starting!