There has never been a better time to learn guitar by yourself. As long as you have the time and the patience to get better, you can open up yourself to a new world of musical possibilities.
Learning any new skill can be a little intimidating though. Where do you start? The following is a list of few ideas that can help you begin your guitar learning journey.
Want to learn more about music theory?
Check out our ultimate guide to music theory to find more jumping off points.
How to Pick a Guitar
If you haven’t already chosen a guitar, this process can seem overwhelming, especially given how many different types of guitar there are. Many people start out with a nylon string classical guitar even though they have no interest in classical music. Teachers recommend this guitar for a number of reasons.
Nylon strings are easier on the fingers so new players don’t have to worry about pain or calluses when playing. Classical guitars also tend to have strings that are spaced more widely apart. This makes strumming and picking individual strings easier. Finally, classical guitars are acoustic so this helps new students avoid having to go through the process of also choosing the right amplifier.
All of these are decent arguments for buying a classical guitar first, but ultimately, the best choice is the guitar that is best suited to the type of music you want to play.
Different guitars are better for different types of music. Here are a few guitar styles and the music they are most commonly used with:
- Classical guitar – Classical, Jazz, Flamenco
- Solid body electric guitar – Rock, Jazz, Funk, Anything
- Hollow body electric guitar – Common in jazz and rock
- Steel string acoustic – Folk, Rock
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but is meant to be a guide to those less familiar with the guitar who are looking for a jumping off point.
And of course once you choose a guitar from one of these categories there are a lot more variations, from types of pickups to types of strings, materials that the body and fretboard are made out of, you name it.
Don’t get too hung up on all that information. Just choose a guitar that feels good when you play it so that you can get to work practicing. It is definitely worth it to play the guitar in person before buying it, too. You don’t want a package to arrive on your doorstep with a guitar that is a pain to play, because the odds are that you won’t play it.
Another thing to consider is price. Some new students believe that spending a lot of money on a high quality guitar will mean that it is easier to play or that it will make them better. This is not true. These days it is easy to find very well-made guitars that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Whatever guitar you choose, you will get to know it very well if you practice every day. You will get to know its strengths and its imperfections, and you will probably find yourself appreciating both. So don’t worry too much about springing for a Strat or an SG that costs more than a month’s rent. Stick with a guitar that’s comfortably within your budget and make sure this is the right hobby for you before springing for the gear on your wishlist.
Learn Guitar Online for Free
The good news is, if you’re reading this, you’ve got an internet connection already. Congratulations, you just got accepted into the best guitar academy in the history of the world.
That’s because there are thousands of people teaching guitar and providing the best online guitar lessons, tablature, sheet music, and video content all day, every day. A lot of this great guitar content is completely free. High-priced music schools like Berklee, which boasts alumni like John Mayer and Steve Vai, are even offering free resources for musicians who are interested. There are also dozens of apps that will help you with every aspect of learning the guitar.
It has never been a better time to teach yourself guitar, but you have to choose from these educational resources wisely. Before going with a particular instructor or video series, scope them out online and in the comments section to be sure that what they’re providing is quality.
Even though you may not be investing any money, you will be investing a good deal of time in learning to improve your technique, so it’s best to consider the pros and cons of a resource before committing to it. There are resources for every type of learner under the sun, so keep in mind that if one method isn’t working it’s good to switch it up.
You could easily teach yourself guitar with any of these resources:
- Sheet Music
- Blog Posts
Also realize the specific challenges you are up against and act accordingly. If your goal is to read music, you probably won’t be reading your favorite pieces any time soon. You might have to start with “Hot Cross Buns” and go from there. If you can’t find any basic resources that you enjoy, at least try to make that portion of the learning enjoyable by playing exercises with musicality.
Another great way to find encouragement is to share what you’re learning with others. Sometimes we can get valuable encouragement from friends and family that will keep us going. You can also record a video of yourself playing and share that on YouTube.
The first thing is to find a community that you can trust. There are a lot of good communities on Reddit, and of course you can always check in here for recommendations and information.
Learn chords on guitar
As guitarists, we have to be versatile. We need to get comfortable with chords and notes, as well as playing the lead and rhythm (and sometimes both simultaneously) in an ensemble. That’s why it’s important to learn chord shapes early on.
You don’t have to be a chord expert right away, and you don’t need to learn obscure chords (unless you want to). But a familiarity with basic chord shapes like the G chord, A minor chord and C chord can take you pretty far with the instrument. Once you have those basic shapes down, you can practice running chords up the neck to hear how the sound changes.
After a while, you’ll probably get bored with the same old chords. Many guitarists before you have felt the same exact way. When that happens, it’s good to check out some chord inversions on guitar. A chord inversion is basically just switching the order of the notes that are played in a chord. So, for instance, if you’re playing a G chord with the notes G-C-E, you can invert it so you’re playing C-E-G.
This is the same chord with the same musical notes, it’s just that the lowest note is changed to a C instead of a G. There are many different variations on chords depending on where you play them on the neck, which inversion you use, and whether or not you use open strings.
Add in different string tunings and you’ve got a lot to choose from. Suddenly you’ll realize that there’s a lot to learn! But don’t get overwhelmed. The important thing is that you understand the concept and can get familiar with a few basic inversions.
Why should you learn chord inversions for guitar? Inversions are great because they change up the sound. Inverted chords can sound brighter and warmer or duller and darker. You might choose to use a specific inversion to accent a chord, whereas other times it might be better to make a duller choice since music that is bright all the time loses its luster.
Here are some other basic concepts to learn when you are learning chords on guitar:
- Picking techniques (tremolo, flat-picking, alternate picking, etc.)
- Chord changes
These are all valuable ways to improve your chops when playing chords. As with everything else in teaching yourself guitar, you should let your goals dictate which of these concepts you want to learn and how you go about learning them. Fingerstyle tends to be more popular in folk music styles, while flat-picking is more of a bluegrass technique. Whichever sounds better to you.
The last thing anyone wants to do is learn boring exercises out of a dusty old workbook. The sooner you can bring the concepts you are learning into the real world, the better.
Learn Music Theory on Guitar
Basic music theory can be very useful to a guitarist of any level. Learn what the notes of a scale mean and the difference between a minor and a major third in a song. Maybe take some time to familiarize yourself with the circle of fifths and understand what octaves are and what they sound like. The time spent learning about these basic foundations of western music theory will be well worth it, as you will find those ideas cropping up in virtually every song you listen to.
We’re not recommending you go down a rabbit hole and learn about detailed things like the difference between a melodic and harmonic minor scale, but a basic knowledge of music theory can take you far.
Here is a list of some basic music theory you can learn on guitar:
- Minor vs. major chords on guitar
- The circle of fifths
- Basics of harmony
- Basics of rhythm
- Basics of melody
You don’t have to crack open a textbook to learn any of this. It’s best to acquire this knowledge in small chunks and in practical ways. You can learn a particular song that has a minor/major switch, or practice your favorite solo with a metronome to get an understanding of different rhythmic note values.
How to learn guitar fast
Any teacher will tell you that you can’t rush the learning process. If you’re expecting lightning-fast results as you teach yourself guitar you are in for a big surprise. That being said, there are a few things you can do to make the process go smoother.
It probably goes without saying, but the more you enjoy doing something, the quicker you’ll pick it up. We humans tend not to enjoy doing things we fail at constantly. With that in mind, the best starting point to teaching yourself guitar quickly is to find material you love.
A lot of people start out by learning their favorite song. This is a great place to start.
The only problem is that when you’re new at guitar, it’s hard to know what is a difficult song to play and what is easy. At the beginning everything seems difficult, because everything is difficult! But don’t worry.
Here are a list of easy songs to learn on guitar:
- Nirvana – Come As You Are
- Green Day – Basket Case
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Free Fallin’
- The Beatles – Here Comes the Sun
- Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
Of course, learning guitar by yourself will not always be fun and games. It takes a lot of hard work and determination. But by choosing the right material to start on, you can set yourself up for success.
One of the major benefits to having a teacher is that you have someone who is dedicated to your development. A guitar teacher has experience with lots of different students with lots of different learning types. He or she can guide you in directions you might not readily recognize. But if you’re not ready to make the investment in a guitar teacher, you’ll have to look out for yourself as you learn guitar. This is not always easy, but you can do yourself a big favor by establishing some goals up front.
What do you want to do with guitar? Where do you hope it will lead you? Figuring that out is a helpful way to find resources that guide you in the right direction.
Final Thoughts on How To Learn Guitar By Yourself
Teaching yourself something is never easy. But you’re not alone. There are tons of people out there who are also teaching themselves guitar. When in doubt, you can reach out and post questions on a message board and receive quick feedback and guidance. Good luck on your journey and make sure to check back in here for great recommendations on gear and accessories.