Teaching yourself to play guitar is a challenge, there is no doubt about it.
Would it be easier with a guitar teacher? Maybe, but it would cost a small fortune to pay for the recommended 2 lessons per week.
If you've decided that you will learn go play guitar by yourself, here are 15 very useful tips you need to take to heart.
Tip 1: Sign up for QUALITY online lessons
Back in the day when I taught myself to play guitar (around the year 2000), the internet was not what it is nowadays.
All we had back then were guitar books, an occasional VHS instructional tape, and our ears.
Nowadays, online video guitar lessons are everywhere you look (or search). Some of them are great, some of them are bad.
You will be tempted to learn guitar for free using YouTube videos. While some of the lessons you can find on YouTube are great, there is an inherent problem with learning from YouTube.
You need a structured way of learning every guitar skill, where each lesson build on another.
YouTube cannot provide this.
Great sites that provide structured beginner guitar courses are:
Tip 2: Do not bounce in between videos & courses
You are about to hear something you won't read on many websites.
Learning to play guitar has it's difficulties, it is not an easy endeavor.
Newbie guitarists tend to skip over lessons that they find challenging, or even switch to a different course altogether.
This will not get you anywhere. At times, learning guitar is tough. But everybody goes through the learning process, it all gets easier with practice.
Don't skip the hard lessons. Keep at it, practice, and you'll get it sooner than later.
When you need to keep in mind that even the best players of the world were beginners at one time, struggling with the most basic techniques.
Do you think Slash could play a C major in the beginning? No, he couldn't.
Do you think BB King was born with the ability to play the blues scale? No, he wasn't.
They learned the way you can as well, with enough time and practice.
Tip 3: Learn to read tablature and guitar chord charts
Guitar tablature (tabs) is a godsend to beginner guitarists.
Tabs are an easier way to read music, created specifically for stringed instruments. They will make practicing anything much easier.
Also, learn to decipher those chord charts as well. They will help a lot when you learn new chords.
Learning to read proper music sheets with standard music notation will be important later on, but it can wait. You have enough on your hands as is.
Tip 4: Get at least 1 hour practice each day
If you ask me what the secret is to teaching yourself guitar, I would say, "Getting enough practice is the only secret".
The equation is simple.
If you practice enough, you will get better and better. If you don't practice enough, you will not get better.
Aim to practice at least one hour every day. More is better of course, less is not enough.
If you are an adult, you need to knowingly set that time aside each day.
How much do professionals practice?
I have an uncle who is a master of jazz guitar, probably the hardest genre of guitar music. He has been playing guitar for over 40 years. When I asked him how much he practices, I was astonished by his answer.
He practices around 3 hours every day, and more on weekends. Mind you, he does not make his living playing guitar. He is a university professor by day.
Of course, practicing the right things is also important, hence the next tip.
Tip 5: Practice the correct way
When you first start learning guitar, you need to follow the outline of the course you are learning from. Practice every technique you learn, especially the ones you find challenging at first.
As you get better and reach an intermediate level of playing, knowing what and how to practice becomes more difficult.
At an intermediate stage, you can already play a lot of songs, you may even be able to improvise on a few scales.
This is where a lot of people get stuck.
Because they just play what they know how to play, and nothing else.
To constantly advance your skills as a guitarist, you constantly need to learn and practice new things.
Here is how I break down a practice session, if I have 60 minutes to practice:
- 5 minute finger warm-up
- 25 minutes learning new things (licks, scales, techniques, etc.)
- 15 minutes perfecting things
- 15 minutes having fun playing the things I already know, jamming, etc.
Tip 6: Practice everything slowly at first
Learning to play things correctly is MUCH more important than trying to play fast.
After you learn the correct technique playing slow, speed will come naturally.
Concentrate on your fingers, make sure you are keeping proper posture, and be accurate with your plucks, chord changes, etc.
The more you practice, the more things will become second nature, and you will naturally be able to play things with speed.
Think of playing with speed as being a "bonus" gift you get for playing accurately.
Tip 7: Practice standing up as well
Practicing while sitting is more comfortable of course.
But if you plan on performing in front of others in the future, you need to practice standing up as well.
Playing while standing up is very different than playing while sitting down, trust me. Try it if you don't believe me.
Just make sure you have a good guitar strap and even a strap lock to keep the strap in place.
Tip 8: Do not neglect the harder techniques/chords
It is only natural for humans to try to steer towards the easiest path.
But with the guitar, this doesn't work. You need to learn the things that seem hard at first, all the while taking comfort from the fact that whatever seems hard now, will be super easy with enough practice.
As a beginner guitarist, these will be your main hurdles:
- chords that make your fingers stretch, like the C major
- changing between chords quickly
- playing barre chords
Pay attention to using the correct technique when you practice the things you find challenging.
Tip 9: Take care of your calluses
If you have already started teaching yourself guitar, you will have undoubtedly noticed that you fingertips can hurt like crazy.
This is because of the intense friction happening between the strings and your skin.
With enough practice, hardened skin will form on your fingertips, and practicing won't hurt anymore. These bits of hard skin are called calluses.
There are a few things you need to do to protect your calluses though, so that they can protect you:
- Try not to soak your hands much
- Completely dry your hands
- If your hands are soaked (after showers, swimming, etc.), do not play guitar. You could damage your hard earned calluses.
Tip 10: Learn songs right from the beginning
Why do people start learning guitar? To be able to play popular songs that they love.
Our downright motivation will differ of course, as some will want to play song to look cool in front of others, some just love music, etc.
But the fundamental reason you want to play guitar is to play songs.
There are thousands of very popular songs you can play even as a total guitar newbie. And I'm talking popular, main-stream songs, not Marry Had a Little Lamb.
Do a google search for "easy songs for electric guitar" or "easy songs for acoustic guitar", and you'll be presented with thousands of beginner-friendly options.
Learning to play songs is integral to keeping yourself motivated as you teach yourself the instrument.
Tip 11: Play along with backing tracks and the original songs
After you've learned a song, it's time to have some real fun. Play along with the track. The entire track, not just bits.
This will really improve your:
- dexterity (playing guitar constantly for several minutes at a time is harder than you would think)
- timing and rhythm
You can find the dedicated backing track to loads of songs. These backing tracks have the guitar taken out of the original track, so you can be the guitarist.
If you can't find a backing track, playing along with the original is just as fun.
Tip 12: Get a metronome. And use it.
Guitar players are notoriously bad at timing and keeping rhythm.
Take this test to find out how bad you are at keeping time.
One of the best ways to develop your sense of rhythm and timing is to practice with a metronome.
You can also use the metronome to challenge yourself. Start playing something at 65 BPM, than 70 BPM, than 75 BPM, and so on.
There are loads of metronome apps you will find for your Android or Apple smartphone.
Download one, and use it!
Tip 13: Stay inspired
You love music, thus you want to play guitar.
The type of music you love will probably be the type of music you'll want to play on your guitar as well.
There is an endless supply of music in all genres, consuming music is very important in staying enthusiastic about learning guitar.
Going to a concert where you see your favorite guitarist jam out is very inspiring. You will leave the concert venue eager to grab your guitar and play.
Listening to your favorite music will do the same.
Tip 14: Practice with others
If you have any friends who play instruments, get together with them. You can also find musicians who are looking to play with others on meetup.com, your local community center, or even your local guitar shop.
It'll be rough at first, but it really helps in developing your skills.
You will set goals on what to play the next time you meet, which is great motivation to practice a lot.
You will also learn a lot of things from other musicians, things you may not encounter otherwise.
Tip 15: Learn some guitar theory
My literature teacher in high school once told me that dissecting a poem takes away it's beauty, but regardless, we have to do it to know why it's beautiful. It took me 15 years to understand what he meant.
As a beginner, you do not need to concentrate on guitar theory, but it would serve you well to know the basics.
In the beginning, you just need to know why the chords in the song you're playing sound good when played together (chord progressions and keys), or why a given solo is played the way it is (scales).
With time, you will naturally develop an interest in guitar theory as well.
You don't learn about guitar theory just for the sake of knowing it. You do so because as you progress and become an established guitarist, you will want to start getting creative with music:
- come up with your own chord progressions
- improvise to a backing track in any given key
- know what to play when your musician friend says let's do a blues jam in A
Learning the guitar, really making it a part of who you are is a never ending journey.
Enjoy it, embrace it, and most of all, have fun with it every step of the way. Play everything you learn to your friends and family, and be proud of the fact that you could, indeed, teach yourself guitar.