Every once in a while I will have a friend or an acquaintance ask me if I can teach them to play guitar. My first instinct is to say no. Not because I am a jerk or I don’t want to teach them, I think about how committed this person truly is to playing the guitar.
Most people say that want to play but how committed they are to actually doing it is something entirely different.
Don’t get me wrong I have seen many, many self-taught guitar players in my time. Some of them are actually really good while most of them have far too many inconsistencies in their playing, bad habits that have created that can never be re-learned.
I used to teach guitar 6 days a week for many years and today I will dispel some myths about whether you can teach yourself guitar.
What is Your Level of Commitment? – Some Basic Chords
If you are in fact going to learn to play guitar yourself the first question I would ask you is this; what is it that you are trying to accomplish? If you are just trying to learn a few chords to play around the camp fire, then I say go for it!
One of the many things I love about playing is the portability factor. I can take my guitar literally anywhere and play until my finders fall off. And there’s nothing better than having a group of your friends sit around and sing along with your favorite songs!
If that’s the case, then here are some basic chords you need to learn to be able to play almost any song:
G, C, D – the three magical chords. They are some of the easiest chords to play and you can literally play almost 50 songs alone. When you play these chords backwards (D, C, G) you will hear almost every Cult song ever recorded, with noted mentions to Sweet Home Alabama!
C, Am, F, G – most famous for that 50s sound this will help you learn those golden oldies
E, A, D – Buddy Holly made his entire career out of these 3 chords, today you can hear these chords in Rockin in the USA and What I like About You
One other chord worth mentioning is the Em, you can throw this into the G, C, D (or the D, C, G mix!) and have yourself a blast writing your own tunes!
I Just Learned to Change My Oil, Am I a Mechanic?
Now I could be a little dramatic here but the truth is, it is a little presumptuous to believe that you can teach yourself to play guitar, if you don’t even know how to play already.
Yes you can pretty much learn anything on YouTube, but just because I can replace the bathroom fan doesn’t mean I am a trades’ person now does it?
Playing the guitar is awesome, but it took me many years to get to the level that I am at today, if I had access to the same technology today this might have changed the learning curve a bit. In fact, in my older years I have begun to get a little lazy and have someone else teaches me the song I need to learn for rehearsal, I get that.
However, nothing can replace a good solid guitar teacher. Someone you see once a week at the same time to learn to master the nuances that you won’t get from your YouTube hero’s. And I have seen many of these videos, most of them are OK, some are really good, and every once in long while I will see someone that truly impresses me.
The point is, a YouTube video is only going to get you so far. You need a professional to correct your mistakes and learn how to play guitar properly. You need a feedback loop of sorts, someone to help guide you as you fumble through some tough finger exercises.
Or someone to guide you in your first guitar licks on your way to becoming the next Eddie Van Halen.
You need someone who will instill the right way of playing chords, of proper fingering, or how to hold the darn thing correctly.
There’s a female vocalist that I jam with once in a while whose self-taught and every time we get together, I notice how she plays a D chord.
It’s all wrong and it drives me nuts!
Not because it doesn’t sound good, but with her fingers in the wrong location she is unable to take advantage of the Dsus2 and Dsus4 chords that makes that chord so much fun to play!
She has picked up a bad habit that would have been avoided if she took actual guitar lessons.
Guitar Teachers Hold you Accountable
Unless you’re a drill sergeant or have natural disciplinary tendencies, are you really going to be able to hold yourself accountable?
Seriously, how many times have we let ourselves off the hook for the many excuses we have when we are unmotivated.
Guitar takes time to practice and master and knowing that you have a guitar class tomorrow creates a “I don’t want to look bad” feeling that is enough to put aside an hour of Big Bang Theory to get some practice in! (besides you can pretty much PVR anything these days!)
Guitar teachers keep you accountable and this is what you need to progressively get better. I took guitar lesson from age 7 – 16.
I remember my last guitar teacher very well. When I was about 14 our 1st guitar lessons didn’t involve any play.
He sat me down and asked me some hard questions.
“How long have been playing?” he’d ask, “7 years I guess…” I bostly replied.
“Oh ya? How many songs do you know? I mean know, from beginning to end? Do you know the guitar solos? Can you solo? Can you improvise a guitar solo?”
Honestly at that time I knew a half dozen, half songs…and didn’t know ANYTHING about guitar solos!
This teacher changed the way I played and changed the way I thought about my guitar playing. I was humbled because at that point I thought I was pretty darn good!
For the next several years we dove into music theory that I had no idea existed. He taught me how to learn songs using the circle of 5ths, taught me how to play the entire guitar solo to Hotel California (which reminds me, I need to learn that one again!)
It changed everything and without that Guitar teacher, not sure where I would be in my guitar playing abilities…
Who’s Going to Point Out Where the Notes Are?
Along with the feedback you need a professional guitar teacher to show you how to play the right way. Later you can change the rules. You can still check out YouTube for some additional lessons, but the biggest and I mean biggest issues I see with self-taught guitar players, is the lack of musical knowledge.
It’s interesting isn’t it?
A musician who doesn’t know music? And there is a ton of them out there! Famous ones.
When I see a guitar player almost instantly, I can tell you what key there are playing in, what chords they are playing and why they are using the scales they are using.
And I never went to any fancy jazz school. I took normal guitar lessons, from age 7 until I was 16 (maybe 17).
I learned how to read music, I learned the notes on my guitar, I learned what makes a major scale a scale. Most people seem to think you need piano lesson’s to learn this stuff, but you don’t. With the right teacher you can learn all the musical theory on the guitar you need.
And believe me, learning and more importantly remembering, new songs is so much easier when you understand the music theory behind it.
It kind of goes without saying but I am saying it anyway.
How Often Should I Practice?
How good do you want to get? Practicing every day is going to get your there much faster than practicing once a week. Guitar playing is an exercise in finger dexterity and what I like to call the hand / ear co-ordination.
Hand / Ear co-ordination?
Yes its something that all great solo improvisations have trained themselves for without knowing it.
I can think of a guitar solo and know exactly what its going to sound like before I play it because I have played the same riff so many times, I can hear it in my sleep.
It’s the same with knowing the chords. When you have played G, C, D so many times, you know what its going to sound like. Your intention is there, you are not guessing at what its supposed to sound like you just know.
And when the guitar is out of tune, you are going to know right away to!
that’s Hand Ear co-ordination!
Practice as often as you need to make it a habit. And I would recommend, at the beginning you play 80% of what you know and 20 of what you don’t know.
After a year or two, you can switch that to 50% – 50%.
If You Are Going To Learn, Do it Right!
Can you teach yourself guitar? Sure you can but if you really want to master the guitar then you need proper guitar lessons. And if you are brave enough I would recommend joining a 1-hour class.
This alone can increase your playing 10 fold. You are now in competition with other players and if you don’t get it right, you don’t want to be that guy that can’t keep up!
If you agree or disagree, please leave comments below, thanks!