The guitar is definitely one of the instruments that most fascinates and attracts music amateurs - due, generally, to both its cool and its ubiquity.

At first, it seems easy to learn how to play the guitar. And damn right. You have the basic chords down, you can play songs that go down well with a little audience, and you've even tried some fancy guitar tricks.

Your fingers are itching, you want to play your idol’s solos, whether to impress your girlfriend or simply for your own enjoyment.

Except that you’ve never learned guitar before formally and you don’t know how to do it: do you need to get a guitar lesson or two? Or can you learn the guitar yourself with a book, a guitar course, a DVD, or with free guitar lessons near me? Or else seek help from a friend, who might show you a few guitar basics?

In this article we'll try to answer some of these questions - and show the beginner guitar enthusiast that they too can learn how to play guitar beautifully and impressively.

But, honestly, there ain't no 'best guitar method' for you to learn the fretboard, guitar chords, and all those songs to learn. Sorry, that's a lie. The only guaranteed method is practice, practice, and more guitar practice.

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The Desire to Play Guitar is the Only Motivation Needed to Learn

Before learning how to play the guitar, it is essential to be in a good state of mind: not only the desire to play, but above all being prepared to learn, because practicing guitar, like any musical instrument, requires hours of learning and with that all of the highs and lows, its moments of joy and its difficulties.

Nonetheless, fun remains an important vehicle: if there is no joy in playing the guitar, there is no reason to continue. It’s only by being enthusiastic, passionate, and invested in the learning process that you will progress and play those classic blues guitar or rock guitar songs.

Honestly, what's even the point otherwise? If you can't sit for hours enjoying practising your barre chords or power chords, why are you even bothering? If you don't enjoy learning new guitar licks or guitar songs, what are you doing it for? If you don't care to learn fingerpicking or the pentatonic, why are you even here on this page?

Why Do You Want to Learn Guitar?

That is the first question you must ask yourself before learning how to play the guitar. Before taking guitar lessons or watching tutorials and other videos on the Internet, ask yourself one sole question to save time: Why do you want to learn to play guitar?

  • Is it to play Bach on a classical guitar?
  • Do you want to learn to play chords, rhythm guitar, and fingerstyle to accompany your singing?
  • Do you want to learn to play your favorite songs and play the amazing guitar solos and guitar music by your favorite star (Slash for example)?
  • Become a guitar virtuoso and strum at full speed on the neck like Satriani?
  • Play folk music to have a nice time with your friends?

In answering these questions, you will determine the musical style you want to learn. Depending on your tastes and your likes, you have the choice of rockabilly, grunge, or punk, but also traditional blues, rock blues, electric blues, gypsy jazz, pop, country, reggae, free jazz guitar, etc.

Once this first essential question has been answered - and you have considered the option of beginner guitar lessons  online - you can move on to serious matters: learning how to play the guitar.

A Few Additional Questions Before You Start to Learn

How Do I Choose my First Guitar?

To learn to play the guitar, you have 3 main options in terms of the instrument: classical guitar, folk guitar, or electric guitar (there are other guitars, but we will focus on these three in this article).

The classical guitar is an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, which are good for beginners who experience finger pain. The other advantage of the acoustic guitar is that it is easily transportable, without needing an electrical hook-up. A guitar like the Yamaha C40 A is ideal for a beginner.

The folk guitar looks like an acoustic guitar except that it has metal strings. It allows you to play different musical styles, including rock, folk, blues, country, jazz, or pop. Why not try the Cort Earth Acoustic model?

Finally, the electric guitar: it needs to be plugged in to an amplifier to be played. Equipped with metal chords, you can play all styles of music with it, including blues and especially purely electric styles like metal or hard rock. The GRG 170M is perfect for beginners.

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How Do I Buy My First Guitar?

To buy your first guitar, the ideal situation is to be able to try it out in a music store; however, if you don’t know how to play at all, ask a salesperson to play a few chords so that you can hear the sound.

It’s an excellent occasion to begin to exercise your guitarist’s ear and to give yourself a better idea about your preferences. There are also very nice used guitars on the Internet that are less expensive, but you will not be able to benefit from the advice of a knowledgeable professional.

Concerning the price, it’s pointless to pay a fortune for your first guitar. Your tastes and your level will evolve with time and practice.

To start out, a first guitar that costs between $100 and $200 will do quite nicely.

Do not go for the cheapest price because it will not be of sufficient quality: a $50 guitar is more of a toy than it is a real musical instrument.

You’re Ready to Begin Your Lessons: Do You Need a Teacher?

Today, thanks to the Internet, there are online guitar lessons, videos, tutorials, and ebooks that show you how to begin the guitar. It is possible to learn how to play without an teacher, but you run the risk of adopting bad habits and not being corrected.

Another questions arises: do you want to just practice when you have an itch or do you have a real desire to learn to master, as much as possible, this incredible musical instrument?

In choosing between the two options, you’ll be able choose the type of teaching best suited to you.

  • If you just want to strum your guitar for your own enjoyment, your approach to the guitar will be simpler: you will learn a few basics—how to position your fingers on the neck, how to hold your pick or play with your fingers—and you will learn the principle guitar chord shapes, the major and minor chords, and then you will be free to play guitar as you like.
  • If you have a real desire to learn and master the guitar, your learning process will demand more rigor, more discipline. If you want to learn complex chord progressions, ear training, and fingerstyle guitar, generally, with a teacher, you will increase your knowledge of the instrument and get advice on how to play (the positioning of your hands, your back, corrections on your rhythm, etc). You will benefit from personalized attention from a professional who will follow your progress. If this is you, guitar lessons for beginners are probably the best option.

No matter your choice, just know that you’ll get nowhere with the guitar by snapping your fingers; you will have to work at it. Also, your choice of learning style will depend on your personality, your taste, and your desire to progress with the guitar.

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Learning to Play the Guitar Without a Teacher

The Autodidact Route

Numerous artists were self-taught (Eric Clapton, Slash, Hendrix, and even Joe Perry) but it should be noted that at the time, the network of teaching methods and education was much less developed than today, and numerous schools of teaching specific to the guitar didn’t exist then.

Bear in mind: autodidact does not necessarily mean learning on your own.

The majority of musicians cited above learned at the feet of other musicians. By joining a group, playing with more experienced guitarists, they were absorbed into the universe of the guitar: they observed, listened, discussed their experiences, and this considerably enriched their knowledge of the guitar as well as their practice. Guitar instruction is not only given by formal teachers.

Playing in a group, they trained their musical ears to correct their errors.

Being exposed to other guitar players is an incredible learning opportunity. It's one of the most inspiring parts of the guitar.

Learning to Play According to a Particular Guitar Method

Today, if you decide to work in a completely autonomous fashion, there are methods; your work can be simplified through numerous online courses, audio and/or video.

No matter your level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), there is a guitar course made for you - and often even free lessons for guitar online.

These “methods” have a downside: they require great discipline on your part.

If you can’t manage to choose a method that works for you, plan out your practice time, and organize yourself, you will will fail somewhere along the way.

It’s up to you to decide whether you are capable of self-discipline: if you are not, it’s better to avoid that option so that you don’t run straight into the wall.

Learning the guitar without a teacher means spending even more time working, in order to obtain the same result, than if you have someone to correct you.

The Main Risk is Abandoning the Guitar while You are Still Learning

One of the biggest dangers when we learn alone is getting discouraged: you have no one to support you, to assist you, or to tell you “come on, concentrate, it’s normal, that’s part of learning!”

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Do not abandon your guitar lessons.
Do not abandon your guitar lessons.

It’s not that you need more time to learn more quickly: even the the guitar masters say that learning a musical instrument like the guitar can take a lifetime.

The important thing is to make a plan for yourself and to follow it: no need to force yourself to play one hour every day (unless you want to!) because you will get tired quickly, but try for between 15 and 30 minutes each day (or every other day), at a set hour, and you will see progress.

Finally, learning the guitar means combining practice and theory with dexterity.

Even if it’s possible to skip theory at the beginning (learning the notes, music theory, reading the chords, reading the tablature), there inevitably comes a moment when you have to learn it.

Some Advice for Learning the Guitar on Your Own

Learning to play the guitar without taking private lessons is always possible.

But very often, beginners abandon the guitar through lack of self-confidence, lack of time and availability, lack of conviction or motivation, or because their fingers hurt from practicing.

A man practising the guitar.
Yes, you can learn the guitar practising solo!

But to learn to play the guitar, especially when you want to do it on your own, there is just one way: you must practice, over and over.

1. The Internet has it all: the bad and the good.

Start by researching the different online teaching sites, there are dozens that offer guitar lessons.

They will be an excellent addition to your regular training.

There is also more of a chance of finding precise answers to your questions on those sites.

2. If you want to copy the style of your favorite guitarist, learn to identify his level.

If after a few weeks you are at the level of your favorite guitarist, either you have a gift, or it would be better to pick a more competent musician.

3. Explore the instrument itself.

Learn the names and functions of each of the parts that make up your guitar, discover for yourself how these parts interact with one another, discover how your guitar works.

The more familiar you are with your guitar, the better you’ll be at mastering it.

4. When you decide to learn a chord, try to do it in all possible ways.

By performing this exercise of playing the same chord in different ways, you will improve in speed and in finger agility.

5. Practice for a minimum of thirty minutes a day if possible, 4 or 5 days a week.

In order to progress and continue, your brain needs to be fed the guitar day in and day out.

This will develop your ear, your concentration, and you will improve the technique and coordination of your left hand in relation to your right hand, as well as the muscle memory of your left hand in relation to the guitar.

No need to really play each chord: try practicing them in silence, try new hand positions, for example, while you’re watching TV.

Since memorization is more difficult for the left hand than it is for the right (if you’re right-handed), it’s recommended to practice with both hands regularly.

When you aren’t concentrating on your hands (the example of the TV is perfect for this), you are more relaxed, less tense.

Once you’ve memorized the finger positioning for a chord, reproduce it on the neck of the guitar and check to see that the position is correct.

With time, you will look at your left hand less and less and you will gain confidence.

6. Reinforce the muscles in your left hand if you’re right-handed and do the opposite if you’re left-handed.

To do this, squeeze a tennis ball or a similar object for 5 minutes.

By exerting small amounts of pressure like this daily, you will strengthen your forearm and all of the muscles that make up your hand.

Goodbye to after-practice cramps!

7. Learn to accept frustration.

A woman performing the guitar
Why not get on stage yourself? It's a great way to see how much guitar you have learned.

As with all learning, you’re going to have highs and lows with the guitar, encountering the intoxication of the perfect chord progression, that beautiful sound, and the hell of stagnation, where you feel like you don’t know anything. Unless you’re an ultra-gifted guitarist, you’re going to need to learn that there are, like with everything, many steps to be taken to become an excellent guitar player.

Whatever happens, keep practicing, don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by this negative feeling. With the guitar, it’s the same thing; you will need to work, work again and again in order to get to a higher level.

If you like precision, quality, you must concentrate every day in regular practice.

Feel free to work on different aspects of your instrument, like tonality, speed, finesse, precision, the chords.

Little by little, you’ll succeed in perfecting your mastery of the guitar.

8. Take a piece that you listen to a lot, put it on in the background, and try to play the guitar parts.

This is one of the best approaches to take pleasure in playing the guitar.

For those who can’t read sheet music or don’t know music theory, learn to decipher the tablature, it’s a proven technique that will help you tremendously.

9. Develop your ear and test your ability to recognize when you play out of tune and when it sounds right.

This takes a certain amount of time, but with mastery of your instrument, you will improve your hearing little by little. Learn to identify your mistakes, to notice when you play out of tune or when you’re no longer playing at the proper rhythm. Don’t hesitate to take notes or ask for outside advice.

10. If you have a friend who’s a guitarist, try to meet regularly to play together.

Even if he’s better than you, you will learn a lot by playing side by side, both in terms of technique and your overall understanding of music. Watch him play, listen to him, ask him questions. Try to imitate him, pay attention to his movements and ask him to correct you if necessary.

11. If you have audio editing software, select certain parts of your favorite pieces in order to work on them.

With Audacity (the most well known) or even GarageBand, you can take advantage of the best free sequencers to make guitar recordings and a proper program that allows you to create and edit music.

Beyond that are multi-track recording studios.

12. Why not whistle or sing while you play guitar?

This will develop your musicality, your sense of rhythm, and your hearing.

Replay the tunes you’ve learned, try to achieve the same tonality, the same rhythm.

Feel free to use a metronome to fix your playing.  And improvise!

Learning to Play the Guitar Alone: the Online Course Approach

Thanks to many possibilities available on the web, you will be able to start with the guitar as well as perfect it.

Be aware, however, that even if the videos are well made for the most part, this doesn’t replace the presence of a professional guitar instructor who would be there to correct you and watch that you’re doing the right thing.

Online videos are very well made, but be careful not to automatically go to YouTube channels where you will find both good and (more often) the not so good.

With online videos, you can learn pieces by your favorite bands and singers, such as U2, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Oasis, The Beatles, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Blur, etc.

The advantage of online guitar courses is that the playful aspect remains intact: you can accept challenges, follow a curriculum, earn rewards, get a report on your progress, etc.

Most of the time, each online course is given by an expert in his specialized area.

Nonetheless, this approach also has its inconveniences: for one thing, as the courses are online, you must have a broadband Internet connection or access to 3G at a minimum, otherwise the quality of the videos will suffer.

The other downside is the subscription: generally monthly, you must have one to take advantage of the long term course programs.

But there is some good in this negative point, in the need to show perseverance: by paying, you will perhaps have the feeling that you must “get a return on your investment,” so you’ll hang in there a little longer.

And lastly there’s an economic aspect: paying $20 monthly on the internet or taking a weekly course with an teacher, the cost isn’t the same.

Learning to Play the Guitar with a Guitar Teacher

It’s important to choose the right guitar teacher for you.

The Classical Way

Having a teacher as you learn an instrument like the guitar is like having a guide; that’s why it’s important to truly find “your” guitar teacher, one who suits you, one who understands your desires, your expectations, your style of music.

There’s no reason to meet with a teacher of classical music if you want to play rock or blues, you will waste your time and your money, as well as the teacher’s. And, in the end, you will lose your motivation and you’ll abandon the guitar.

It’s important that the teacher is attentive to the sensibilities of the student, that he employ pedagogy to lead the student towards meaningful progress.

Music, and especially for the guitar, needs to be a partnership, the kind of association between devotees where each will develop and at the same time contribute to the evolution of the others.

By finding your guitar teacher, your style of learning the guitar will completely change in relation to someone learning on their own. It’s in the very structure of the teaching that the changes will take place.

With the Internet, where you’re holed up in your room, you take the risk of being distracted, of turning towards any number of things that have no connection to your original plan.

A woman busking with a guitar in a busy street
Once you have learned to play guitar, you can busk too!

The teacher is going to give you directions to follow but these directions will be modular according to your desires, your progress. This is the added value that a teacher represents in learning the guitar: he’s going to deliver an effective work method, teach you to concentrate, know how to lift your morale if you face setbacks or if you stagnate.

Returning to this idea that learning the guitar is a partnership, the relationship between the guitar teacher and the student is formed like this: between the two, there is a constant exchange, questions and answers that will enrich one another.

A teacher who gives guitar courses delivers advice—some of which you might be able to find on the Internet but in a one-dimensional way—in which theory is connected to action right away.

The guitar teacher explains, demonstrates, plays and the student reproduces, practices, and, gradually, he will start to become an accomplished guitarist who, no matter what level he reaches, will have strong foundations.

With a teacher, you will benefit from tips that help you simplify your life and more than anything else you’ll have a reliable outside opinion; instead of concentrating on yourself, which prevents you from seeing your inevitable faults, a teacher will point what is wrong and, to the same extent, further encourage you if everything is going well.

This process of emulation, this awareness, this encouragement, will enable you to progress more than any online course you might do alone in your home.

Another positive point is that you learn much more quickly next to a professional than alone.

Nonetheless, learning the guitar with a teacher can also also have its negative points: you should understand that this instruction has a cost and represents a significant personal investment to pay for it.

Another negative point is that there are not always teachers available in every city in the United States and perhaps not near you; you’ll need to travel many miles to learn to play your guitar, but your passion is worth a few small compromises, right?

Learning the guitar at a conservatory

There are dozens of respected music conservatories across the U.S. (Julliard in New York, Berklee in Boston, Cleveland Institute of Music, etc.), and the degree-granting institutions offer multi-year programs to those who get in. They are often very competitive.

Many medium to large cities also have smaller conservatories that offer guitar lessons to the public, and generally last 30 minutes to 1 hour.

There is Always a Way to Learn the Guitar

No matter what, learning the guitar is always possible; if you want do it in your home, by playing with friends, or by carrying your case to a teacher who gives specialized courses or even going to courses at a music school (or even a conservatory), there is always a way to combine the practical with the enjoyable in playing the guitar.

The constant is that you must continue working at it, whether you go it alone or accompanied by a teacher.

Everything goes well as you learn to play the guitar when you are passionate and motivated, so it’s important to find the right approach that serves you best in terms of learning.

If you truly want to learn to play the guitar, feel free to ask around, especially at the instrument stores, where you’ll find the obligatory little guitar course announcements, and if you’re still hesitant, ask for advice from a salesmen, who can point you to a professional.

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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.