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FAQ: What Is the Best Way to Learn Guitar?

A question I often get asked is "what is the best way to learn guitar?". Now this is what I call an open question! In truth there is only a "best way" for you personally, and often it will involve using a combination of methods. This page will highlight some of the pros and cons of several ways of learning guitar.

Traditional Private Guitar Tuition

Involves paying a set fee typically for a half hour or hour session with a personal guitar tutor. Often they will travel to your home. They may also provide you with supplementary material such as sheet music, chord diagrams and backing tracks to work on between sessions.

Pros

One-to-one tuition has always been, and still is the most effective way to develop your playing ability. This is because you have a personal tutor who can observe and identify your specific strengths and weaknesses.

Experienced tutors know exactly how to plan your time so you get the most out of your practice sessions. They set realistic goals based on your personal aims and ability and help you work towards accomplishing them.

By having someone there, face to face, any mistakes you make can be addressed and rectified immediately. This is especially important as a beginner for things like holding the guitar correctly, ensuring bad habits don't have a chance to develop. So to many, this is the best way to learn guitar if you have absolutely no clue where or how to begin.

Because of the personalised nature of private tuition, the teacher is able to tailor the lessons to your desired playing style. For example, if you wanted specifically to learn jazz or blues, you could get a tutor who specialises in the genre.

Cons

You might want to check your wallet! Private tuition ain't cheap, ranging from $25 to $50 (even more) per hour, depending on the tutor. Of course, there's a reason why it's so costly - the tutor has to prepare the lesson for you, provide you with the necessary materials, often drive to and from your home and spend an hour or so of their time teaching.

There's also the matter of finding a good teacher in your local area. In some areas teachers may be virtually non-existent. In others, you can be paralysed by choice.

Try using an online directory, such as lessons.com to find a good, highly rated tutor.

Conclusion

Assuming you find a good, reputable tutor, the only real con is the cost, so not exactly the best way to learn guitar if you're on a tight budget. If you can afford it, by all means you should try a few private lessons and see how you progress. Many people start with a tutor and then feel confident enough to self teach the rest of the way. There are also those guitarists who want to specialise and this is where personal tutors can really bring out the best in your strengths.

Private Skype Lessons

The emergence of Skype, and similar video calling software, has enabled teachers to connect with students in real time, wherever they may be. It's essentially the same as the above private one-one lessons, both in format and cost, the only difference being there's a screen separating teacher and student.

Pros

You don't have to rely on local tutors. You can get in touch with teachers across the world and request a Skype lesson with the one(s) you like the most. Not all will offer Skype lessons, but many openly advertise on their websites or Youtube channels and give you a break down of the costs (which are usually similar to the traditional private lessons).

There's also a unique benefit with using Skype if you're going the private route. You can save the video and refer to it as many times as you wish. The teacher can also send you direct links to diagrams and sheets to supplement the lesson.

Cons

Even though video calling retains many of the benefits of traditional one-one tuition, it lacks that clarity and "hands on" intervention that physically being in the same room as your tutor offers. For example, tutors may often physically move your hand or fingers to help you adjust your technique.

So with video, the tutor has to spend more time (= more time on the "pay meter") explaining and demonstrating techniques, rather than watching you play and intervening in a prompt and fluid way.

You also have to have a reliable enough device and internet connection for a Skype call to go smoothly. All too often, calls get interrupted, frames jerk or get missed and you can have trouble connecting the call at the allotted time. This is the price we pay for relying on technology.

Conclusion

As mentioned, the cost of Skype lessons is typically the same as traditional private lessons. So there's no cost benefit. But if you value the ability to connect to a specific teacher, who might live in another country, and still want many of the benefits of one-one learning, Skype is a fine option.

Just make sure you get to grips with using Skype before you go ahead and book your lesson.

Free Websites

Thanks to the internet, guitarists have a seemingly unlimited resource to help them master their instrument. There are many free sites that offer high quality guitar lessons (see the article Best Online Guitar Lessons for a definitive list), but how effective are they really?

Pros

Free lesson sites (like this one!) allow you to learn at your own pace, in your own time, your only real cost being the electricity to run your computer/device. By typing in a specific lesson request into the search engines you will likely be spoiled for choice over the resources available. You can pick the site(s) that you find the most helpful and then get stuck in immediately, bookmarking and coming back to it as and when you're ready.

Many free sites make use of video, offer backing tracks, chord charts and interactive software to help you master the fretboard. You just have to dig for the best stuff.

Cons

Learning online does not necessarily provide you with a structured learning path, personally tailored to your goal and ability, especially if you're simply clicking randomly from one site to the next. It doesn't matter how high quality the lesson is, if it's too much too soon, it will just end up confusing you and putting you off.

The lessons on the free sites may be presented in a coherent and logical progression, but this doesn't address personal issues on which you may need more clarity at any step of the way. Online forums go some way to addressing these issues, but the people who help you still don't know just how much prior knowledge you have and how their answer paves into your learning path so far.

Also, while there are many comprehensive free sites out there, you may find you have to piece together lessons from different sites to see the "full picture". For example, one site might provide great diagrams showing you scale patterns, but not provide any theory on how to use these scales musically over chord progressions.

A lot of the time, you have to know what you're looking for. So not the best way to learn guitar if you like to have step by step guidance within the convenience of a single, all-encompassing site or "program".

Conclusion

Be careful when using the free lesson sites and be sure to assess your progress closely.

If you feel your playing is developing at a satisfactory rate then keep on doing what you're doing and save yourself a lot of money.

If, however, you feel like you're constantly hitting brick walls, you're just not grasping certain techniques or theory, or you simply don't know where to go next, then you might want to try something more structured and comprehensive such as a good paid site

Youtube/Free Streaming Video

Many people solely use Youtube to learn new techniques and theory. There are now thousands of lessons on YT, many of which are filmed professionally, in high definition and with clear instruction.

Pros

As the technology used to create professional videos has drastically decreased in cost over the years, the quality of free video guitar lessons is now better than ever. Teachers who use Youtube tend to get their income from sharing ad revenue in the Youtube Partnership program, so someone else is essentially paying for your tuition! You may just have to sit through an ad or two.

Youtube videos can also be watched on your mobile device, wherever there's an internet connection. So even if you're hundreds of miles away from home and have some down time, you can be learning.

Cons

Anyone who has used Youtube will know how distracting it can be. You're only ever a click/tap away from being drawn in by a catchy video title in the recommended bar. One minute you're deeply engaged in learning a new skill or lick, the next you're watching some dude face plant off his Segway. And so the black hole of irresistible entertainment sucks you in.

The very nature of Youtube is short form video. The average video is less than 10 minutes. So if there's no supplemental content with the lesson, you're often left wanting some clarification. The comments go some way to addressing this, as good teachers will often reply to your questions. But this is not the most reliable and engaging way to overcome your personal learning obstacles.

The same problem exists with YT videos as with the free sites - you often have to piece together the learning roadmap for yourself or know what to search for. Many lesson channels offer playlists with a streamlined learning process from one video to the next, but none have a truly comprehensive "beginner - advanced" path.

The quality and clarity can also be hit and miss, so there's a problem with consistency and continuity.

Conclusion

A good test of whether Youtube will work for you is if you could type the specific lesson you're looking for into the search bar. If you know what you're looking for, you will find something good on it.

Your learning may be sporadic and you'll be doing a lot of jumping between teachers and videos. But to many, YT represents a new age of free, high quality tuition, and one that is immensely valuable as a supplement to other learning sources.

Books & DVDs

Before the internet took off, people who couldn't afford private lessons had to buy physical books and videos to learn from a professional teacher.

But you can still buy book/DVD packages today, and many still prefer this format, especially those who have chosen not to join the "digital revolution" of mobile devices and streaming online video.

Pros

There's something special about owning that physical product that makes books/DVD a seemingly timeless format. You can fire up your DVD and enjoy some of the highest quality videos available on the big screen in the comfort of your home.

DVD courses tend to be especially professionally shot. Typically a lot more time and money goes into their production. This means you get the best experience through your home system.

Also, being able to refer to a printed book while the video is playing, rather than flicking between windows on the same screen serving the video (as with, say, a PDF e-book), can be seen as a huge benefit to some. If you struggle to read off screens for prolonged periods, then books might be a more comfortable reference format.

Cost is typically more expensive than premium online-only methods (see below) but, over a year's worth of learning, a fraction of the cost of private tuition.

Cons

Assuming you've ruled out streaming videos and websites for whatever reason, there's still the disadvantage of not having a personal tutor to follow your progress. Also, the offline nature of this format means that your comments/questions on specific videos can't be as directly answered by the teacher.

Of course, you'll be able to email or even call for support, but it doesn't have the same integration or fluidity as the online environment.

Conclusion

DVDs and books, like those in Learn and Master Guitar, do tend to offer a more complete, refined, step by step program than the free methods, and you can specialise in styles such as blues, jazz and metal.

What you need to decide is if having that physical product is enough of a personal benefit to outweigh the online-only methods.

Premium/Subscription Membership Sites

Think of these as online-only DVD courses that can be streamed on any device. Typically you'll pay a monthly, quarterly or yearly subscription for access to the course and you can login and access the lesson material at any time during that period.

With all the free sites and Youtube out there, you're probably wondering what paid sites offer that the free ones don't...

Pros

As far as professionalism and quality, the old saying is true in that "you get what you pay for". Membership sites can afford to produce the highest quality video, hire the best tutors and back it all up with sophisticated back-end software. You can learn any style or technique and the paid sites are also licenced to offer tutorials on popular songs.

Video on the paid sites tends to make use of multiple camera angles, high resolutions (for big screen viewing) and features world class tutors who have vast experience in both playing and teaching guitar professionally. The lessons are more in depth, broken down and structured than most free sites because they have the capital to reinvest into their lessons and pay for the best setup and resources.

Take a look at the sample lessons on Jamplay, a leading paid membership site, for a taste of the quality they offer.

You can pay monthly, unsubscribe any time and you get a far more personalised service than with the free sites.

Cons

With the sheer amount of material to get through, learning online can be an overwhelming and daunting experience. Even the paid sites don't exactly "hold your hand" through the learning process, although they are structured as logically as possible. It still doesn't quite beat having that tutor sitting in front of you, able to formulate a highly personalised lesson plan.

There is also the issue of having to be near a computer while you're learning (although there are now a mobile apps for the leading sites). This isn't a problem for a lot of people, but something to think about.

Conclusion

The paid sites have come along way since the internet took off, and they should be seen as a good compromise between paying for a personal tutor and using free sites.

If you don't quite have the money for private lessons, but still want a professional, personalised experience, try out membership with one of the recommended paid sites (Jamplay is the best way to learn guitar online hands down) and see how you progress.


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