What’s the best way of learning guitar. Can you learn for free and become great?
Before we start, let’s have a look at how people (myself included) learned guitar before the YouTube and Vimeo. When I started I didn’t have internet, word of mouth gave you business and VHS was raging at its top!
Guitar Lessons in the 90s.
I remember myself as a little kid holding the guitar for the first time. I think it was probably 1996. I was about ten years old. At that time Facebook and YouTube didn’t exist (it’s hard to imagine right!). There were three things you could do if you wanted to learn how to play guitar:
- You could get a private teacher.
- You could buy guitar magazines.
- You could buy VHS.
A Private Teacher when I started (Money totally worth it)
The most common thing to do back in the 90s was to find a guitar teacher. With no webpage and social media around, word of mouth was the best way for people to get business. I started with my local guitar teacher. Tuition fee were quite expensive at that time. With few teachers around, tutors could charge as much as they wanted. If you were lucky and your teacher was good, the money were definitely well invested. Without YouTube or Vimeo a private teacher was the only solution if you wanted to have weekly feedback on your playing. Also, because it was expensive at that time to take private lessons, parents were also pushing you more. They wanted you to practice and put an effort. Everybody was obsessed with the Conservatory of Music, a place like a university were with a small annual fee (300 euro I think) you could get weekly guitar lessons on top of music theory and harmony classes. At the end of your degree, you had a diploma valid for teaching at school. It was cheap and convenient to study at the Conservatory of Music but it was really hard to get in. Parents wanted their kids to star with a private teacher and then eventually try the admission exam for the Conservatory. Private teachers were delighted. They could keep a student up to five years. So back in the 90s, money spent for private lessons were worth the money.
The magic of VHS (The crappiest guitar course ever)
I still remember the first video lesson my father bought me. It was and a guitar course for everything! You could learn a bit of Electric, Acoustic and Classical Guitar. Now I realize how bad it was. This lessons were really bad organized and quite generic. At that time I was a little kid and I didn’t understand English so I couldn’t get access to anything else but the crappy Italian course. I also had other videotape of live concerts (On the Night by Dire Straits was my favorite) but obviously I can’t count that as didactic videos. I had to wait till I was 16 to get my hands on some good guitar courses on VHS. I think this stuff really helped me a lot because I could watch it over and over and I could put it on anytime I wanted. Back in the 90s money spent for VHS guitar courses were worth the money.
When I was a kid and just started out learning guitar I begged my father to subscribe to a Guitar Magazine called Chitarre. It was such a cool magazine at that time. You could get info about products and top gear and some lessons at the back of the magazine. It was a monthly subscription so in a month you could learn some Acoustic Guitar Strumming Pattern for folk or country, some scales and exercises on alternate picking, tips on how set up your amp, jazz chords, rhythm and fingerstyle. I still remember some of them. This stuff was super valuable and quite cheap. The part I liked the most were the pages with interviews. They were interviewing cool guitar players like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, Slash, Petrucci, Tommi Emmanuel, Jimmi Page, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Jeff Beck, B.B King, Brian May, Les Paul, Gary More and many other heroes of all time. I remember been quite inspired by all this interviews because this people sounded so normal. When you are a kid you think that someone like Jeff Beck is like next to God and he will never talk to a human being (I know this is crazy, I was just 12). So, money spent in magazine were wroth the money not just one but three times.
What’s the difference now? Why (some) people think that paying someone for guitar lessons is outrages?
Let’s see how things have changed today and how many resources you can use to learn guitar:
- Private Teachers: Still same system. You can pay a tutor privately and learn how to play guitar.
- University of Music: This are several times more expensive than then years ago.
- Guitar Magazine: Again, you can still buy some decent magazine. They are even better today.
- The VHS was replaced by the DVD. It is a faster and more reliable. It’s also HD (high-quality)
- YouTube: You can learn guitar by watching video tutorials on YouTube. This stuff is free.
- Webpages: You could pay a monthly subscription and learn by watching video lessons. This is quite cheap!
- Skype Guitar Lessons: You can hire a private tutor an take lessons without have to leave your flat.
- Video Games: You could learn how to play guitar with Rocksmith, a video game played with a guitar!
The Expensive Courses
Private lessons and University of Music are the most expensive guitar course. Here in England you can pay up to 7000£ a year for University. Private tuition are about 25/30£ per hour. You can learn for less if the teacher is not qualified. I have seen ads on Gumtree for 10£ per lesson and the guy travel to your place!
The Affordable Courses
DVD, magazine and video games are definitely affordable and definitely good if you don’t have much time. You can play a DVD at any time. Magazine are also good. I really like the lessons at the beck and the interviews. I don’t play video games so I can’t tell but I see many people getting hooked with Rocksmith and Guitar Hero.
The Cheap Courses
Webpage are the cheapest way of learning guitar. Platforms as Jamplay.com offer some crazy stuff for ridiculous money! I am just checking right now. With less then 20$ a month you can have access to 5108 guitar lessons from 72 different guitar teachers. You can learn Acoustic and Electric guitar. You can pause, go back and watch again every time you want. Plus, they keep adding stuff! Yes is 20$ a month.
The Free Courses
The YouTubers – They think you shouldn’t pay for guitar lessons.
Talk to a YouTuber (a guy who use YouTube to learn stuff) and he will tell you how crazy you are to pay a private teacher. He would tell you “Dude, you can learn for free! Just go online and check some stuff, you will see you can learn”. This is true in a way. YouTube changed the way we use Videos today. Uploading your guitar lessons can also make you earn some extra money. For each song or technique you want to learn there are hundred of thousand videos available. Now, since YouTube is a free the question is:
Could free Guitar Lessons replace one to one private tuition? Can you become great at playing guitar without a private teacher?
My answer: I don’t think so!
I receive a lot of email from frustrated guitar players that have hit the ceiling and can’t progress further. People who play up to two hours a day and still feel they don’t improve. This is one of the email I have received couple of days ago:
Now, everybody here agree that if you want to become good at playing guitar and maybe, why not, start working as a full time musician you need a private guitar teacher that can give you valuable feedback on a weekly basis for couple of years. This is a fact! But I can still hear people saying:
Ok, you need a teacher if you want to become a professional musician, but you could start learning for free for the first months or year and save up some money!
Well dude, I can partially agree with you. Yes, you can learn some basic stuff on your own: Simple chords and scales, simple strumming pattern and songs but who will take care of your technique? When it comes to playing guitar technique is really important. You need to have a correct posture, pluck and strum the strings correctly and place the left hand fingers in a specific way. If you don’t have a teacher helping you with that you will pick up serious bad habit almost impossible to fix. I have seen many players get stuck at a certain level just because they didn’t know how to place their fingers correctly.
You can start on your own with free lessons, but you have 80% chances you will pick up bad habit impossible to fix.
Are Social Media bad?
Absolutely no. Social media are great! If you use them correctly you can connect with the world and share your knowledge. You can help people around the world and they can buy your products. I just did a research on YouTube typing Guitar Lesson in the search bar and 2,620,000 videos showed up. In the modern world if you want to post your guitar lessons you just need a camera and a guitar, you can build your audience, and teach the way you love. Cameras and software are really cheap. You can decide to focus on different type of guitar techniques depending on your skills. It doesn’t matter if you do another job for living. If you have time and motivation, you can build your own channel and do the video you like.
How much do you care?
This is a really important question. How much do you care. How important is learning guitar for you. Do you care about what you learn and how you learn it? Do you want to keep progressing and work towards a big goal. Do you want to feel confident and help other people with learning guitar? Do you want to become a full time musician and make a living out of it? If the answer is yes, well you definitely want to find a good teacher and learn correctly. Remember, is just about how much you care.
On the other hand, if you don’t really care, you can happily go ahead and learn guitar for free. In your case, even if you pick up a bad habit, it doesn’t really matter.
Feedback Feedback Feedback
Feedback is the reason why a guitar teacher is so important. When you start playing guitar, you will need someone to guide you step by step through the path. Someone you can learn from. I would highly recommend you choose a guitar teacher you admire. Someone that play the music style you like. You want to feel inspired by this person. When you go for your lesson, ask many questions, learn as much as you can and put it into practice straightaway. Record yourself playing from day one and track your results.
Thank you for reading guys!