Self-Taught Guitar vs. Lessons: How Do They Compare?

Learning guitar is a daunting task, but it can be very rewarding when you put the necessary time into it. Some people choose to teach themselves to play the guitar without the help of an instructor, while others choose to take formal lessons to learn to play.

Self-taught guitar and guitar lessons are both valid, effective ways of learning to play the instrument. However, the self-taught guitar is especially good for those who want more freedom in how and what they learn, whereas guitar lessons are better for someone who needs or wants a mentor figure.

Read on to learn more about what it takes to teach yourself the guitar and how it compares with learning through formal lessons.

Comparing Self-Taught Guitar With Guitar Lessons

Whether you teach yourself guitar or work with an instructor, you’ll find that playing guitar is about learning key musical concepts piece by piece and then putting them together. 

If you choose to teach yourself guitar, you’ll be able to move at your own pace and learn exactly what you want to learn, but you’ll also have no one to talk to about your experience who can help guide you through the process. 

Learning guitar through lessons gives some structure to the learning process, which can be good for some people and bad for others. It depends on your learning style and whether a schedule helps you stay disciplined in your practice.

Ultimately, the key to learning to play guitar is to commit to spending time with it and challenging yourself. Whether you learn from online resources, books, or another person, you need to invest in learning if you want to reap the rewards.

Getting to know yourself is as important as knowing what it’d be like to take a guitar lesson. Whether or not they work for you depends on your personality and learning style, so reflect on similar experiences you’ve had when trying to decide which path is right for you.

Keep in mind that even if you decide to take formal lessons, you’ll still need to put in plenty of time learning on your own, and if you learn on your own, you can still seek out resources from guitarists who are helping others learn. Today, many beginner guitarists seek out hybrid programs where instructors teach guitar online, and students practice at home.

Benefits of Teaching Yourself Guitar

One of the primary benefits of teaching yourself guitar over taking lessons is that you can save on the cost of having an instructor. Guitar lessons with an instructor typically cost something like $40 – $60 per hour, in addition to the cost of the instrument itself and any books or supplies you might need.

When you teach yourself guitar, you also have the freedom to learn what you learn when you want to. If you want to jump into learning your favorite song, you can! If you want to move slowly and carefully through the curriculum, you can do that, too. 

Teaching yourself guitar is a great way to instill a feeling of self-efficacy and remind yourself what you’re capable of doing. Teaching yourself guitar requires stamina and patience, and having done it is proof positive that you can take on and conquer a challenge. 

Benefits of Taking Guitar Lessons

Guitar lessons have many benefits, from teaching patience and discipline to encouraging creativity. Part of the reason is the nature of learning to play a musical instrument, and part is the structure that this learning pathway provides. 

When you take guitar lessons, the instructor will ensure that you have the context and appreciation for the instrument that you might not otherwise get from self-teaching methods. You can hear and watch another person playing the instrument in the flesh instead of simply watching videos or reading physical descriptions. 

Guitar lessons also allow you to face the fear of playing in front of another person and get useful feedback about what is or isn’t working. Having an expert listen to your playing is a huge benefit to learners. 

Guitar lessons are built based on the practices and exercises that helped other students learn, which means that there’s a good chance the same methods will help you learn to play. While this is not a given, it is something to consider when trying to decide if you want to pay for formal lessons or not.

Best Things About Taking Guitar Lessons

The best things about taking guitar lessons include:

  • Learning to be disciplined in how you approach learning.
  • Feeling more confident about what you can do.
  • Learning to put together music as a means of creative expression.
  • Better appreciating other peoples’ music.
  • Improving multitasking skills across all areas of life.
  • Learning the importance of goal-setting.
  • Building community with other musicians.
  • Supporting someone who’s making their livelihood as a musician.
  • Becoming more well-rounded as a person.
  • Sharpening your concentration.
  • Improving your memory capacity.
  • Keeping your mind sharp as you age.
  • Reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Improving your time management skills.
  • Teaching yourself about other cultures through their music.

Should You Take Guitar Lessons?

Guitar lessons are a good idea for you if structure helps you learn better and if you tend to benefit from talking to a person. Talking directly with an instructor allows you to find answers to a wide range of questions without doing exhaustive Google searches. 

If you can afford to and you have the time to invest in it, guitar lessons are probably a good idea for you. You can always put in extra time teaching yourself songs that you want to learn or reinforcing lessons, in addition to going to your regular lessons.

You should not take guitar lessons if you are on a strict budget or are unsure that an instructor will go at the right pace for you. Most instructors are open to feedback about pace or difficulty, but none can provide self-teaching’s complete freedom.

What Do You Learn in Guitar Lessons?

Guitar lessons teach you to play the instrument with a disciplined approach, challenging you to adhere to a schedule and put in the hard work necessary to learn. You’ll have an instructor who notices whether or not you’re improving from session to session, which acts as an incentive to learn more and faster.

Guitar lessons will teach you the basics of playing chords and scales, building blocks for learning songs. Things like correct hand positioning and figuring out which hand will be the strumming hand are key in the early phases of taking guitar lessons. 

Later on, you’ll work to put together pieces of music.

Guitar lessons will typically take place either in your own house, in your instructor’s home, or a private studio somewhere. Instructors are typically experienced musicians who also like teaching. They usually last about 30 minutes to an hour and happen about once a week, and the instructor expects you to practice regularly in addition to the time spent in lessons.

Sample Guitar Lesson Curriculum

A sample guitar curriculum would follow these steps in teaching you how to play the instrument:

  1. Teach the guitar’s anatomy, how to hold the instrument, and how to use a pick to pluck notes.
  2. Cover how to identify notes on the fretboard (for the first 12 frets).
  3. Cover how to play individual notes and strings.
  4. Instruct in playing two-note chords known as dyads.
  5. Teach how to play major, minor, power, and barre chords.
  6. Go through simple, common guitar scale shapes.
  7. Discuss interval theory and interval shapes such as major second, major third, and perfect fifth.
  8. Go over bends, vibrators, and alternate picking.
  9. Cover more difficult or lengthy scales.
  10. Teach how to strum and keep rhythm, plus how to maintain good song dynamics.

Learning Goals for Beginner Guitar Lessons

Learning goals for beginner guitarists in lessons include:

  • Understanding guitar anatomy.
  • Knowing how to strum and pluck notes.
  • Knowing how to tune your instrument.
  • Being able to play a series of notes.
  • Knowing the names of the notes on the first 12 frets.
  • Understanding what dyads are (two-note power chords) and being able to play them.
  • Being able to play major, minor, power, and barre chords.
  • Understanding how to play major, minor, and pentatonic scales.
  • Learning bends, sliding, vibrato, and alternate picking.
  • Learning to play chord progressions and full songs.

How To Teach Yourself Guitar

To teach yourself to play guitar, work slowly through each musical building block until you have a solid foundation with which to work. Learn to play simple chords first, then string them together to play simple tunes. At first, you should be focused only on the basics; don’t worry about playing full songs yet.

Many people successfully teach themselves to play guitar. There are lots of resources available for self-learners, including online lessons, books, and videos. 

For example, the Guitar Scales Handbook on Amazon teaches students the essentials of guitar chords and scales at a beginner level. This is a great first step into the world of the guitar because scales and chords are at the heart of anything that you play.

Masterclass offers a guide for guitar learners and a full course in guitar-playing taught by Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello. This allows you to hear and watch a professional playing the guitar and get his insights into the best ways to learn. The only downside of an online instructor is that they cannot give feedback about your playing in particular.

Beginner Guitar Exercises

Beginner guitar exercises include alternate picking scales and alternate picking scales in thirds. Major arpeggios are also a great introductory exercise, as exemplified in the video below:

Also an option are hammer-ons, where you pick the first note on each string and then hammer on the rest of the notes. See the following video as an example of a hammer-on:

Tips for Learning To Play Guitar

The following are tips you should take into account as you’re learning to play guitar:

  • Be patient. It’s going to take some time to learn to play guitar, whether you’re learning on your own or taking lessons, so give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and pace yourself as you’re picking up your new skills.
  • Start small. Learning to play guitar requires learning fine dexterity skills and remembering various similar but significantly different hand positions. You’ll also need to learn to keep a rhythm and hear pitch, and you can learn each piece in small segments.
  • Figure out which hand is your dominant guitar hand early on. This may or may not coincide with the dominant hand used for other things. When playing guitar, both hands will need to be in use; it depends on which one you want to be strumming and which you want to pick.
  • Take the time to learn context. Listen to other musicians and get to know your instrument. This will give you valuable insights into how the instrument works and what it is capable of doing. You don’t necessarily get this when you don’t have an instructor, but you can find it if you seek it out.
  • Follow a curriculum. Some people may do well with a completely freeform learning style, but most of us do well to plan our learning a little more than that. Research guitar lessons and beginner skills, and put together a curriculum that you can follow when you’re teaching yourself.
  • Seek out fellow guitarists. Whether they’re experienced or just starting to learn like you, fellow guitarists can offer valuable insight into what you’re learning. Take the time to seek out guitar-learning groups and make friends with people who can help you along the way to becoming a talented musician.

Conclusion

You can learn guitar by yourself or through formal lessons, and either way, you’ll be sure to master the instrument given enough time and quality practice. The benefits of self-teaching guitar include lower costs, a better pace, and more freedom in what and how you play. The benefits of taking lessons include having mentorship and structure to support your learning.

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