15 SLAMDUNK Ways To Learn Guitar (THAT ACTUALLY WORK!)

There are many ways to learn guitar these days. Yet many people still struggle with how to begin.

Is that you?

In this article I give you 15 great ways to get started with learning guitar. Each one is a SLAM DUNK in it's own right. You're probably thinking is there really 15 ways to learn guitar?

Short answer: Yup, there is. ​

To help you navigate them all I have grouped them into two sections:

  • Learn guitar by yourself
  • Learn guitar with other people (face to face)​

There is no right and wrong way, and as we’ll see you can create a nice mix of the two to really fast track your learning.

So let’s crack on....

Section I: Learn guitar by yourself

1. Learn guitar by ear

Before we had the internet, computers, even guitar books, you only had two options when it came to learning guitar:

1. If you were lucky someone might show you how to play something.

2. The other option was just simply to listen and work it out for yourself.

Sounds pretty crazy right, but many great guitarists learnt this way. With all today’s gizmos it’s hard to imagine doing this, but listening and working out a piece of music yourself is really good for you.

Take Johnny Cash for example. He learnt guitar by ear, and it never did him any harm! Here are some good tips on how to learn to play ear.

2. Pick up some guitar books

​Learning from guitar books is seen as an old school method of learning guitar, but it's still one of the most underrated (and cheapest).

Why? Because there are literally thousands of guitar books to choose from, for every style of playing and every level.

Books fall into three categories: instruction books, songbooks and reference books.

Instruction books

These books usually follow a curriculum of some sort (like a textbook) and teach you musical theory as well as how to play stuff. They are great if you are fan of structured learning and like to have a well thought out chronological learning journey.

Here are some of our favourite teach yourself guitar books:

General - Teach Yourself Guitar Books

Jazz - Teach Yourself Guitar Books

Blues & Country - Teach Yourself Guitar Books

Rock and Metal - Teach Yourself Guitar Books

Songbooks

As the name suggests these books just contain songs for you to play and don’t usually contain any theory, other than perhaps a few chord diagrams at the front. Songbooks used to be massively popular in the pre-internet days.

Now it’s so easy to search for a song on the internet. Song books still have their place though and are great for a campfire sing-along (or if you don’t have access to the internet).

Here are some of our favourites:​

Reference books

The main guitar reference books are for chords and scales.

It’s super handy to have a chord book in your gig bag if you need to look up a tricky chord (most are actually rectangular in shape for this purpose). Again, the internet is taken precedence to some extent making it very easy to look up google a chord, but like the song book it’s still great to have reference books to hand.

One of the attractions of playing guitar is to switch off from the hurly burly of everyday life - so removing access to the internet is a good thing.​

3. Use free online resources​

The internet is full of free online resources. But beware, among the good stuff is a lot of mediocre rubbish and it’s not always that easy to spot the difference.

Still, it’s an absolute boon for the beginner and has a feast of great learning material.​

YouTube

The mother of free online videos is of course YouTube. The second largest search engine in the world, owned by Google incidentally, YouTube has a bewildering amount of guitar videos.

Here are some of best YouTube channels for learning guitar:

Some Of The Best YouTube Guitar Channels​

GuitarJamz

Guitar Jamz has a load of songs of all genres for you to learn how to play. An all-star roster of teachers too, including Marty Schwartz, Bret Papa (aka "Papastache"), Tim Pierce, John Konesky (of Tenacious D) and more.

Guitar Blog Update is principally for Rock and Metal aficionados, Andrew Wasson of Creative Guitar Studio releases a new video every Sunday focusing on guitar technique. Worth subscribing too and following.

Guitar Blog Update
Guitar Lessons 365

Guitar Lessons 365 is another good resource for learning songs, this channel is hosted by Carl Brown from GuitarLessons365.com. Includes guitar lessons teaching hundreds of the greatest songs ever written.

David Walliman's channel has guitar lessons, gear review, instrumental music and more - this channel mixes things up in a quirky style. Worth talking a look.

David Walliman
Fretjam

Fretjam's channel (like most others) is promoting their own platform in the process, but they also share for free some great content. Particularly good for theory videos. 

Free Guitar Lesson Sites

As good as YouTube is, what it lacks is structure.

In YouTube you can end up bouncing from one video to the next without any real sense of progress.

There are a number of great free guitar lesson sites that offer you free videos AND give you the structure that you need. Some of our favourite websites are:​

Some Of The Best Free Guitar Lesson Sites

Justinguitar.com

 JustinGuitar.com is run by Justin Sandercoe who gives away free guitar lessons. Lessons are structured in mini courses and some are very good (as good as anything you might pay for). With accolades from legends like Mark Knopfler and Tommy Emmanuel, it's worth checking out. 

AndyGuitar.com

AndyGuitar.com is a similar idea (in name too!) with well structured free lessons but on a slightly smaller scale. As a free resource his instruction is great (as good as any paid content which we cover below)

Guitar chord / tab online resources

Looking up guitar chords (or tabs) is wildly popular among guitarists, with the chords to pretty much every song being written up somewhere on the internet.

Like YouTube, it can be very hit and miss. There is no guarantee at all that you’ll find a song transcribed in the right key with the right chords etc. In fact, better to err on the side of caution and expect most chord sheets to be partially or wholly wrong and use them just to get an idea of the song, then use your ear to work out the rest.

Some Of The Best Sites For Finding Guitar Chords / Tabs

Our favourite places to find guitar chord / tabs are:​

ultimateguitar.com

Ultimate Guitar is the grand-daddy of guitar chord search engines with over 800,000 tabs! - for chord, guitar tabs, bass tabs, ukulele chords, guitar pro and power tabs.

Another good search engine for finding guitar chords, guitar tabs and lyrics is Chordie; the site also includes facilities for transposition, and for developing personal songbooks.

chordie.com
soundslice.com

Soundslice is a relative new-comer and claims to be 'the Internet's finest music learning experience'. It's pretty darn good actually, combining sheet music with audio/video, for fast learning and fun practicing.

Songsterr has guitar, bass and drum tabs & chords with a free online tab player with a decent selection of 500000 tabs. The interface is a bit clunky though.

songsterr.com

4. Pay for an online guitar academy

Why would you pay for online resources when there are so many free ones out there? A few reasons actually...

1. First of all, like anything, you get what you pay for. As good as many of YouTube videos and free guitar lesson sites, the people behind these sites usually don’t have the scale or budget to make them super comprehensive, covering all genres at all skill levels. Paid online academies do.

2. Secondly, with paid resources you get the best instructors. Paid online guitar resources are massive sites with huge budgets behind them that attract some of the best instructors out there.

3. Finally, these sites have also had thousands of dollars spend on designing them with the user in mind, so they’re easy to navigate and fast as anything.

But they do cost you mullah, so that’s a big consideration. They tend to be divided into ‘all genre’ academies and genre or ‘style specific’

Some Of The Best Paid Online Guitar Academies (FOR ALL STYLES)

Our favourites are:

guitar tricks

Guitar Tricks is the world's largest online guitar school, with well over 11,000 lessons covering most styles and skill level. If you are looking to invest in your guitar playing, and the monthly fee (around $20) doesn't put you off, you should check out Guitar Tricks (aside: the name is a bit misleading, some people think it's about creating guitar 'tricks' - it isn't at all!). Here is an in depth review I did about Guitar Tricks that is worth reading before you sign up.

And here is a quick walk-through of Guitar Tricks I recorded for you: 

guitar tricks

Jamorama positions itself as a social network for musicians 'where you get to watch video lessons, collaborate, make friends and share your joy of learning guitar' according to the their website. Guitar Tricks has a forum (didn't look particularly active) whereas Jamorama is more about socialising with online friends and collaborating.

jamplay

Jamplay has fewer lessons at just over 5,000 but what sets it apart is the sheer number of 80+ professional instructors!  It's great if you're a fan of a particular musician who teaches in Jamplay. I'm a big fan of Kaki King who teaches lessons on Jamplay - awesome!

Some Great 'Genre Specific' Paid Online Guitar Academies 

Here are three of our favourite online guitar academies that deal with one particular genre or style:

study with adam

Site: Study With Adam
Style: Acoustic / Fingerstyle Guitar


If you've seen a wonderful acoustic version of Stevie Wonder's Superstition on YouTube, chances are you've already see internet sensation Adam Rafferty. His online guitar school Study With Adam is a wonderful place to learn acoustic / fingerstyle funky guitar.  

gypsy and jazz

Site: Gypsy and Jazz
Style: Gypsy Jazz (acoustic jazz guitar)

If you are a fan of the music of Django Reinhardt then Yaakov Hoter's Gypsy and Jazz school is well worth taking a look at. Learn the basic strumming technique (called 'La Pompe'), arpeggios and a load more. Rather than a monthly subscription you pay per lesson too with is nice.

5. Try a games console

Rocksmith

If you’re under the age of 40 there’s a good chance you have a games console kicking about near your TV somewhere. Well, how about ditching Code Of Duty for a guitar game?

The market leader in this space is Rocksmith by Ubisoft which is available on most consoles (XBox, Playstation and even PC / Mac).

Rocksmith is a seriously great way to learn guitar as it lets you plug in your guitar (ideally electric guitar, but could be a electro acoustic or acoustic with a pick up).

With your guitar plugged in, you learn to play real guitar solos. If you have a games console already, it’s a cheap and fun option you should check out.​

See below for soft​ware on PS4, XBox and PC / Mac...

6. Install a guitar app

With the explosion of tablets and smartphones in the last few years, it’s opened the door to guitar based apps. 

Due to the portability of these devices you can be learn guitar pretty much anywhere you can take a guitar - plus they’re pretty cheap as you already have the hardware. The functionality of these apps improve year on year too.

Most notable apps to check out are:

yousican

Yousician is a new breed of app that lets you plug your guitar into a device (phone, tablet) with the Yousician app installed and you'll be able to play along to songs. Yousician gives you feedback on accuracy and timing too, using 'gameplay' to keep you motivated, similar to Rocksmith (see above). Allows you to upload your own songs too which is a nice touch. 

jamstar

Jamstar is another app that is really fun. Install the app on your device, plug you guitar in to your device and start playing. The app senses your strumming pattern and lets you move on or asks you to repeat the notes - giving you feedback as you play. offering pointers. This form of computer aided learning is quite novel and will only get better in time. Worth checking out. Here's a good review of Jamstar.

7. Download some computer software

Let’s not forget our desktop computers in all this.

As good as the apps are above, they have limitations. Desktop software is much, much more powerful than apps or even a games console.

A couple of the most popular programs are:

guitar pro

Guitar Pro lets you compose your own music and transcribe songs yourself as well as read thousands of tabs you can download online.

riff station

Riffstation is another very clever desktop application. Search for a song and Riffstation will give you the chords for any song synced with the YouTube video! You can view the chord diagrams in sync with the music for guitar, ukulele and piano. Riffstation uses an chord recognition algorithm to "listen" to the music and figure out the chords for you!

8. Record yourself

phone voice memos

A great way to learn guitar is to record yourself and listen back to your own playing.

Listening to yourself play will benefit you massively. With today’s technology it’s so easy to do.

Most smartphones come with some kind of voice recorder like you see on the right. That will do perfectly.

Of course if you have a Mac you can always use Garage Band for free to record yourself.

Let's look at ways to learn guitar that involve other people...​

Section II: Learn guitar with other people (face to face)

As we’ve seen there are lots of ways to learn guitar by yourself.

Many people are more comfortable learning at their own pace with one of the methods above, but many of us benefit from having face to face contact with others when learning guitar.

Having a person there in front of you, whether it’s a teacher or a group of people, helps to hold us accountable. It takes a lot of discipline to learn guitar by yourself - learning with others can keep you going when you want to quit.

9. Learn from a friend

learning guitar with a friend

Probably the most common form of learning guitar is from a friend.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, among many others, famously helped each other improve their guitar skills, trading riffs and chord sequences.

You need a friend who is fairly patient, this is true, and you need to match their patience with a desire to learn yourself.

I’ve found learning (or teaching) guitar to a friend is actually a really nice thing to do and helps to bond. Who knows, you may end up creating a band!

Learning from a friend is also free too (most of the time!).

10. Pay a guitar teacher

Most of us appreciate that having lessons is the best way to get started. Not just in guitar, in pretty much any discipline.

How many golfers have gotten bad habits by not having lessons when they started out? Plenty. The same can be said for Guitar.

A few lessons early on can build the right foundations throughout your playing career. If you’re a parent and you’d like your kids to play guitar, you know what to do.

Teacher and student

That’s not to say you can’t end up with a rubbish guitar teacher, so make sure you look for someone with ample teaching experience and preferably someone who has recorded stuff you can listen to.

Also consider what style you want to learn. Don’t hire a rock guitarist when the style you’re most fond of is fingerstyle guitar.

A good guitar teacher will hold you to account of the duration of your time together, identify your areas of weakness and help you develop much quicker than by yourself. I was terrified of my first guitar teacher, a Welsh jazz teacher who’d played professionally, he didn’t take any nonsense.

A bit of teacher fear is a good thing - keep you on your toes!

11. Get guitar lessons over Skype

This is relatively new thing of course, but it’s amazing who you can get lessons from over the internet. Location not being an issue any more, you can learn any style you fancy.

Guitar Skype

Yes, you may get some delay issues over Skype, and it pays to have a good connection, but with the quality of broadband so good these days (in the UK and most western countries at least) then connection isn’t really an issue.

And yes, it’s preferable to be face to face, but really if you want to learn Gypsy Jazz and one of the the only teachers who gives lessons lives in Israel (true story, his name is Yaakov Hoter) then Skype is awesome.

You can also record the Skype too for viewing later, that’s pretty awesome.

12. Sign up to guitar lessons at a local music school

Another alternative is to find a music school (yes, a physical one) near to where you live. You’ll be surprised how many of these exist. Certainly if you live near a big city there’ll be dozens to choose from.

There are several benefits:

  • Music schools will have courses they run (often leading to accreditation) that are well established programmes of study.
  • You’ll be taught by a guitar teacher (or several teachers) and you’ll have a good mix of individual and group exercises.
  • You’ll meet other students at varying levels of proficiency who you can practice with.
  • Courses often have some element of playing in public too at the end of the course, giving you a huge boost of confidence (and experience playing in public).

If you don’t have a music school in your proximity try finding an evening class in a further education college (or similar).

13. Sign up for a guitar retreat

guitar retreat

How about going on a guitar retreat?

You’ve heard of yoga retreats right? Well the same exists for guitar. Cool hey!

The format tends to be a anywhere from a weekend to a whole week of group guitar lessons during the day followed by gigs in the evening.

Many packages include accommodation, meals, even trips to local tourist spots and often include rates for bringing your partner (the locations tend to be tourist spots so the idea is they would be out sight-seeing while you’re jamming).

A massive amount of study in a short space of time, they aren’t cheap, but they are fantastic for speeding up your learning curve. Also a great way to make new friends and have a great experience.

Two of the most are popular are...​

martin taylor guitar retreat

Guitar retreat: Martin Taylor Guitar Retreats
Style: Fingerstyle / Jazz Guitar

Legendary jazz and fingerstyle guitarist Martin Taylor puts on regular guitar retreats that by all accounts are fantastic. Held in California, New York, Scotland, Singapore, London and Italy, these multi-day experiences are a great way to travel and improve your guitar playing at the same time.

robin nolan retreat

Guitar retreat: Style: Gypsy Jazz Guitar Breakthrough with Robin Nolan
Style: Gypsy Jazz (Django Reinhardt style) 

Robin Nolan's
Gypsy Jazz Guitar Breakthrough retreats are steadily gaining notoriety. Held twice yearly, alternating between Reykjavik, Iceland and Amsterdam, Holland, they are one of the best ways to fast track your way to learning the style made popular by Django Reinhardt

14. Join a band

Join a band

How could a beginner join a band? Sounds ridiculous right, but it’s a very good way of learning by absolute immersion.

I did this at the tender age of 16. I joined a band and ‘played’ (in it’s loosest sense) rhythm guitar. I remember playing the chords to the Pixie’s ‘Where is my mind’ and not having a clue what I was doing. “Just put your fingers there” I remember my mate telling me. Can’t have sounded that bad as they didn’t kick me out!

So how do you find a band?

Well, if you’re still at school then see if there’s a school band you could join or form yourself. If you’re a church-goer, see if your local church band need a guitarist. You can hook up with other like minded people on websites like Join My Band in the UK. There will be an equivalent in your part of the world too.

I recently hooked up with a French Gypsy Jazz guitarist on Join My Band who was over in the UK for a year with his family. I wanted to learn the Gypsy Jazz style from someone who knew what they were doing, and he agreed to jam together. After three months my gypsy jazz playing had improved on immeasurably. Thanks Geoffrey!

15. Volunteer to teach someone

OK, so this might not be applicable for the absolute beginner of course, but once you have a few chords under you belt and you know a few songs one of the best things you can do to solidify what you know is teach it to someone else!

I'm not talking about charging money for it (though of course you could). No, the idea is to offer a friend or an acquaintance some lessons for free

The benefit of this? Teaching actually helps us to learn. When we're put on the spot (like you are when you're expected to know something) it becomes apparent very quickly where you weak areas are. 

You can then address your areas of weakness in your own time.

Summary

So there you have 15 ways to learn guitar. There are no doubt other ways to learn guitar that I've missed so please drop me a comment below. 

​You could focus on any of these 15 ways and learn guitar, but the key is to create a mix of these learning styles that suits you.

So buy a couple of books in the style that you're interested in (or a general one if you're wanting to learn the absolute basics). Find a friend who you can jam with who doesn't showing you some things. Get a lesson or two to get the basics right, could even be over Skype. Dip in and out of YouTube and learn one or two songs, but for a more structured approach try Justinguitar.com or Andyguitar.com. If money is no object, try a paid academy and really get serious. 

And remember to build a good practice routine too - this is essential.​ Check out our guides on how to play guitar and learning the 8 basic chords too.

Most of all enjoy - playing guitar is a gift. ​Treasure it and never stop learning.

Photo by Nitin Jadon / CC 2.0
Photo by Larry Jacobsen / CC 2.0

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