Beginner Basics: How to Teach Yourself Guitar

5609602235_fbb43d48fc_b (1)Getting started on guitar can be mystifying without a great teacher to guide you. Follow these tips from guitar teacher Jerry W. and  you’ll be on your way to playing the guitar…

So you want to teach yourself how to play guitar? You dream of playing your favorite song or gigging in a band. You’ve bought a guitar and you’re ready to start. But now what? Where should you begin?

In this post I will walk you through making a plan to teach yourself guitar. I will cover the steps to developing your goals and making a plan.

Determine Your Starting Point

Your first step is to assess your current musical ability. Are you a complete musical beginner or do you already play another instrument? The most important factor to consider at this point is whether you already know how to read music. If you have previous musical background and read music then your task will be much easier and you will want to look for teaching materials (books, videos, blogs) that delve right into the actual techniques of playing the guitar and the unique characteristic of guitar music.

If, however, you are a complete beginner, then you need to find teaching resources that take you step by step through reading music in addition to learning guitar.

Determine Your Goals

Once you know your starting point you need to determine your ending point. What do you hope to accomplish as a guitar player? Why do you want to teach yourself guitar? Do you want to simply strum along with your favorite song or play standard chords as you sing, or do you want to be able to play lead guitar and solo over the band? Are you interested in strumming rhythm on the acoustic guitar, rocking out on the electric, fingerpicking a folk tune or playing classical music? Although it is possible to become proficient in each of these areas, it is best and more reasonable to start with a simple clear and reachable goal.

Determine Your Style

The most important part of your goal setting is to determine your preferred guitar style. The first step in this is to choose between the three primary types of guitar: acoustic, electric and classical. Once you select the type of guitar I would recommend focusing on a specific style of music. There are a lot of resources out there for the guitar player and knowing what style you are looking for will help you to quickly narrow down your options.

Also, the style of music you wish to play will help determine what music reading skills you need to have. You can strum to music by simply being able to read chord symbols, a lot of pop music is written in guitar tablature (tab) but to play classical guitar you will need to learn standard music notation.

Make a Plan

Now that you have a clear goal it is time to make a plan. Here are the primary steps to your plan:

  1. Find resources. Search the web for the best books, videos and articles on your chosen guitar style. Go to your nearest music store and look at their resources. Talk to the salesperson and ask them what will work best for your goals. If you know anyone who plays guitar, see what they use. There are a wealth of resources available so spend some time checking out the reviews and seeing which ones look best for helping you reach your goals.
  2. Set up a practice schedule. There is no substitute for practice. The amount of time you are willing and able to practice will have the greatest impact on your eventual success. It is best to have a specific time set aside. If you really want to reach your goal you will need to spend the time. If you don’t schedule it, then it is all too easy to forget and allow other activities to crowd it out. Choose a time and stick with it.
  3.  Play with others. As soon as possible begin to play with others. The fun of making music together will encourage you to go back and practice some more. Also, more advanced musicians are often happy to offer pointers you can take back to the practice room.

Work the Plan

You have a goal. You have a plan. Now for the hard part. You need to work your plan. No amount of dreaming and no amount of planning will make up for the hard work of practicing and playing on a regular basis. If you want to teach yourself guitar then you will have to work hard. But if you stick with it, in a few weeks you will begin to see progress and soon you will have the pleasure of reaching your goal and the enjoyment of playing your favorite music on your guitar.

Remember, you can only get so far teaching yourself guitar. Nothing beats private guitar lessons if you want to learn proper technique and see fast results!


Jerry W. teaches classical guitar, composition, trombone and trumpet in Grosse Pointe, MI.  He received his Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition from Cornerstone University and went on to receive both his Masters and PhD in Music Composition from Michigan State University.  Jerry has been making music and teaching students for over thirty years.  Learn more about Jerry W. here!



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