Choosing the Best Way to Learn Guitar in 2021 (In-Depth Guide)

best way to learn guitar

The best way to learn to guitar is different for every person. Sure all of us have the same destination but the journey is different for everyone.

There are many ways to learn a new skill, which is best for you depends on a variety of factors but at the heart of the matter is what type of learner you are in the first place.

Some of us are visual learners, others kinesthetic requiring a practical, physical, tactile element to retain the knowledge. In reality, we learn via a mixture of learning styles but most of us tend to lean more heavily towards one route or another.

Learning an instrument is a very tactile-led pursuit and for the most-part requires visual and aural practices. The good news is if you are musically inclined then you will probably be an aurally-motivated learner.

But whether or not you have an academic approach or prefer to keep things laid back will also play a part in how you will learn best. In addition, there are also outside influences to consider such as your lifestyle.

How much time do you have to dedicate? How serious are you about playing guitar and what level are you looking to get your skills to? Do you want to be able to play anything and everything with the finesse of a pro or do you just want to jam-out with your buddies at the next BBQ?

Your goals as an individual, the friends you have, the area you live, and the budget you have all play a part in determining the route you take.

Fortunately, we live in an age where the options available to us are pretty vast so you can learn to play guitar easily. Hopefully some of the options we will take you through in this article will help you find the best path for you.

Learning To Play Guitar Options

Your learning options can be broken into 2 distinct paths, guided learning or self-taught. Each has a range of sub-divided options and some crossover which could be considered hybrid learning options as you are learning in a DIY approach but still have something to guide you and learn from.

Guided Learning Options

  • Traditional private tutoring in person or online.
  • Group classes either with an educative body or through an online class.
  • Asking a guitar-playing friend.

Self-Taught Options

  • Self Study. Learn guitar at home via books, magazine subscriptions, and other online resources.
  • Playing by ear.

Hybrid Options

  • Online Platforms with pre-recorded classes, resources, and forums.
  • App-based learning with interactive interfaces.
  • Watching Youtube or other video tutorials.

Top Tips On The Best Way To Learn Guitar

Before we breakdown each of your options in more depth, here are a few tips that you should know before you begin playing.

Get familiar with your instrument

No matter how you intend to learn, one of the best things you can do is to get to grips with your instrument. As a beginner even holding a guitar can feel completely alien.

Sure we are all familiar with the general stance and what bit goes where, we may have even perfected a bit of air guitar in our bedrooms, but you really need to get comfortable with your instrument. 

Classical and acoustic approaches to holding your guitar differ so read up on positioning if you are not going to have a tutor or follow a class.

An electric guitar can put stress on your shoulder in the early days if you aren’t used to bearing the weight and different body shapes can have a different center of balance. Pick a guitar that doesn’t neck-dive on you when you stand and a decent padded guitar strap for better shoulder comfort and stance.

Fingering and holding guitar strings is going to be uncomfortable for a bit, your fingertips are going to suffer a little abuse at the hands of your strings, especially with steel strings versus nylon.

In time, you will build the callouses and have the panache to stretch to even the most demanding of jazz chord hand placements.

If you are really struggling then it is a good idea to get a scaled-down size guitar, start with a ¾ model and work your way up to a full size. Some people just don’t have the hands for the task. A tutor will be able to point this out for you from day one but if you are going it alone and the stretch is ridiculous, use your common sense.

Different parts of an acoustic guitar.

Getting familiar with your instrument also includes learning some basic terminology for the guitar parts because no matter the route you take to learn guitar, you are going to be hearing words such as nut, bridge, and fret on a regular basis.

Listen to a variety of genres

To play music you need to be a great listener, and although you will have a preferred music style it is important to listen to a range of music to train your ears and to understand references, especially if you opt for online learning via pre-recorded videos which you may otherwise not understand.

Socialize with other guitarists

Speaking to other guitarists is really beneficial, everybody starts somewhere, and hearing about their journeys with the trials and tribulations along the way gives you the opportunity to pick up tips and advice that will make your path less arduous.

Watch other people play guitar. You can learn from their mistakes and sometimes knowing you are not going it alone is the encouragement you need to develop a healthy habit.

Try local open-mic nights, watch and support local artists, find an online forum or join a social media group and swap stories and ideas.

Forget your expectations

Almost 65% of people learning an instrument go out and buy all the gear and give up before the year is through. A good approach that might sound unconventional or counter-intuitive is to leave your expectations at the door.

Start setting goals once you have mastered the fundamentals, and even then make them realistic and bitesize in nature. It is a journey, not a race, and the steepest part of the learning curve is always the beginning. Taking it one step at a time is the best way to learn guitar.

Don’t shy away from music theory

Wanting to play guitar is generally stimulated by wanting to physically play music with it. Because of that, especially if you aren’t very academically inclined, it can be easy to chase learning songs and steer clear of the theory side of things. But it is better to try and strike a balance between the two.

A little music theory goes a very long way and can actually make the learning process later on a lot quicker.

It can be overwhelming when you are starting out and easier to skim-read past anything you don’t immediately understand. Try not to let it get you bogged down but make an effort to grasp some basic concepts along the way.

In the long-run, unless you are going to learn strictly by ear you will need to consider learning to read tablature or music notation. The latter of which will be easier for anyone who already plays another instrument.

Choosing the Best Way to Learn Guitar in 2021 (In-Depth Guide) 1
Image via School of Rock.

A tablature is a simplified form of notation specifically designed for guitarists and well worth learning in order to be able to learn a large repertoire all on your own.

If you aren’t going to find a private tutor and pay for lessons it is an invaluable tool to have in your belt as a self-taught guitarist. If you learn to read tabs well you can literally play any song available to you eventually.

Private Tuition

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with plenty of access to tutors and can afford to pay for their time then you have a great opportunity to seize. 

Having a private instructor and learning on a one-to-one basis means that your lessons are specific to you at your learning pace. You have someone to guide you every step of the way, to correct you when you are incorrect, and give you additional support in areas where you are struggling.

You get to see exactly how they play, and their playing style and they can impart their wisdom in real-time. You are paying for their time and they typically rely on word of mouth and good reviews, so they tend to go the extra mile for a private fee to make sure you are getting what you want out of your lesson time.

Guitar tutors tend to be very down-to-earth, and you can bounce ideas and have discussions whilst you learn.

There are lots of different teaching styles so you can find someone more relaxed or someone classically trained depending on your interests.

Private guitar lessons.

Of course, finding a good tutor that fits your needs can be like searching for a needle in a haystack if you are in a more rural area. So you might want to try finding an online private tutor who can teach you via video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.

You can search classified ad sites such as craigslist (US) or gumtree and Freeads (UK) or try specific tuition sites like Udemy to find a decent tutor. If you want someone local you can check your village notice boards or try visiting music stores for the right advert. You can also ask at universities and music education centers as well.

Private tuition can be expensive and often involves travel unless they come to your home to teach. So you will have to weigh up the pros and cons yourself but individual tuition is very beneficial especially in terms of feedback.

Pros

  • Individual lesson plans
  • Correction and feedback given instantly
  • Taught by a professional

Cons

  • May require travel
  • Can be tough to find the right tutor for you
  • Pricey

Group Tuition

A group class can work out a little cheaper than a private one. You still get the benefits of face-to-face instruction but the classes are taught at a pace that represents the average learner, someone slower may struggle or fall behind and someone very quick may get bored waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.

Group classes typically follow a set lesson plan, meaning they are more structured and make for good progression.

You have the benefit of watching your peers grow alongside you, encouraging and motivating you. There can even be an element of competition that can help drive some of the more ambitious learners out there. But, this can be a downside for the more anxious out there as trying new things in front of others can be overwhelming.

Group classes in an education setting may present you with the opportunity to perform which is good for growing as a performer and pushing comfort zones.

Group classes are typically advertised and subject to a stricter time schedule so they may not fit around the other things you are doing. Again you will need to factor in travel expenses and if you are in a more rural area you may have to look for an online group class taught remotely rather than find one to attend in person.

Pros

  • You learn with your peers
  • Lesson content is very structured
  • The pace of the group can push and motivate you

Cons

  • Time restrictive
  • You could feel out of your depth among faster learners

Online Platforms and Apps

Let’s face it, most of us are looking for easy ways to learn guitar, for most this may be via an online platform.

There are some awesome highly competitive choices out there for online guitar lessons. The top 5 being Guitar Tricks, TrueFire, JamPlay, Artistworks, and Fender Play.

Our top recommendation for learning to play guitar online is Guitar Tricks, you can read our Guitar Tricks review here!

Guitar Tricks core learning system
Guitar Tricks core learning system.

Most are available in browser/desktop formats as well as iOS apps. They all have specially developed course content that caters to different playing levels.

They center heavily around video tutorials and most have a proprietary player that presents scrolling tabs chord diagrams and other useful resources in real-time alongside the content.

Some have song-based lesson approaches, others just have a large song-library alongside their course content.

Most of the content is short, simple, and to the point, making it one of the easiest ways to learn acoustic guitar or electric.

They require a subscription fee but allow you to pick and choose when you learn, set your own goals, and progress at your own pace. If your free time is limited this could be the best way to learn guitar.

Most have a large roster of talented contributors giving you the benefit of seeing and hearing different playing styles.

You can see our reviews and comparisons of those mentioned above in our 10 best online guitar lessons article here!

Pros

  • Vast libraries of content
  • Multiple contributors
  • Flexible schedules
  • Work at your own pace
  • Easy way to learn guitar

Cons

  • Not so much content for advanced players
  • Some don’t teach enough theory

YouTube Tutorials

Learning via video tutorial is a tried and tested format that clearly works, which is why so many online platforms and Apps have video tutorials at their core. You can pick up a lot of skills when you watch a person play guitar.

YouTube allows access to users that may not have the funds to shell out on a subscription.

The problem with YouTube videos is the quality of content is very varied. You can change the playback speed but this usually affects the sound and image quality.

Not all tutors have the credentials to be teaching and you may not find a channel with a linear progression that a beginner requires to get better.

Learning to play guitar with Justin Guitar.

There are a handful of respected YouTube guitar teachers that operate their own online lessons, they have a lot of free content on YouTube and if you are interested you can access the member content by committing to a subscription.

Some that we would recommend are:

The Guitar Guy, Mark McKenzie who is the founder of Jamorama a great online guitar lesson platform. Justin Sandercoe of Justin Guitar and Marty Music.

Pros

  • A great resource for self-teaching guitarists
  • A wealth of content available
  • Free use

Cons

  • Quality is varied
  • If you slow a video down the sound can be ruined

A Word on Playing by Ear…

Playing by ear is really only a viable option if you have impeccable tonality and a good idea of how to tune your guitar in the first place. If you are tone-deaf it is not going to work for you.

That said, by learning the notes of your strings and a few starter guitar chords, you can probably pick out a few tunes to learn by ear early on.

A Major Guitar Chord.
A Major Guitar Chord.

Of course, it is subject to a lot of room for error but many self-taught musicians go this route. Learning the basics and running from there.

It is a quick option if you have played any other instrument before and is considered one of the easiest ways to learn guitar. 

Final Thoughts On The Best Way To Learn Guitar

As we stated in our introduction, the best method to learn guitar is ultimately down to the individual.

Private lessons provide the feedback and correction you need as someone starting out and give you some way to measure your ability. Sometimes this will even be graded.

The DIY method can work well for many but ultimately relies on finding decent resources and motivating yourself a lot more. You will still need some form of guidance.

Learning online bridges the gap between the two and is the best way to learn guitar at home. It is often cheaper than real-world lessons in the long-run, most platforms keep track of your progress and have systems in place to help motivate you.

The biggest advantage is you have all the resources you need in one place. Some online platforms such as Artistworks even offer 1-2-1 coaching and live-lessons for an additional fee.

We can’t decide for you what is the best way to learn guitar. The pros and cons of each learning option vary, but hopefully, you now have a much clearer idea of what learning to play guitar entails and how to go about it.

The best way to learn to play guitar is probably to incorporate a mixture of learning styles and methods!