A Comparison of Different Methods of Learning Guitar

Modern life is better than any other time in existence, by almost every possible measure. Income, life expectancy, access to information, infant mortality, cost per calorie of food… and of course, access to guitar lessons. 

As long as you have an internet connection, or live in a town, you are going to have access to some form of guitar lessons.

But with so many choices available, how should you go about choosing how to learn guitar? 

In today’s article, we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of every possible type of guitar lesson that you could think of taking. 

We’ll look at three different categories of guitar lessons:

  • Local guitar lessons
  • Books, DVDs and magazines
  • Online guitar lessons

Comparison of Local Guitar Lessons

Local guitar lessons tend to break down into the following categories:

  • Adult learning centre lessons
  • Private guitar lessons
  • Group guitar lessons

Adult Learning Centre Guitar Lessons

In the UK, many local councils provide “Adult Learning Centres”. These centres offer a myriad of different programs you can choose from, including guitar lessons. 

These can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes you get a great instructor, sometimes you get an awful one. 

As an example of the type of lessons you can get, a student of mine was actually advised to quit playing guitar after attending an adult learning centre program. She now plays in a jazz duo and writes her own music. Unfortunately, it’s quite common for poor instructors to blame the student, rather than to reflect on their ability to teach.

Classes at Adult Learning Centres tend to be large (10+ people), which means individual attention is very limited. 

The classes will be very cheap, however… you tend to get what you pay for. 

Courses also tend to run for a limited time, for example, a 20 week course. This can lead students into falsely believing that they can “learn guitar in 20 weeks”. 

The lesson experience tends to be something along the lines of the entire class being given a sheet of tab for a song and being told to learn it. As you can imagine, with varying ability levels, this more often leads to frustration than progression for the student.

It also means that you have to learn what you are given and that lessons will not be tailored to your goals or needs.

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar at an Adult Learning Centre

Pros

  • Lessons will be very cheap

Cons

  • No choice in instructor
  • Large class sizes
  • Lessons are not tailored to your goals
  • It can be difficult to make progress

Are Local Learning Centre Lessons Suitable for You?

I’d rarely completely write something off… but in this case, I will. I would not recommend learning this way.

There are much better options available, which we will look at below.

Private Lessons

This is the most common way that most people learn guitar, by taking lessons with a local guitarist.

Lessons are typically 30 minutes to one hour long and cost, on average, $20-$50 per 30 minute lesson, and double that for a 60 minute lesson.

Instructors will often offer a discount for paying for multiple lessons at once, for example, buy 10 lessons get one free.

Private lessons can be a good option for people who are complete beginners, and people who are not very confident in their ability to learn independently. 

The lesson is completely focussed on you, as the name implies, and you get total attention from the teacher for the lesson. 

A disadvantage is that you are limited in choice by your geography. You can only take lessons with instructors that are local to you. 

There tends to be a huge range in teaching ability and style with local instructors. You may get lucky and find that there is a great guitar player local to you, who plays the style you want to learn and is also great at explaining concepts to you.

You may find you end up paying someone to complain about their life to you. I have a student who, before taking lessons with me, took lessons with another local instructor. The lesson consisted of listening to this guy complain about his life for 20 minutes!

A disadvantage that few people consider, is that you will not get to play with other guitarists, aside from your instructor. This can make learning topics such as improvisation difficult. 

Private instructors tend to teach songs and use method books to help students. They are usually weak on areas such as improvisation, composition, creativity, song and song writing. 

More often than not, lessons are quite unstructured, with “What do you want to learn today?”, being followed by learning a part of a song being the usual lesson format, but this can vary by instructor.

Instructors can be found via Google search or at your local guitar / music store.

Private Lessons Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Individual attention
  • Can be great for beginners
  • Good for people who lack confidence

Cons

  • Choice of instructor can be limited
  • Quality of instructor varies, usually instructors are good players and not so good instructors

Private lessons tip: If you do want to take private lessons, do not pay for 10 lessons at once. Pay for a couple of weeks of lessons to get a feel for the instructor.

Are Private Guitar Lessons Suitable for You?

If you are a beginner, or someone that lacks confidence, private guitar lessons guitar lessons will be good for you, IF you can find a great local instructor.

Don’t be afraid to phone around a few instructors, talk to them and take some trial lessons and find who works best for you.

If you can’t find a good local instructor, there are other options available that we will look at.

Local Group Lessons

Some local instructors will offer group lessons. These tend to have a class size that is anywhere from 2-5 people.

Lessons at places like Adult Learning Centres, which we mentioned before, can have class sizes of up to 10 people, or more.

Advantages to group lessons are being able to look at topics like improvisation and playing with other guitar players, which can be very fun and also adds a nice social element to learning. 

Some instructors will have group lessons at a cheap rate and some will have group lessons at the rate of a private lesson. 

The disadvantages are similar to those of private lessons, with your choice of instructor is severely limited.

However, group lessons will tend to be structured, as the instructor has to manage a group.

Other disadvantages are that you will get less individual attention, and topics such as music theory can be quite difficult to teach in this sort of environment – if one person gets stuck with a concept, the whole class is held back.

Instructors can be found via Google search or at your local guitar / music store.

Pros and Cons of Local Group Guitar Lessons

Pros:

  • Adds a social element to learning guitar, which can be enjoyable
  • Can be great for ensemble playing and learning improvisation
  • Classes can be similar to jam sessions
  • Can be cheaper than private lessons

Cons:

  • Choice of instructor is geographically limited
  • Less instructors will offer group lessons, further restricting your choice
  • You will get less individual attention
  • You probably will not cover topics such as music theory, improvisation, composition, technique training

Who Are Local Group Guitar Lessons Suitable For?

If you know the basics of playing guitar, and want to jam with others, learn improvisation and how to play with other guitarists, local group guitar lessons will work for you.

This goes with the caveat that it’s depending on finding a great instructor. As most instructors tend to only offer one to one lessons, this can make it harder to find a good group lessons instructor.

Books, DVDs and Magazines

It only takes a quick search on Amazon to see the myriad books, DVDs and magazines available on learning guitar.

We’ll look at this in two broad categories:

  • Books and DVDs
  • Magazines

Books and DVDs

These are usually around $10-$50, and can be anything from general method books or song books to deep dives into a specific topics at any level. 

Guitar books and DVDs can be a good way to get a lot of specialist knowledge on a particular topic.

Beginner books can be useful, but usually beginners need a bit more guidance and help. It is common for private teachers to teach beginners from beginner books. It can be very difficult for a beginner to learn from a beginner book by themselves.

Risks for Beginners Teaching Themselves From a Book

You may think, “Why not just use the book?”. Well for some people that might be fine! But you will also find that when you start playing guitar, your body is doing a lot of very weird things that you are not aware of. A teacher can point these things out to you and help you overcome them.

If you teach yourself, you will also find that at some point you get stuck with something that seems like it should be easy. Every guitarist experiences this! If you are learning by yourself, you will find this incredibly demotivating.

It its common for guitar players experiencing this to have a lot of self-doubt and to be overly critical. A teacher can help you realise that your feelings are normal, and that how you are progressing is actually normal and to be expected.

It is also common for guitar players to rush through learning material. Learning guitarists will often think“I played this once, so what’s next?”. This is totally the wrong attitude! A good teacher can help you train, apply and integrate the exercises that you have been looking at, which is what will improve your guitar playing. 

And finally, you may find you have questions or you don’t understand something… or even worse, you think you understand but you have made a mistake in how you are interpreting the material.

As an example of specialist books, Study-Guitar offers a free eBook on how to practice guitar more effectively.

Pros of Cons of Learning Guitar from a Book or DVD

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Large amount of specialist knowledge available on huge range of topics

Cons:

  • No teacher to help you
  • Properly training, applying and integrating materials can be challenging

Are Books and DVDs Suitable For You?

If you are an intermediate to advanced level guitarist, who is looking for specialist material on a particular topic, then books and DVDs can be a great resource for you.

Learning Guitar From Magazines

Magazines can be fun. They usually contain accurate tabs for songs, new exercises and ideas to try out, gear reviews and music reviews. 

So they can contain a real panoply of information. 

However, magazines should be seen as an indulgence rather than a primary learning source. 

I have always found that students who try and learn from magazines train themselves into “one-more-exercises-itis”, which like previously mentioned, does not help.

Your guitar playing will benefit much more from playing one exercise 1000 times, then 1000 different exercises once.

Sam Russell, study-guitar.com

Once you train yourself into this approach, it is very hard to change and is a big reason a lot of amateur guitar players never make serious progress with their playing. 

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar Through Magazines

Pros:

  • Diverse sources of information
  • New songs to learn
  • New ideas and exercises to try
  • Lots of fun

Cons:

  • No structure
  • Not a primary method for learning
  • Can lead to “one-more-exercise-itis”

Are Guitar Magazines a Suitable Method For You to Learn Through?

If you are using a magazine as an interest or for things to try out, then they can be a fun way to expand your knowledge.

Magazines should not be treated as a primary method for learning (at least, not if you want to make progress!).

Online Guitar Lessons

With the rise of the internet, there are now several different methods of online guitar learning available.

We’ll break this down into four categories:

  • YouTube
  • Online courses
  • Online private lessons
  • Online membership websites

Learning Guitar from YouTube

YouTube has become huge. It has videos on every conceivable topic, including guitar lessons. 

You can find lessons from all sorts of instructors from every corner of the globe, on all sorts of topics (although I’m yet to find any good channels covering composition for electric guitarists). 

However, this is also the downside. Where do you start? How do you know what is good or not? There are so many videos available, deciding what to look at can be overwhelming.

Another big disadvantage is that you can’t ask questions. If you leave a comment with a question, the instructor may not get back to you. Or some troll might leave a nasty remark on your question.

Finally, there is also a lack of feedback. The person who made the video can’t see what you are doing. You may find that you have no idea if you are practising correctly or not, or similarly to books, that you misunderstand something.

A common problem guitar students have when trying to learn from YouTube is that the instructor moves over topics too quickly. While you can play a video a second time, you can’t ask the instructor to go over a particular detail in more depth.

So YouTube really is a mixed bag. It’s probably best used to occasionally dip into a very specific topic, but will not be too effective as a structured program.

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar From YouTube

Pros:

  • Free
  • Huge range of lessons

Cons:

  • No feedback on your playing
  • No structure to lessons
  • Too much choice
  • A student can experience of a lot of uncertainty in how they should practice, are they practising correctly, etc

Will Learning Guitar From YouTube be Suitable For You?

YouTube is best treated in a similar way to magazines – it’s great for dipping into specific topics, but it will not be good as a primary source of learning.

Learning Guitar With Online Courses

There has been a huge rise in recent years with online guitar courses. A lot of guitar players are now offering courses online.

The biggest, and most obvious, benefit to taking an online course, is the structure that it offers. 

With a course, you receive a set series of lessons. In theory, they will incrementally build on each other. 

The course will usually be a lot cheaper than taking lessons. For example, a 30 lesson course may cost say, $100. 30 lessons with a private guitar instructor would probably be something in the region of $900. 

A downside is that you can’t get feedback on what you are doing. 

Another possible disadvantage can be if the instructor suffers from an effect known as “expert amnesia”. 

Expert amnesia is when someone is so advanced at a topic or skill, that they forget what it is like to study that skill for the first time. 

What this means for the student, is that some ideas don’t receive sufficient explanation, leaving the student confused.

Another weakness of courses can be the focus on new material, rather than training. New material is great, but without training, a student will not improve. 

You can think of it like this – reading a book on deadlifting won’t make you any stronger. Deadlifting a few times a week, every week, for months will make you stronger.

Learning guitar is exactly the same.

Students can find themselves completing a course and understanding the guitar better, but still having weak playing skills – courses tend to emphasise moving through lessons, rather than sitting and practising material.

Similarly to learning guitar from YouTube, a student may be unsure as to whether they are practising material correctly, or misunderstand a particular idea or concept.

Finally, courses tend to be… well, courses. You will not be shown how to integrate lesson material with your other skillsets.

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar With Online Courses

Pros:

  • Cheaper than private lessons
  • Courses are usually well structured
  • You get access to courses from instructors all over the world
  • Can be great for specialising in specific topics

Cons:

  • Lessons can skip through topics too quickly
  • You do not receive feedback
  • No emphasis on application or integration

Are Online Courses Suitable for You?

Online courses have a similar utility to good books and DVDs.

If you are wanting to dive into a specific topic, or learn from a specific instructor, they will be great for you.

Learning Guitar with Online Private Lessons

With the rise of services such as Skype and Zoom, there are now a lot of guitar instructors offering private lessons online. 

A great advantage of this is that you are no longer geographically restricted with who you can take a private lesson from – for example, if you live in the UK, you can take a lesson from someone in the US.

This is great, as you can now seek out any instructor in the world to take lessons from. It means that you can find a great instructor that works for you, and the quality of instructor is not left to chance, based on your location.

One particular advantage, is that online private lessons can be great for learning how to use music tech programs, such as MuseScore, Guitar Pro and Logic Pro. 

A disadvantage of this is that instructors can be quite expensive – if they have demand, they have worldwide demand and their schedule can fill up quickly. A full schedule means high prices. 

However, the great benefit is that you can get access to almost anyone – many famous guitarists now offer private guitar lessons online. 

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar With Online Private Lessons

Pros:

  • Take lessons with any teacher on the planet
  • Great for learning how to use music technology programs
  • Feedback on your playing and understanding
  • Lessons tend to be more structured than local private lessons

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than local private lessons
  • Lessons depend on your internet connection being stable
  • Different timezones can be problematic

Are Online Private Guitar Lessons Suitable for You?

If you are a more serious student, then you will find online lessons are probably great for you.

They are also great if there is a specific guitarist your want to study with.

Online Membership Websites

These tend to be an all round offering in the online guitar learning space and have been becoming increasingly popular in the last few years.

Memberships will have multiple courses covering a variety of topics. They can also include live events, and have a community element that is facilitated via a forum or social network style section of the website. 

Having a community also allows students to talk to each other, ask questions and get feedback.

If a particular lesson is causing trouble for students, the lesson can be updated and revised to make the ideas clearer, or break ideas down into smaller pieces. 

You also get a social support group. When taking lessons with a private instructor (whether online or locally), you would probably never meet the other students, aside from saying hello if they have the lesson slot before you. 

With an online membership, you get access to all the other students and a support network for people who are interested in similar style and on a similar path to you. 

Access to a membership tends to be much less than private lessons. Guitar instruction memberships tend to range from $17/mo to $47/mo, which is much less than a weekly private lesson at $80-$140/mo.

A disadvantage is that you don’t have someone sitting in the room with you saying “No, do it like this”, however, if the material is sufficiently explained and you are confident with learning, this isn’t a problem.

Memberships will also give you access to the instructor, so that you can ask questions and receive clarifications on how you should be doing things. 

When it comes to learning guitar online, memberships can be a great way to do it. That is why Study Guitar is offering a membership option, for students interested in progressing in a rock/metal style of guitar playing, interested in understanding the guitar and music on a deeper level, and who are interested in writing their own songs and compositions. 

You can read more about our membership here.

Pros and Cons of Learning Guitar with an Online Membership

Pros:

  • Variety of courses and topics
  • Lessons are updated
  • You can get feedback
  • You can learn with other students
  • Cheap monthly price

Cons:

  • No direct in person feedback
  • You don’t get to jam in person with other players (saying that, you can meet other members who are local to you)
  • Probably not suitable for beginners
  • Not suitable for people who have no confidence in learning somewhat independently

Is Learning With an Online Membership Suitable For You?

If you are capable of studying by yourself and you can find a membership site that covers the areas that you are interested in, they can be a great way to learn to play guitar.

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