Guitar Learning Books or Guitar Lessons?

Should you learn from guitar learning books or guitar lessons? This is one of the first questions you may be asking yourself if you’re just starting out with guitar playing. Today there are even virtual teachers on Skype (well, to be more accurate the teachers are not virtual, but the classroom is…). To add more options to the already-confusing set of available options, there are thousands of free and semi-free video lessons on YouTube that promise to make you a guitarist if you subscribe to their channel or paid program. So what should you do? I remember the first time I picked up my friend’s guitar when I was a teenager. Luckily there weren’t too many options back then (let’s just say that the Internet as we know it today did not even exist and that dial-up modem was considered state-of-the-art) so I just watched what my friend was doing, asked him a few questions, and tried to mimic his movements. A few minutes later there I was playing “Nothing Else Matters”. Okay, you got me this time… it actually took me a few days. Then I took a long pause, and when I say long I mean it. When I picked up from where I left off, I had to face a real dilemma of how to continue my guitar learning endeavor. Fast Internet was now ubiquitous, and all those learning options turned out to be overwhelming.

Commit yourself to becoming a guitarist

So let me start with a general statement that is quite reassuring – as long as you’re committed to becoming a good guitarist and a good musician, in the long run it doesn’t really matter how you start. Why? Because if you happened to start the “wrong” way, sooner or later you’d find out that things don’t work for you and you need to consider an alternative learning option. How do I know that? Because that’s exactly what happened to me. And there’s nothing wrong with that – some things you learn only from experience. That said, you do have to try to maximize the value you get out of your learning and practicing efforts. And you certainly don’t want to spend time and cash on a learning method that is likely to get you frustrated, or worse off – discourage you from learning guitar altogether. So you need to consider a few simple guidelines, and here they are.

Private guitar lessons – pros and cons

As always, budget comes first. If you have no limits there – great. If you’re like most people though, private guitar lessons could be costly. Other methods are way cheaper, not to say negligible in terms of cost. Private lessons’ major benefit on the other hand is that they force you to stay committed, partly because you’re paying good money for it (always a great incentive, isn’t it?). A teacher will also make sure that you’re on the right track at all times, point out mistakes and correct them before you even notice them. On the cons side – apart from cost, a teacher needs to be good. Guitarists often like to teach guitar for a living but what makes a great guitarist doesn’t necessarily make a good guitar teacher. Also, some guitar teachers may either be too strict or too “forgiving” in their demands from you. The latter is worse, because a “forgiving” guitar teacher would give you the false feeling of making quick progress while in reality you’re just taking risky shortcuts in building a solid foundation.

Learning to play guitar from books

What about guitar learning books? I just love guitar books. A great deal of them are crap, but once you come across a great guitar learning book (like this one) – you’ve hit the jackpot. Their cost is just ridiculously low these days. Heck, compared to private lessons, books are virtually free. The trick with guitar books is first to get the right one for you. The other tricky part about guitar learning books is that you have to have that inner motivation to stay committed. But quite frankly – if you’re serious about becoming a guitar player, this should not be a big issue. And again, since they’re so cheap, you could simple order a bunch and see which book or method works best for you.

Other guitar learning options

What about all those Skype teachers offering remote lessons? To be honest I have never tried this, but my gut feeling is that this is more of a compromise than a valid solution. If you know otherwise – by all means, feel free to correct me in the comments below. Lastly – free or paid video lessons. Like guitar learning books – the benefit is twofold. First, the cost – free or ridiculously low, and once you come across a good training program – you’re golden. Problem is, again, finding the right program for you. But we’ll take care of that in a different post in the future.

So, guitar learning books or guitar lessons?

Now let me get to the bottom line here. I would recommend that if you’re just starting out, you’d better get a real guitar teacher to take you through those first few months (or years…) of learning the basic stuff. You don’t want to learn that from a book or from a video-lesson that cannot look back at you during those first critical stages. But once you get the basics down, you get onto the long trail of repeated practice (scales, patterns, etc.) which to be honest is a self-training effort where teachers, as good as they might be, cannot do the job for you. At that point I would suggest getting a few good books to have all the reference training material available, and also open your mind to different learning methods and music styles. This could also be done via video lessons and song tutorials on YouTube. Once you’ve reached a solid playing level, then it might be a good time to look for a guitar teacher again, but this time an expert in your chosen genre, one that could really take you to the next level and make you a pro.

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