Not everyone can afford to take guitar lessons or pay for online guitar programs. If you’re in that boat, we’ve put together some other avenues you can explore. There’s no shortage of free or cheap educational content in the world.
This article covers:
- A list of YouTube channels to check out
- Book recommendations for beginner guitarists
- Our favorite guitar lesson websites
You’ll also walk away with tips on how to learn guitar by ear. At the end of the article, we’ll talk about where you can source an affordable first guitar.
If you already have a guitar and are ready to dive in, come and have a free guitar lesson on us! 🍭
What you need to learn guitar by yourself
Learning a new skill by yourself is not easy. Let’s not sugarcoat it – getting started is the hardest part. It’s much easier if you have someone to
- Guide and motivate you
- Give you reliable answers to your questions,
- Offer feedback on your playing (especially early on).
A private teacher is not always an option though. When that’s the case, you can teach yourself how to play guitar. Many people have successfully done it – even before the internet existed.
When you embark on this journey on your own, you need:
- Guitar teachers can guide you to practice efficiently and decide for you what you need to practice.
- When you’re on your own, you might go down a few distracting rabbit holes that don’t lead where you thought they would.
- Nobody is holding you accountable.
- Think about why you want to learn guitar and use those reasons as your guiding light.
- When you feel like you’re just not getting anywhere, be kind to yourself and remember that part of learning a new skill is enjoying the journey.
- There will always be ups and downs – don’t beat yourself up.
- Since no one is guiding you, you’ll have to get curious and experiment.
- You’re on a quest and finding your way may require some different approaches.
Using your ear to learn to play guitar
This is a serious challenge, but it’s a very rewarding way to learn the guitar. Maybe this can be a temporary strategy until you can gather the funds to learn the guitar more formally.
You don’t need perfect pitch for this endeavor, only the ability to hear differences in pitches.
Beginner exercises to learn the guitar by ear
This is what you should focus on at first:
- How to tune a guitar
- How to hold the guitar
- How to fret a note
- How to pluck a string
Here’s how guitarist Molly Miller positions her guitar and hands when she’s playing:
- Use your fingertips to press down lightly on one or more strings.
- Use your other hand to pluck or strum one or more strings.
- Molly is using a plectrum to pluck the strings, but you can use your fingers too.
Play each string in an open position, which means just pluck the string – don’t press down any frets.
See if you can fret a note anywhere on the fretboard and get a clear sound without buzz.
Find the lowest and highest note on the guitar. Once you’re able to play different notes on different strings, take some time to get comfortable navigating around the fretboard.
You can try to:
- Sing a melody and then play it back on the guitar.
- Play two different notes at the same time and find different harmonies – experiment with combinations and find ones that sound pleasant to you.
- Expand on the previous point – do the same but with three notes on three strings.
- Choose a single note and create different rhythmic patterns.
A lot depends on your creativity – just make things up as you go along and have fun.
Do you already have some experience with singing or other instruments? Find ways to transfer that knowledge over to the guitar.
Learn to play guitar by listening to songs
Pick any song you know well and see if you can replicate some of the melodies on guitar.
- Start with just a short section of the song.
- See if you can identify the notes – sing them if it helps.
- Then find them on the guitar.
- Once you feel comfortable with the melody play along with the recording.
If you already have a musical background, you can tackle the chords too. The easiest songs to learn usually are simple pop or folk tracks.
- Listen to the bass to establish the root notes.
- Then try to identify the highest notes – that’s usually what the vocalist is singing.
- Complete the puzzle by trying to figure out any notes in between.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, read our article on how to learn songs by ear.
Best YouTube channels to learn guitar
We’ve picked some YouTubers who make beginner-friendly videos. It’s probably best to avoid just searching for “beginner guitar lessons” – you’ll save yourself time by heading straight to some reputable channels.
Learn music theory from Andrew Huang
This video is not strictly about how to play guitar, but it’ll teach you some essential music theory.
Learn the very basics from JustinGuitar
Justin Sandercoe is a fixture among YouTube guitar teachers. All his lessons are free. If you need help with how to hold, pick, fret, or tune your guitar – start with his beginner lessons.
Learn four easy chords from Lauren Bateman
This lesson demonstrates how to play the four chords E minor, G major, C major, and D major. The shapes are simple and the chords are so common you can immediately start playing a few songs.
Learn 22 songs that use the same four chords from Marty Schwartz
Next, hit up Marty Schwarts and use the chords you learned in the previous video to learn some simple songs.
The picking and strumming techniques Marty teaches in this video are a bit advanced at times, but you can always ignore those. Just strum once every time the chord changes instead.
Best books to learn guitar by yourself
If you want a step-by-step guide to learning guitar we have two recommendations for you:
The Guitar Lesson Companion
Susan Palmer is a guitar teacher based in Seattle. She taught guitar at Seattle University for 12 years and developed a series of books called The Guitar Lesson Companion. They are accompanied by a series of videos that are part of Susan’s free five year online guitar course.
Guitar Method Book 1
The classic book choice for beginner guitarists is Guitar Method Book 1 written by Will Schmid and Greg Koch. The publisher, Hal Leonard is famous for its high-quality guitar textbooks – most players will have flipped through them at one time or another.
Learn guitar using online guitar lesson websites
Here are a few platforms to check out if you’re able to spend a bit of money on an online membership:
- JustinGuitar: This website is completely free and offers step-by-step guitar courses for different levels. It is also a great resource for song tutorials which are ranked by difficulty.
- GuitarTricks: Since 1998, GuitarTricks has been releasing guitar lessons in video form. The site offers a massive archive of lessons for every level. Their step-by-step program focuses on rock, blues, country, and acoustic guitar.
- Yousician: This platform is reminiscent of video games and focuses on learning guitar in a playful way.
- Truefire: Truefire has classes for all levels and offers a lot of courses on specific genres and techniques. The platform creates high-quality videos and works with established guitarists/teachers.
- Pickup Music: Oh hello, that’s us! Learn guitar with us if you want daily lesson plans, feedback on your playing, step-by-step pathways for every level and a wide variety of genres. Our lessons are crafted by renowned guitarists who actively perform and record music at a professional level.
Now, as promised, we’ll wrap up by answering the question: Where do I find my first guitar?
The best guitar for beginners
If you already have a guitar, congrats! If you’re still looking for a cheap beginner guitar, here are some tips on where to find one.
How to get a guitar for free or cheap
Ask another guitarist: If you have a tight budget and buying a new guitar isn’t an option at the moment – see if you can borrow one from a friend.
Perhaps you’re wondering if guitar is something you’ll stick with – before you spend money, ask around to see if anyone you know is willing to lend you a guitar for a month or two.
Check your library: They’re not just good for books! Sometimes libraries have musical instruments available.
Reach out to your library to see if they have guitars and while you’re at it, ask if there are any guitar courses online you can access via your library card for free.
Go to a local guitar store: If you’re lucky enough to have a local guitar store, stop by and ask if they have guitars you can rent for a little while.
A quick guide to buying a beginner guitar
The number one thing to look for is a guitar that’s easy to play. Since you don’t know how to play, it’s hard to judge what that means.
- Wherever you buy your guitar, ask if a staff member can demo it for you, or if you know someone who plays, take them with you so they can test it.
- If you buy online, check with the seller whether the guitar has been set up. A basic setup means adjusting the guitar so that it plays comfortably, and with good intonation.
- Many guitar stores have used guitars – a great choice when you’re trying to save money.
At Pickup Music, we have used Orangewood guitars for video lessons in the past. Orangewood is a company based in California that only sells online. They make affordable models like the Austen or the Oliver. You can read their beginner guide to buying a guitar here.
If you want to start learning without needing to invest right away, use our 14-day free trial to Pickup Music.
If you’re a total newbie, start with our Beginner Learning Pathway – you’ll be playing songs in no time!
Author: Julia Mahncke
Featured Pickup Music Instructor
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