Learning to play guitar is something many people would love to do, but there’s a big difference between having the goal, and making it a reality.

So why do some succeed while others watch their guitar gather dust in the corner of the living room?

It really comes down to two factors:

  1. A genuine desire to get good at guitar – it needs to be more than just a ‘someday maybe’ idea.
  2. A solid game plan with clear steps towards reaching a specific goal/level – bouncing around on YouTube just won’t cut it.

If you’re reading this, then it seems you’ve already got the first box ticked – so what about the second one?

There’s now a huge array of options for learning guitar. With endless choices comes endless confusion – especially for beginners. Today, we aim to clear the fog around two popular ways to learn guitar: online lessons vs. guitar books.

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of the pros and cons for both, and feel more confident choosing a style that best suits your needs.

What do I need to get good at guitar?

A guitar! Done. Hmm, okay it’s gonna take a bit more than that.

If you’re a total beginner, it’s worth getting some advice on the real fundamentals before you start playing.

“But we’re living in the future! Can’t AI just teach me how to play guitar?” Let’s find out:

Beyond the essential tips Sam and Karl just offered us, there are three really important concepts that you need to include in your practice routine.

If you can cover these, you’ll avoid the most common guitar-learning pitfalls.

1. Structured learning

“I wanna get good at guitar” is not enough – you need to get specific with your goals.

Once you know exactly where you want to be, it’s way easier to plan your journey to get there. Many guitarists (even intermediate level) feel unsure of what to work on next – you want to avoid this at all costs.

When you have a structured pathway laid out, you’ll never feel lost – this means genuine progress every time you pick up the guitar.

2. Practical exercises

If your routine only covers the ‘theoretical’ side of things, it can be difficult to see improvement in your actual playing.

You could have a book that contains every scale in the world, but if you’re not shown how to apply them, what’s the point?

Make sure every time you learn something new, you use it in a musical context. Not only will you have more fun, but you’ll also lock in the information.

3. Professional guidance

This is even more crucial for beginners.

When you’re first starting out, mistakes are inevitable. Even the basic mechanics of playing the guitar should be monitored.

You need to avoid developing bad habits early on – the best way to do this is to have an experienced guitarist check your technique.

Learning styles and preferences

We’re all different, not just in terms of what we want to learn but also how we learn it.

It’s good to figure how what style of learning best suits you. Here are three common categories:

Visual learners

  • Visual learners grasp concepts better through images and demonstrations.
  • Online lessons offer video tutorials, interactive diagrams, and demonstrations that cater to the visual learning style.
  • The dynamic visual elements can enhance comprehension and retention.

Text-based learners

  • Some individuals learn best through reading and textual information.
  • Guitar books provide comprehensive written material, explanations, and exercises, catering to the text-based learning preference.
  • The static nature of books allows for focused reading and understanding of concepts.

Hands-on learners

  • Some people thrive through hands-on experience and physical engagement.
  • Both online lessons and guitar books can complement this learning style through practice exercises.
  • Incorporating practical applications, such as playing along with lessons or exercises, is essential for hands-on learners.

Budget and schedule

Another important factor is the time and money you’re able to invest in learning guitar.

  • In-person lessons are great, but extremely pricey and usually at a fixed time each week.
  • If you need flexibility, or have a tight budget, online lessons or books are the way to go.

Learning goals

Do you just want to strum along to your favorite songs, or are you planning on starting a band?

Where you want to go with guitar is a massive factor in how and what you should learn. If you see it as a casual hobby – maybe a basic chord/songbook is enough.

If you’re planning to perform in the future or play with other musicians, books may not give you everything you need.

Learning guitar from books

✔️ Pros

Cost-effective: The costs vary depending on the book, but they’re usually good value for money if you have the dedication to complete them.

Comprehensive: All good guitar textbooks contain in-depth explanations and diagrams. You can take as much time as you need to stare at a page and soak it all in.

Expert information: Books on specific topics are usually authored by experts in that niche (more on this in a moment)

❌ Cons

Not interactive: Unless there’s a CD or audio download included with the book, you can’t musically engage with the content.

Dust gatherers: Once you’ve bought a book, it’s very easy to forget about it. Online platforms tend you send notifications or emails to keep you engaged.

No guidance on technique: With a book, you’re very much on your own. If there are certain things you don’t fully understand you’ll need to look elsewhere for further explanation.

Learning guitar online

✔️ Pros

Accessibility: Wherever you are, if you’ve got an internet connection you can access a huge amount of information.

Interactive: Online lessons offer feature elements like virtual instructors, jam tracks, and personalized feedback.

Flexible: You can pick and choose exactly when you want to study – if you’ve got ten minutes free, you can jump into a mini-lesson.

❌ Cons

Cost: Usually purchasing a one-off online course costs more than a book. Times are changing though – there are now subscription-based platforms that offer a lot more content at a fraction of the price.

Potential distractions: Being online can sometimes make it hard to focus – this can be solved by turning off notifications and practicing a little self-discipline during your sessions (easier said than done!)

Mix & match: Hybrid learning

Although this article is putting these two learning methods against one another, they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

Often a combination of different styles works perfectly. During different stages of your guitar-playing journey, some will be more beneficial than others.

  • When you’re a beginner it’s vital to have personalized feedback – whether it be in-person or online.
  • During your intermediate phase, online courses are great for building the variety of skills and techniques you need to move forward.
  • Advanced guitarists may benefit from reading textbooks written by jazz masters like Joe Pass.

As long as you stick to the three factors outlined at the start of the article, you’ll make progress – it’s up to you which methods you use to grow.

Do you need a guitar teacher to learn guitar?

This is a common question asked by guitarists and it boils down to your current level and budget.

Ten years ago there were considerable advantages to having in-person lessons. As technology has improved it’s allowed teachers and students to connect more easily.

  • Sending a video of yourself playing is super easy, plus you don’t have the added pressure of needing to perform on the spot.
  • This may even be an advantage over 1-on-1, as your mentor can take more time to analyze your playing before giving feedback.
  • Structure and accountability were also big benefits of an in-person guitar teacher, but again these are now incorporated into many online learning platforms.

Debunking the myth: Are all the best guitarists self-taught?

This is a common talking point thrown around in guitar circles. Whether it’s a friend saying “I’ve never had a lesson” or mentions of legends that supposedly figured everything out on their own.

In reality, there always needs to be some form of input – even if it’s just from listening to recordings of your favorite guitarists, you’re still absorbing ideas from someone.

Part of becoming a great guitarist is finding your own style and being creative. Being influenced by other players is a fundamental part of the process – whether that’s from listening and copying, or learning directly from a teacher.

Best website for online guitar lessons

Pickup Music!

Alright, we may be a little biased on this one, but it’s not only our humble opinion – feel free to do your research and see what others think. We’ve got a 4.9 on Trustpilot, and there are a bunch of independent reviews online too.

  • Our Learning Pathways cover a huge range of topics and genres for beginners all the way up to advanced.
  • We also have a team of amazing guitar teachers ready to give advice, guidance, and feedback on your playing every step of the way.

The best part is all the content on the platform is included in the subscription – which works out to a fraction of the cost of in-person lessons (less than $0.50 a day!)

If you’re still not convinced – you can try it out for free with our 14-day trial 🎁

Author: Richard Spooner