Three Benefits of In-Person Guitar Instruction

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

The world of online guitar resources is amazing. I learned to play in the 70’s. Back then you had to lift a needle(!) off a vinyl(!) album over and over to nail a guitar part you were working on. The whole landscape has changed- much for the better. With a computer and internet connection, enormous resources for learning guitar are at your fingertips all the time.

You can learn from free YouTube guitar tutorials, or pay a modest monthly fee for online lessons at sites like JamPlay and GuitarTricks. You can explore guitar blogs containing generous information on playing, practicing, etc… You can go to Songsterr.com and find many accurate guitar tabs with rhythm notation, along with a lime green arrow you can click to make the tablature play itself! If you want to play guitar, but the trashed economy makes it hard to budget for lessons, don’t let that stop you. There have never been so many free or low-cost options for learning practically anything, including guitar, as are available now online. I use internet resources in my own teaching and have a page of click-worthy links on my website (www.NoStringsGuitar.com).

There are still solid benefits, though, to starting out with private instruction if you’re able to. Here are some of the advantages of one-to-one instruction:

Sidestepping bad playing habits and establishing good ones

You can certainly learn to play without this advantage, but it will probably take longer than it will with private instruction. There are challenges that all new players face before they start to really enjoy playing guitar  (see previous post Encouragement for New Guitar Players). One of these challenges is simply getting clean, clear sound from the instrument. For instance, there are five things to juggle when learning chords, in order to get good sound. It’s much easier if you don’t have to troubleshoot five things all by yourself in the early days. A good teacher can quickly point out what adjustments will help you get good sound and will encourage you to play through the chords a-string-at-a-time so you can hear what’s working and what isn’t. A good teacher can help you develop the discipline and patience to listen closely to your playing and fix whatever problems arise during your practice time.

Encouragement is another advantage of live instruction, especially in the early lessons.

A good teacher will be able to hear your progress before you think you’re making any because we know what to listen for and watch for. You might hear only your mistakes and start to feel unhappy in your efforts to learn guitar. A good teacher will be listening for what you’re doing right in addition to what needs work and will be able to help you keep up your enthusiasm for playing- especially in the early days when you’re toughening up your fingertips, building finger strength, developing coordination and building muscle memory. Another early obstacle is fingertip soreness. This can be overcome in a couple weeks if you spend a solid 15 minutes in daily practice, five to seven times a week. If you really want to play, you’ll get through this early hurdle with or without a teacher- but encouragement can be a big help.

Not as obvious, but equally as important- developing your ear for music in the early lessons, while you develop playing skills

This was recently brought home to me when I found several YouTube videos of the African style of guitar playing called Soukous. I fell in love with the joyful, major-scaley sound of African guitar when Paul Simon’s Graceland album came out in the 80s, then later when a friend took me to a concert by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, so I was delighted to stumble across a number of guitar tutorials focusing on this style. The quality of these YouTube videos was so-so. They had been shot without multiple clear views of various angles. But they were good enough to make a start, and the audio was good. Because of an early teacher’s emphasis on ear training, I was able to figure out by ear what I couldn’t see clearly on the video. What might have been confusing instruction without ear training became a happy resource for me to explore a guitar style I hadn’t learned yet.

There are other benefits to studying with a good teacher in the early lessons, including motivation and a clear, individualized plan to reach your musical goals. But the three benefits detailed above are those that seem, to me anyway, ultimately most valuable to beginning players. Oh- and this very important benefit! Once you’ve gotten the basics down with the help of a good teacher, all those wonderful online resources will actually start to make sense. You’ll be able to go to the tab sites, the video tutorials, etc., and have the background and basic skills to put the online resources to good use, rather than being overwhelmed by them.

A closing note to those who for reasons of schedules, budgets, etc., can’t consider private lessons- learn to play anyway! There is much you can accomplish without a teacher- you will need to be more self-motivated and your encouragement will need to come from within, but you can certainly do it and it will add a rich dimension to your life!

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