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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 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 (

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 guitarĀ  (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!

I remember the joy and excitement when I started guitar lessons. There was a span of several years from that day in 3rd grade when I knew I wanted to play, and the day I began one-on-one lessons in 7th grade. The deferred gratification worked. Once I got a guitar and teacher, no one needed to prod me to practice. But there were several frustrations to overcome right off the bat.

If you’re a new player or the parent of a new player, you’ll experience those challenges, too. Hopefully this post will reassure you that: 1) you’ve got plenty of company; 2) you are not untalented or hopeless, though you might be frustrated. With regular practice you can work through these early challenges quickly and start to really love playing in two or three months.

Here are the early realities that new players face:

The fingertips of your fretting hand will be sore for about 2 weeks

To get good clear sound, you need to hold down the strings with adequate pressure. It’s uncomfortable at first. Can you put up with it for 2 or 3 weeks? That’s all it takes to fly past this first hurdle. Many teachers, including me, suggest just 15 minutes of daily practice for new players. Once your fingertips toughen up, do 30 minutes or more if your schedule allows. Shorter sessions when first starting out will keep you from becoming discouraged before you’ve even given yourself a chance. If you have great eagerness and passion for playing, by all means practice longer right from the start. I practiced well beyond fifteen minutes because I was eager to learn fast. But the main thing is to keep up your enthusiasm for learning guitar! Don’t let a brief period of fingertip soreness interfere with your desire to play- get past it with short daily practice and move on!

It takes awhile to get clean, clear sound from the notes or chords you’re working on

There are 5 things to be alert to in order to get good clear sound on the guitar. With the piano, all you need to do is press a key and a nice sound happens. With guitar, there are five things to juggle to get clear sound– 1) place your fingers right behind the fret, 2) hold the strings down with adequate pressure, 3) relax your wrist so you get a better approach to the strings, 4) keep your thumb out of the way, and 5) make sure when working on chords that none of your fingers accidentally lean into a neighboring string, cutting off its sound.

So if you’re a new student, or the parent of a new student, encourage yourself with the knowledge that it takes time, and many repetitions, to get all these adjustments working automatically. The key is daily focused practice of at least 15 minutes– 30 is better and will get you there faster. But regardless of the length of your practice sessions, you’ll need to get good at troubleshooting the sound of your chords- taking time to listen to them string-by-string so you can hear where the problems are, and then correcting the problems. With focused practice and lots of repetition, you’ll eventually get consistently clear sound from all the basic chords and be able to form them quickly, without thinking about it.

It will take many successful repetitions in order to change smoothly from chord to chord in a song

Like any other motor skill, you’ll need to do a number of successful repetitions before it becomes natural and automatic. Focused daily practice is the key to owning these new skills and starting to really enjoy playing. Make practice a part of your daily routine, not something you do only when you feel like it. You’ll be making real progress very soon if you do this. When working on smooth chord changes, it helps to become aware of chords that have similar shapes on two or more strings. For example, the change from C to G and back becomes less of a challenge when you realize that the 2nd and 3rd fingers of your left hand can simply move over to the neighboring strings as a single unit to accomplish most of this chord change (assuming that you use the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers to form the G chord). Another very easy change is Em to Am and back- same story with the 2nd and 3rd fingers. And if you play a E major chord and move that EXACT fingering to the next higher strings, you’ll be playing Am.

You’ll encounter similar or identical fingerings all over the guitar as you continue to learn and grow as a player. When you’re alert to these similarities, it will help you change chords efficiently and smoothly. With enough focused practice, you won’t have to think about it at all- your fingers will just go where they need to go.

Avoid lifting your fingers far off the strings and starting from scratch when forming every chord! Watch for places where fingerings can simply be moved over, up or down, to the left or right. Spend some of your time simply moving from one chord to another, strumming once, then moving on, going at a steady pace. It can be a slow pace, but should be steady. As your fingers continue to build muscle memory and become very familiar with these movements, you’ll be able to speed up gradually until you’re able to play along with your favorite recordings!

When you reach this point, you can begin to really enjoy playing guitar!

This is when you’ll begin to notice that the guitar is a friendly instrument. You’ll find that even a small set of skills and knowledge will let you play many, many popular songs- not just exercises or lame tunes no one wants to hear, but real music that made you want to learn guitar in the first place! As you continue to improve your skills, it gets better and better. But even in the early stages of playing, you’ll be able to play real music.

Keep after it! The early lessons will be a mix of success and struggle. Encourage yourself, encourage your child- and stick with it! With daily focused practice, you can overcome these three early obstacles, and in two or three months a whole new world of music will open up to you. Or even sooner than that, if you’re able and willing to devote more time to your daily practice. Keep going! You CAN do it- and it’s worth it!

Just uploaded my first article to the brand new No Strings Guitar Studio blog- “Getting Great-Sounding Chords.” This is a one-sheet explanation and checklist for new players who are struggling with getting chords to sound clear and clean. There’s a short checklist at the top of the page, followed by more in depth explanations. Handy to have near you when you’re in the early stages of learning to play. There are several specific finger adjustments that will help you get the sound you want from your chords. Take time to play through each chord one string at a time to find out where your trouble notes are on each of the chords you’re learning. Then use the “Getting Great-Sounding Chords” checklist to troubleshoot which finger adjustments will help you get clear sound instead of string buzz or unintentional muting.

Keep after it- practice in a focused way for 15 minutes at a time when first starting out. These short, focused sessions will give your fingertips a chance to toughen up- then you can go for longer practice sessions which will help you to advance faster. After two or three weeks, depending on whether or not you’re practicing daily, the soreness will leave your fingertips and you’ll be on your way to playing real music!