Life can be busy and full of responsibilities that can make it very difficult to sign up in a music academy to learn guitar and devote yourself completely to it. But, does this mean you have to give up on your dream? Can you learn guitar on your own? In this article, we will talk about how such a thing as learning guitar by yourself can be possible, and we will set you up with some advice on how you can build for yourself the best way to learn guitar on your own!
What does “learning on your own” mean nowadays?
Times change, and, with them, definitions tend to shift as well. The definition of a self-taught guitarist wasn’t the same, say, 500 years ago, when you would’ve had to figure everything on your own – tuning, songs, scales. Some would argue that even building the guitar from scratch was a part of the process. But today, with all the exposition we get early on to music, and with all the resources and information readily available to us, this ‘learning on your own’ thing means is that you don’t rely on formal academic training. You’re likely to be the person who got hold of a guitar somehow and, out of curiosity, learned with the help of lessons in a booklet or a webpage at home.
From that perspective, is it possible to learn guitar on your own? ABSOLUTELY. Here are our top tips to face such a challenge:
Get the best setting you can
The setting (that is, space and time available and the arranging of elements within these) can make or break your jamming sessions. Make some time for yourself in which the only activity that is going to be in your mind is learning guitar. This can be from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Make sure you count with enough space to stand comfortably with your guitar or appropriate seating since posture is very important for your health and correct playing. Have all the resources you’re using ready (the guitar, its accessories, books, a metronome, smartphone, etc.). And make sure the volume of your guitar is just about enough for yourself!
Brace yourself for the bumpy road ahead
Learning in a formal setting does have an advantage: you will count with an instructor (or a team of instructors) with proven experience who can help you set up strategies to best tackle your challenges and shortcomings. Aside from the great material you can find online (being Guitar Tricks our top pick), you’re on your own. This means you have to figure out by yourself how to overcome the difficulties you might find, making sure your positioning and posture is proper, keeping track of your progress and checking you learn things the right way. This whole process is slower and less linear when learning on your own than if you were to a music academy or got private lessons.
Air guitar solo!
You might think that getting excited with a song and playing it as if you were the rockstar with your broom or trusty air guitar is ridiculous. Still, this sort of visualization exercise can help you become a better guitar player. Numerous studies have proven how mental rehearsing can impact our learning and even our physical abilities. For instance, a study conducted by Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, found that individuals who made visualization exercises for 15 minutes a day had considerable strength gains over some time, similar to a group that actually undertook physical training. In comparison to the control group, who reported no increase in strength after the study. Cool, huh?
Have someone whom you can look up to
What do Kitaro, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jack White have in common? They’re all self-taught guitarists! If you’re looking for inspiration and motivation, listen to any song from these great guitar players. A very important component you can add to your mindset is a source of inspiration. It doesn’t have to be exactly one of the former, but saying “Man, I wish I could play like (guitarist’s name here) someday” can help you have an idea of what style you want to learn and what skill level you want to achieve. Moreover, listening to various genres might help you find things you want to try when you feel more experienced – or things you can do right away.
Find a learning method that best suits you
There’s no single approach to learning music, and guitar is not the exception. The variety of resources available is wide, and every person has its own preference. Some people will feel more comfortable reading. Others will prefer to watch someone do something and try to imitate them. When looking in-store or online about guitar lessons, make sure you check everything so that you have an idea of what could work best for you (Guitar Tricks has all these bases covered 😉 )
Practice, practice, practice
It doesn’t matter if you’re learning by yourself or in an academy setting. If you have the best resources available or not. You have to put in the work! Set goals for yourself and make sure you are practicing daily towards one of your goals. You could, for example, train your ear to recognize notes and chords on Tuesdays, working on improving your barre chords Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And so on, as long as you’re steadily practicing. You’ll see results sooner than you think!
Sing along to your playing
Singing as you play, even if you’re not a great singer, is of great help with learning! This will help you divert the attention from your hands. One of the common mistakes guitar beginners make is perfectionism manifested in excessive attention and stress towards every move, which can subtract to the flow of the music. For this reason, as a beginner, it’s very easy to interrupt yourself and stop playing at the first mistake – the show must go on! Even if you get a flam or miss a note, keep going. When you sing, you tend to keep going naturally because you become focused on your voice.
Play along to a track
Even professional guitarists do this one. Playing and listening to the song you’re trying to cover simultaneously will help you to detect problems in your tuning, timing, and overall playing. It can also make you feel as if you were playing in a band, and it certainly helps you boost your confidence.
Don’t forget to take breaks
Since reaching a roadblock in your learning can be frustrating, taking breaks now and then can help you regroup. Finding something else to do while you rest can even help you figure out a solution for your current block, or you might find inspiration to try new things!
Make your learning journey the best experience you can!
If there are other guitar enthusiasts among your friends, have them over to play together! I remember when I started learning by myself. I used to invite my friends from high school (who were learning as well), and we sat with our guitars to listen and play along with some easy songs. We were a bunch of novices making mistakes left and right, but the thrill of getting something right together got me past my initial shame and on the road to learning faster!
Two of my favorite ways to have fun with music are genre-shifting and reharmonization. The first one is a blast: imagine how would Back in Black from AC/DC sound if you played it as country music, for instance… The second thing, though, is a bit more advanced, but still great if you want to challenge yourself and spice up your music. Reharmonization consists of replacing chords with other chords that still fit the melody. A simple, rather mild example, let’s take the first 4 chords in It’s My Life, from Bon Jovi, in the key of A:
Am - F - C - G
You could replace these chords with:
C9 - Dm - Am7 - Em7
It sounds slightly different, but it’s still good! Try it yourself!