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Learning to play the guitar: with or without a teacher?

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A brief overview of two possible ways of learning to play the guitar: with or without a teacher.

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With or without a teacher? Introduction

Learning to play the guitar without a teacher is possible, everything is possible. In fact, there is no specific method for learning to play guitar and, at the end of the day, it depends a lot on your goals AND your motivation, these two elements being closely related (and very important!).

In fact, the question you should ask yourself is rather the following: Do I want to strum from time to time to flirt with high-school friends or am I motivated to fully master this instrument? These are two completely different approaches which may apply different means.

For both situations, whatever your goal may be, you should remember that you won't manage to play out of the blue! You will have to practice, over and over again. Playing the guitar is not any easier than for any other instrument, this is a misconception that stems from the fact that many (too many?) guitarists who use 2-3 of the chords tend to say it is an easy thing. But this is not true, forget this stereotype. Here is a concrete example: in order for you to play tabs/chord progressions available on this website, you'll need to know a certain number of chords, rhythm patterns, transitions and have a basic technical skills so that you can play licks and riffs. Not to mention what it takes to play and sing at the same time…

Learning without a teacher : the self-taught way

Having said that, although there are many positive aspects to having a teacher (as detailed below), some of the world's best guitar players are completely self-taught, such as Hendrix, Slash, Clapton, Ace Frehley, Joe Perry and many others. However, the subtle nuance there is that the educational system was much less developped at their time than it is today, and schools such as GIT or MAI did not exist back then. Anyway, the point is that it is totally possible to learn through self-study, without a teacher.

But watch out: self-learning doesn't mean learning alone! Most of the guitar players mentioned above learned a great deal from their interactions with other musicians. Beginning to play within a band early on definitely is a great way to challenge yourself with others, to listen, to observe, to try things out, and in the end: to learn.

Today, if you decide to work independently, on top of methods available for you in stores, your work will be significantly made easier by the many audio/video tutorials available online; so, it has become very easy to learn how to play guitar on your own, and this is true regardless of your level: beginner, intermediate or advanced.

The downside is that it requires great discipline: if you can't get organized, if you don't manage to set up your own learning method and sitck to it, forget this option as it will lead you straight to failure. Furthermore, if you learn to play without a teacher, you should know that it will require at least as much work, or even more work, just to achieve the same result. Remember that the first risk of self-learning is discouragement.

Moreover, learning to play the guitar involves theory and practice. Although it is totally possible to skip a most of the theory (for strumming at the beach, for example), there are still some rather vital basics. Clearly, this is something you can't avoid; and understanding theoretical concepts, without having teacher to show you some concrete examples, can turn out to be pretty abstract and soporific; in 3 words, this is challenging. Once again, it all depends on your goals and perseverance.
 

Learning with a teacher : the traditional way

Now, a teacher primarily acts as a guide. If you choose to go on the assisted-learning path, take some time to find the teacher that suits you, that understands your needs, your music style, etc. If you want to play rock music, don't choose a classical music teacher, for example, as frustration will certainly come along with potential stagnation. Unfortunately, too many teachers pay little attention to their students' tastes. Likewise, being a teacher is a job, it requires specific teaching skills, so get a real teacher.

Finding a guitar teacher that suits you will truly change many things from being self-taught, beginning with the learning structure. The actual risk of learning online is that you may get dissipated very soon. You are facing too many things without necessarily knowing where to turn to. A teacher provides a reliable and adjustable method according to your goals, and this is a real bonus! In fact, the teacher will help you develop an effective learning method and will help you learn how to focus on what's important, so you can improve and get the most out of your skills.

Your mentor will also give you valuable tailor-made advice (which is also available online, but in a different way). Having someone to guide you towards a particular exercise, based on your difficulties, will clearly help too. Not to mention the fact that knowing early on in your learning process which bad habits to avoid, take, which tricks to use to make things easier, etc.. can be great time-savers.

Getting some advice from an external point of view can also be very important since, when playing on your own, you certainly do not see the little flaws that could be very problematic in the future. Not to mention that the required self-discipline necessary for self-learning is not always obvious to everyone. There are always moments of doubt during the learning process and a teacher can help you get through these difficult times and make things click psychologically.

Likewise self-learning, learning with a teacher also has its own limits. The lesson fees or the geographic location of teachers available are often a key factor in the decision process. Besides all of the real benefits listed above, this doesn't spare you to be disciplined: you still need to practice. A teacher won't be of any help if you don't practice the exercises he asked you to.
 

Conclusion

It is not necessary to take lessons with a teacher to have fun, so it is totally possible to learn by yourself. One thing that's for sure is that one learns way faster with a good teacher than on its own. But in the end, what matters is that you learn something, and that you try creating your own language with everything you learn.

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A painter paints pictures on canvas. Musicians paint their pictures on silence.
(Leopold Stokowski)