best way to learn guitar

(Note: If you just want the recommendations, scroll to the bottom of the page)

I often get asked: “What is the best way to teach yourself guitar?” or “How can you learn how to play the guitar by yourself?”

They are good questions, but I usually stay away from answering these questions because the answers are so specific depending on each individual’s goals.  There are a lot of factors to consider: electric guitar vs. acoustic guitar; what kind of music do you want to learn, how much time can you devote to practice, etc.

Obviously, having a private teacher will give you a leg up on any of the services listed below…. but not everyone has the time or budget for private guitar lessons.

On the other hand, YouTube is an awesome source of free lessons… but there are a lot of gaps, it’s hard to know what is quality, and it can be frustrating and time consuming to search for specific guitar lessons or tutorials (and that’s assuming you actually know what you’re looking for).

To make things harder, even just Googling something like: “beginner guitar lessons” is incredibly overwhelming.  You have ads for guitar-related services, random youtube videos, and a few guitar-related websites… it’s hard to tell what’s good and what’s just spammy crap.

So without any kind of teacher, this is how to teach yourself guitar…

Over the years I’ve used many of the different online guitar lessons and services (both free and paid).  I will will try to explain which ones I think are the best and why, but first I want to mention the two biggest mistakes I see people make.

What Not To Use

Expensive Online Lessons

Just because it’s expensive, doesn’t mean it’s the best (or even good).

There are a lot of guitar programs online that charge upwards of $50 or more each month, or a large flat rate for “lifetime access”.  Be cautious with these – some of them may have good content, but many are simple video lessons that are never updated.  This kind of stuff you can usually get for free on YouTube with a little searching.

Again: Expensive doesn’t always mean good. 

Additionally, there are a lot of online guitar “schools” that show up in a quick search for online guitar lessons.  I would suggest avoiding these unless you know what you’re getting into.  There are some guitar schools that may be legitimate – Berklee Online is one of these in that it is actually affiliated with Berklee.  But it’s also geared towards people who want degrees in music.  Which is probably not most of us.

Guitar Teaching Apps

I may catch some heat for this because I know there are a lot of people who love these.  Guitar apps and software like Yousician and Rocksmith can be really fun and useful.  They’re like Guitar Hero but you are ACTUALLY playing the guitar.

But there is a problem with games like these: They don’t transfer very well to real life.   What I’ve found while playing these games, is that I rely too much on the software and not enough on my actual knowledge.

The result of this is that when I try to play the songs without the software I can feel a little lost or forget the songs entirely.

So while they may be fun and may even get you started on guitar, I wouldn’t invest any money into them at this point.

What to Use

For the ABSOLUTE Beginner Guitar Player

If you’re just starting out and have no idea where to begin and absolutely no experience (i.e. not even sure how to hold a guitar) then I’d suggest a service like Guitar Tricks.

I like Guitar Tricks for beginners because it has an easy-to-follow guided lesson system.  The focus is on your current skill level and it takes you from there.

I also like that the vetting process for teachers is thorough.  In other words, you know you are receiving quality and accurate instruction (which is something you don’t get from YouTube… where anyone can upload a lesson).

I’ve had some students say that some Guitar Tricks lessons are a little hard to follow or drawn out.  Just something to consider (and maybe a reason to try JamPlay instead).

I’d also throw in someone like Justin Sandercoe from   Most of Justin’s stuff is free (and on Youtube).  He’s probably the best free lesson provider out there.  You won’t get the interaction of some of the pay-based online services (or a lot of the extras/add-ons).  Regardless, he’s a fantastic teacher and there is a ton of content.

For Just About Anyone

Jam Play Lick and Riff library

JamPlay is my suggestion for just about anyone who wants to teach themselves how to play guitar.

The guitar lesson service I recommend more than anything (and even use myself) is JamPlay.

Not only is it incredibly robust with frequently added lessons, live lesson functionality, and back end accessories like backing tracks, chord libraries, and theory instruction – but it also provides lesson breakdown based on style/artist.  This means that you can go into it and say “I want to learn to play in the style of Eric Clapton” and there are lessons geared towards that.

Like GuitarTricks, JamPlay‘s instructors are thoroughly vetted and consistently updating new content.  And at $19 or less (depending on the package you choose), it’s an absolute bargain.

Both JamPlay and Guitar Tricks are inexpensive, and the value to cost ratio is great.

JamPlay lesson Artist Style

I like that you can choose a certain artist… and then learn that style.

For someone like me (who is very wary of online services like these)I like that you aren’t tied into to any kind of contract nor is there any kind of up-sell after you’ve signed up.

Once you’ve signed up, you have immediate access to everything.

That’s it!  Have you tried any of these?  Let me know in the comments below what you think… or if I missed anything!

(Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at

(Photo Credit: Jeric Santiago)