This is a common question that people typically ask when they first consider the idea of learning the guitar, and it’s also one of those questions that a person can answer in a number of ways, so let’s explore it.
When you’re first learning how to play guitar, I would argue that, yes, taking guitar lessons when you’re first starting out is definitely worth it, because a great instructor can help you cut your learning curve.
And for a number of reasons.
A newbie to the guitar will encounter a number of different problems at the very beginning of their journey that people who have played for a long time have long forgotten about.
Some of these things include getting over the phase where your fingers are sore from the strings; learning how to read tablature; learning how to sit with the instrument properly; understanding what chords are and how to play them, as well as more functional things like understanding which guitar you should purchase first, in addition to setting it up, changing the strings, dialing in the EQ on the amplifier, and understanding the differences between distortion and clean, FX pedals, and so on and so forth.
There are so many different things that might be a bit confusing to learn at first, and having a good teacher from a respectable institution – or even just someone with a great reputation – will help you save a lot of time and cut your learning curve dramatically.
With that said, once you’ve learned the most basic things about the instrument including how to play it, it’s best to move on to the next phase.
Truthfully, the average guitar teacher is simply not that great, and when you’re first learning, you likely won’t know the difference between a phenomenal teacher and a bad teacher.
However, even an average teacher will have the ability to explain things to you that will save you time, energy, and money in the beginning stages of your journey.
When I first started playing the guitar, I had two teachers for a span of 8 years, and toward the end of it, I started to realize that my teacher was really just taking advantage of the weekly pay-check and really wasn’t caring whether I was making progress or not.
If I’m being honest with myself, I would say that this was 95% my fault, because I was more interested in learning how to play my favorite metal songs, and I wasn’t actually engaged with the lesson.
In other words, whether or not it’s worth it to continue taking lessons after the first year is up to you and your level of engagement with the teacher and their lessons, but also the quality of your teacher, although less so.
Your engagement is the most important thing, for sure.
A lot of people would argue that it’s a good idea to have a teacher because they can show you how to read music, however, I would argue that it’s more important – in the beginning stages of learning how to play – to instead learn to love and appreciate the instrument, which is done primarily through learning how to play your favorite songs.
Explained in another way, the student has to learn to love playing the instrument, that way when more sophistication is introduced, they don’t become overwhelmed and simply quit, which is a common thing that happens to people who are learning.
Learning how to read music, in conjunction with getting over some of the more common aforementioned hurdles (like understanding how to set it up and getting over the finger pain), is simply too much for the average person and they’re likely to quit because it’s so much at once.
From my perspective, I would argue that a good teacher will show you the fun part of playing the instrument first, that way you don’t lose interest right away and then give up when it really gets hard.
After the most basic things are learned, and the love of the instrument and learning has been cultivated, a good teacher can start introducing more sophisticated lessons into the curriculum (or whatever you want to call it), including things like learning how to read music, understanding what chords and scales are and how to apply them, and how to figure out the key signature of a song.
Having a great mentor – and the right mentor – will help cut your learning curve dramatically, so after you’ve learned the most basic things, you’ve cultivated your love for the instrument, and are playing and practicing every day, at that point, you could probably stop taking lessons after the one year mark and begin learning on your own.
After several years of playing, however, you should have the knowledge of what makes a good teacher and start seeking out a mentor who can show you how to do additional things.
In my case, I’ve played the guitar for 15 years, and despite that, I’m still in the market for a great teacher who is even better than me, and who can show me my blind spots.
It all comes back to the classic master-and-apprentice dichotomy.
There’s simply no question that having a great mentor will help you learn the fundamentals of the instrument and get you on the right path.
Here is a list of things that your guitar teacher should show you in the first year of lessons:
1) Choosing the Right Guitar – Acoustic or Electric, etc.
There are so many different options out there that it all might seem a little overwhelming. A guitar teacher should be able to show you what the right instrument is for you, depending on what music you’re into, and what the inspiration is for you to learn.
In other words, if you really love Taylor Swift, it would probably be a good move for the student to get their hands on an acoustic guitar.
However, if you’re into metal and rock, getting a cheap electric guitar as well as an amplifier is a much better idea.
If the student wants to learn how to play Metallica songs, grabbing a Nylon String acoustic and teaching them Beethoven isn’t the best method.
A solid guitar teacher would probably introduce you to a starter pack from either Fender or Gibson, that way you’re not breaking the bank on the equipment you may simply put in the closet and never touch again three months from now.
2) How to Read Tablature
A lot of people might take issue with learning how to use tablature because it’s not “ideal,” however, everyone knows how to read tablature, and it’s the most common way of learning how to play the instrument.
The best thing about learning how to read tablature is that it’s going to give the student the ability to look up their favorite songs on ultimate-guitar.com.
This has the effect of keeping the student engaged and interested in learning.
A student will simply give up and move on if they’re only being taught how to play “Autumn Leaves” instead of their favorite Taylor Swift or Metallica song.
Moreover, learning tablature will give the student the independence to begin learning how to play songs on their own, that way they can focus on their technique while also really loving the process.
3) How To Actually PLAY The Instrument
How to sit with the instrument, and how to actually approach playing it, including how to hit the strings with the pick (or fingers) and how to fret each note individually.
4) How to Look Up Your Favorite Songs Online
That way the student can begin learning on their own and stay engaged in the process.
5) How to Change the Strings of the Instrument
This one is self-explanatory, and while it’s not the most important thing in the world, these little functionalities of dealing with the maintenance of the instrument will be crucial later on.
6) How to Set Up the Amplifier.
Including how to connect the guitar into the amplifier; how to dial in EQ and other effects.
7) Learning How to Play Power Chords.
Learning to play power chords is one of those easy lessons that are great for the student because they can move the chords all over the fretboard and begin learning how to construct their own chord progressions simply.
8) The 7 Chords of the Major Scale
These are the building blocks in western music theory, however, while music theory should be put on hold during the beginning stages, knowing how to play all the chords of the major scale is a great starting point for learning how to play the instrument.
The Next Step
All of these things will no doubt, will take up the first six months of learning how to play the instrument, depending on the student and their level of engagement.
After the first year, the student can decide whether or not they should continue with the lessons, and frankly, I would argue that the first year should be enough.
From here, the student should begin learning on their own.
There is a plethora of tutorials, YouTube video tutorials, and articles written online, so there is plenty of material out there to keep the student engaged in the process.
After a few years of playing every day, learning how to play their favorite songs, looking up YouTube video tutorials, and understanding the ins-and-outs of the instrument, I think it’s a great time to begin seeking out other teachers and mentors who will cut your learning curve once again for the next phase of their development.
As I mentioned above, I’ve played for 15 years, and in the upcoming months, I’ll likely seek out a better teacher, maybe even one of the best in the world like a more established and accomplished player to give me lessons from Skype.
There is always someone out there who is better than you and has something to teach.
Having good mentors is simply a part of the pathway to success, so definitely don’t discount it.
After the beginning stage of learning the instrument is over, you can move on to the more sophisticated concepts in music, including learning how to read actual music; why certain notes over certain chords work, chord progressions, key signatures, timing, and so on.
YouTube Video Tutorial
In conclusion, yes, getting a guitar teacher is definitely worth it if you’re serious about learning the instrument and will put in the work and actually engage with the lesson.