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. I had a guitar teacher starting from when I was around 12 years old until I was 18 years old and I learned a lot from that time, including how to read music although my skills aren’t what they used to be.
A teacher is worth it for more than this reason, however. One understated reason – and one that’s related to every skill and discipline – is that a teacher will point out blind spots that aren’t obvious or even visible to you, but noticeable to everyone else. That said, there are others that are more guitar-specific.
Taking guitar lessons from a competent teacher is one of the best things a student can do because they’ll cut your learning curve while you’re learning fundamentals like reading music including tablature, how to sit and hold the instrument properly, picking technique, and how to change the strings.
Related to the first point I made regarding a teacher’s ability to point out blind spots, which, by definition, are impossible for the person to see – 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. We’ll talk about what those are now.
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Why Guitar Lessons Are Worth It
Some of the things a guitar teacher can help you with include the following:
- 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
1) A Good Teacher Will Cut Your Learning Curve
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. This is something that Redditers agree with me on as well:
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 (the Guitar Tricks instructors are great, for example), 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.
Note: A Student Has To Be Engaged To Benefit From Lessons
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. If you don’t have enough money to pay for one-on-one lessons, one place you can go is Guitar Tricks’ website which is affordable and very useful for learning your favorite songs.
2) A Good Teacher Knows What To Teach After You’ve Learned The Basics
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, 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 (I couldn’t recommend Mark Sarnecki’s series enough including the Answer book from Amazon)
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 17-18 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.
What Your Guitar Teacher Should Show You
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 (or the Brand)
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 like this one from zZounds. 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 Dean like this one from zZounds, 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.
It’s worth stating, however, that what type of guitar you first get isn’t a huge deal. Either an acoustic or an electric should be fine for a beginner to start on. But if a student has an idea of what kind of music they’re on, choosing an acoustic or an electric could extend the amount of time that the guitar they own is good for.
2) How to Read Tablature (and Standard Notation)
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. One of the reasons why tablature is such a great thing for guitar players is that there is a massive database of guitar tabs online.
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 which is probably the number one website to go to for learning how to learn songs from the most popular to the most esoteric.
Not only can you learn how to play every type of song there is on account of tablature, but it also 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 – and this might even be the most important point – 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.
About a year ago, I purchased Guitar Pro 7.5 from Plugin Fox and it’s one of the best things I’ve paid for in years. It’s essentially a guitar tablature and score editor and it’s incredibly useful for not only rotating songs on the guitar but also for practicing!
3) How To Actually PLAY The Instrument
Guitar teachers will also be able to teach you the basics of playing and holding the instrument. While many people can learn this on their own and maybe even come up with their own unique way of doing things, the fact of the matter is that some ways are great for a student to learn first, because they’ll avoid problems in the future.
For instance, one problem you can avoid is learning how to do upstrokes and downstrokes with your wrist, opposed to using your arm, which tends to cause shoulder pain and other nagging irritations in your shoulder joint. This, of course, occurs after many years of playing in a stressed position. A guitar teacher can teach you to avoid this common tendency among guitar players.
Another thing that a teacher can show you is how to sit with a guitar in such a way where you don’t experience any back pain. Or maybe you’re just trying to play the guitar on a chair that isn’t made for it, ie, an office chair. A stool like this one from Amazon is the best way to go.
4) How to Look Up Your Favorite Songs Online
Similar to the point made above, a guitar teacher can show you where to get all of the best information for guitar players including the aforementioned ultimate-guitar or guitar tabs. Even knowing that things like Guitar Pro even exist or their efficiency or efficacy is something a teacher can hammer into you from the start.
I wish I would’ve bought Guitar Pro 10 years ago not that I know how great it is. There are other places to get your hands on tablature and sheet music as well, including the following:
- A fantastic app and user-generated data-base by the way
- Great for jazz transcriptions
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, little functionalities of dealing with the maintenance of the instrument will be crucial later on. Changing the strings on the guitar is a thing that, for whatever reason, a lot of guitar players don’t do.
One of my old friends, for example, was a great guitar player and he could play all kinds of songs and sing along to them too, but he almost never changed the strings on it. One of the reasons why people don’t change the strings is because they don’t need to. You can still make a guitar sound good to the average person’s ear.
But that’s neither here nor there, the fact of the matter is that a teacher will be able to show you how to string up a guitar in a way that’ll save you time in the future. I was one of those people who rarely changed strings and for that reason, it took me a while to actually figure out how to do it properly because I didn’t do it enough for it to become a skill.
The hard part is winding them around the tuning pegs the appropriate number of times and also tying them off on the tuning pegs so they don’t slip or cause intonation/bending problems. I’ll be sure to make a post on how to change guitar strings sometime in the future, however, I do have one post here on how to set up a PRS and also one on how to set the action.
6) 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. Most guitar teachers will start with some variant of a power chord because there are tons of rock and pop songs that are made with just power chords.
One great example of this would be Nirvana songs, which are often just made with simple diatonic chords in their basic form and also power chords. Kurt sometimes used Drop D tuning but not often. Either way, learning movable power chords is a great way to open up a world of possibility when it comes to guitar playing.
7) The 7 Chords of the C 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.
In fact, most – if not all – guitar teachers will start with teaching some of the more common chords. Particularly the 7 chords of C Major which are the following:
C Major = I
D Minor = iio
E Minor = iii
F Major = IV
G Major (or G7) = V7
A Minor = vi
B Diminished = viio
What To Learn After You’ve Learned Guitar Basics
All of these things will no doubt 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 to know whether there is a serious effort being made.
From here, the student should begin learning on their own in conjunction with lessons. 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 – JamPlay is a great place to go as well.
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 17-18 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 (check out my memorization guide here), timing, and so on. The book from Mark Sarnecki I mentioned earlier is a great start.
YouTube Video Tutorial
1) Guitar Tricks (from their website)
2) Mark Sarnecki’s Complete Elementary Rudiments and the Answer Book (from Amazon)
3) Kepma K3 GA3-130 Acoustic Guitar (from zZounds)
4) Dean Electric Guitar Starter Pack (from zZounds)
5) Guitar Pro 7.5 (from Plugin Fox)