Best Ways to Learn Guitar on Your Own or With a Bit of Help

Updated on by Gavin Whitner | There may be affiliate links on this page.

Perhaps you’ve reached that age when you realize that knowing how to play an instrument, especially one as versatile as the guitar, can come in handy. So, you’ve been looking at various ways to learn how to play the guitar on your own.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If you have the determination, there’s no reason to pay for expensive lessons and tutors. Here’s how people learn to play the guitar in the past and today. You might be glad to know that you’re living in the ideal time to learn this instrument.

Learning to Play the Guitar Before the Internet

I’ll be honest about this one. It’s not the easiest way to but it can be immensely fun and rewarding. You may have been asking yourself how people learned to play guitar or another instrument before the internet came along with all its resources.

They did it by training their ears. In the days where cassette recorders and pickups were present in every home, an aspiring guitarist could just listen to the notes of a melody in his head and try to work out the same notes on the guitar.

It was a grueling process for many. Especially those that didn’t even have a beginner’s book to guide them. But, there’s a very big benefit to this method even today. It’s the best method available if you want to train yourself to recognize and identify notes from hearing.

You can imagine how long it would take someone of limited skills and no music theory background to figure out an AC/DC song, for example.

How to Practice Using Only What You Hear

To master this method, you have to exercise a lot of patience and learn to embrace baby steps. Listen to one of your favorite riffs or passages. To begin with, pick one that’s not more than 10 seconds long. Replay that over and over again until you can recognize the notes.

Hum the notes back to yourself. Start picking notes on the guitar strings until you can find at least one or two of the notes that you hear in your head. With that accomplished, it’s time to work around those notes, in small boxes, on the fretboard until you have them all down.

After that, try your best to replicate the riff. I warned you that this was going to be hard. But I also said it was going to be rewarding.

Once you’ve trained your ears to recognize notes, you’ll be able to pick things up much faster when you actually start reading music theory and guitar lesson books. Which brings us to the next self-help method.

Music Theory and Guitar Theory Books

There are so many good books and ebooks for this purpose these days that there’s really no excuse not to gobble up the fundamentals of playing guitar. That is, of course, if you’re determined to learn the instrument.

While you may be able to recognize notes and associate the corresponding fretboard positions, you won’t know what to call those notes until you read about them somewhere. Books are usually straight to the point and loaded with diagrams. Visual aids are imperative to learning the guitar, with or without a teacher.

Other things that you’ll find useful in this regard are chords and scales. Even if you could figure out how to play certain chords by ear, you may not know what chords or notes you’re playing unless you look them up.

These methods are valid up to this day. On the other hand, if you don’t have the patience, you may want to step up to the modern-day methods.

Learning Guitar Online

The beauty, though some may consider a nightmare, of learning the guitar today is that online resources are scattered all over the place. It’s hard to tell, as a beginner, which platform or platforms to choose.

You can compare them by the cost, the number of instructors available, the genres and playing styles covered, and so on. And then there are the free resources. Platforms like YouTube, guitarist forums, free ebooks, and more can offer a wealth of information.

It all depends on what you’d like to learn and how quickly and how self-taught you prefer to go. Sometimes, when you’re trying to figure out guitar techniques and theory on your own, the best thing to do is to start from scratch and with as many free resources as you can.

Even though the information may not be properly condensed or arranged, you’ll still have plenty with which to discover the instrument on your own.

And that’s another beauty of learning the guitar. You won’t always need professional help until you reach a certain skill level.


YouTube is a wonderful resource for guitarists of all skill levels. There are many YouTubers out there that offer their expertise in the form of free video guides and tutorials. They usually include video lessons that can start you off with the very basics of playing the guitar.

If you had to choose between reading a few ebooks and watching someone demonstrate a technique, which would you pick? The latter is obviously better.

Even though the information contained in a YouTube video may not be as detailed as an entire book chapter, it can definitely help.

On top of that, YouTube is one of the best places to find live performances of your favorite artists. That may be enough to inspire you further.

Online Guitar Lesson Platforms

With online guitar lesson platforms, you’re taking advantage of the various techniques, tutorials, and information that are readily available. It’s not that much different than the age-old method really, but everything is certainly better presented and more interactive.

Here’s a list of websites that can really help you pick up some speed and knowledge:

And that’s just to name a few. I could easily triple it.

Use Tablatures, Learn Your Favorite Songs, and More

Programs like Guitar Pro have been bread and butter for beginner guitarists for quite a few years. These software apps and tools are designed to help guitarists of all skill levels visualize their favorite tunes and practice alongside a midi track.

They’re particularly useful because they don’t rely on advanced musical notations or music sheets. Instead, they use tablatures to represent the notes directly on the fretboard. A tablature, or tab for short, show all of the guitar strings (however many), all possible frets on a guitar (complete with inlays), and ABC notations for the notes.

This is a great way to learn all the notes on your guitar. What’s even better is that tablatures can be transposed and adjusted for various tunings, but that may depend on the software.

If you’re going to stick to modern self-help methods, this is one of the best. It beats any book or ebook thanks to the interactivity feature and audio-visual cues. Furthermore, it can also help you loop together helpful practice exercises.

It’s all about Practice

Now that you know pretty much all of the available methods, let’s talk about something even more important. How you should actually approach each day of your journey.

Playing the guitar is hard. Even your favorite guitarists are constantly putting their muscle memory to the test.

So, you need muscle memory. You need dexterity, speed, accuracy. How do you attain all these characteristics? By practicing. Day in and day out.

Some of the most prominent guitarists of our time would readily admit that they practiced for over 10 hours a day when they were first starting out. That’s pretty much what it takes to become a world-class guitar shredder.

Of course, everyone learns at their own pace. Some need to spend more time practicing than others to pick up certain techniques. You’ll have to figure out what you need on your own. I can only make the recommendations.

However, I can tell you with confidence that you won’t get very far if you only practice for one hour a day. That’s not enough time to do all the things you should do in a practice session.

Helpful Exercises and Practice Routines

Learning the guitar is not all about learning the chords, the notes on the fretboard, and music theory. In order to play the guitar, you need to learn how to use both your hands independently of each other.

That’s the most difficult aspect for most people, as everyone has one dominant hand that can go much faster than the other. So, developing your non-dominant hand is one of the first things you should focus on, together with studying guitar theory.

It may be straightforward but it’s also time-consuming. Here are some of the exercises and practice runs to keep in mind:

  • Learning chords
  • Learning individual note positions
  • Learning the minor, major, and pentatonic scales
  • Chromatic exercises
  • Practicing scales starting from all positions on the fretboard
  • Practicing alternate picking

These are your basic run-of-the-mill exercises for all beginners. You should cycle through all of them every week, even after you’ve mastered them.

After learning a scale in multiple positions, start increasing the practice difficulty by using a metronome. Switch up the tempo so that you can practice beats and learn timing.

If there’s one thing that self-taught guitarists have a habit of skipping, it’s metronome practice. You wouldn’t want to be one of them, trust me.

When you’re practicing riffs, you might want to break them down into smaller sections. If you do want to practice longer runs, that’s fine too but keep in mind that there are two ways to do this.

Some people stop the run and go back to the beginning at the first missed note or timing issue. Others stick to it until the end to familiarize themselves with the whole section.

I’d recommend the latter. That’s because playing from memory is one of the hardest things to work on early on in your journey.

Setting a Schedule

This will depend on what you can already play, your guitar, and how much time you can dedicate to practicing.

I recommend all beginners to stick to the following outline:

  • Finger stretching
  • Warming up your wrists
  • Generic chromatic exercises
  • Dexterity exercises
  • Speed exercises
  • Chords/Scales/Licks/Songs

A Helpful Shortcut

Say you’re a bit intimidated by picking up a guitar. There’s no shame in starting out with something smaller. To familiarize yourself with string instruments, you can first learn how to play on a ukulele.

The fewer strings, smaller size, and fewer frets should give you a faster introduction to music theory, fingerpicking techniques, chords, and other elements necessary to mastering the guitar.

What You’ll Need

Apart from the guitar itself, here are some other accessories and gadgets you will need to learn how to play the guitar the proper way.

  • Tuner
  • Picks
  • Replacement cables (electric and acoustic-electric guitars)
  • A fast fret
  • Guitar strap
  • Headphones
  • Recording software (any)
  • Guitar Pro or similar software
  • Slide
  • Guitar capo
  • Replacement strings (different gauges)
  • A screwdriver for adjusting the intonation
  • Case or carry bag

You’ll need all of the above because learning to play the guitar is more than learning notes and memorizing licks. The guitar is a sensitive instrument.

You’ll also have to learn how to take care of it and adjust it to fit your playing style or needs, as well as fixing what’s broken when the time arrives. Tuning and maintenance are always among the first resources offered on online guitar platforms.

What are You Waiting for?

There are so many methods at your disposal these days. You can combine the old-school methods with modern resources and learn guitar at a much faster pace than your predecessors. Getting great at the guitar has a lot more to do with the amount of work you put in than natural-born talent.

Instead of hunting for shortcuts or bargains, how about if you just pick up the instrument and adopt some of the methods listed in this article? It’s not that hard, as long as you have a love for the sound.

About Gavin Whitner

A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he's an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.

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