I have often heard young musicians ask, are guitar lessons worth it? My answer is always the same – Yes! Yes, they are absolutely worth it. Music is somewhat unique in that there seems to be a certain amount of pride in being able to claim you are self taught.
I get it. Wow, he learned all of that on his own. He’s a genius! He’s a natural! And while he may be a genius and naturally talented, I always think – imagine if he had lessons too. We’ve all taught ourselves some things, but how often did we actually learn from our parents, peers or even reading directions. I know how to cook and never had lessons but I watched my parents cook and I can read recipes. As a homeowner, I do lots of DIY projects but I grew up with a father who also did his own work and I watch a ton of YouTube videos getting any tools out.
So, I’m not knocking the idea of being self-taught but I think if your goal is to be a better guitarist, lessons will be worth every penny.
Ways to Learn Guitar
Private In-Person Lessons
This is probably what most of us think of when we talk about guitar lessons. These could be at a local music store, a private music studio, or even a teacher who will come to your house. I first started taking guitar lessons at Coval’s Music in Philadelphia when I was only 8 years old. I had a half hour lesson, usually from a guy in his early twenties. As I got older, I realized these teachers were really good guitar players but I was too young to appreciate it at the time.
Private Online Lessons
These lessons can come in a variety of formats. There are online schools that will connect you with a teacher for weekly video lessons. There are also websites that will connect you with independent teachers. Lessons will take place on Zoom, Skype, or another similar service. These are particularly nice if you do not have any guitar teachers in your area.
A big advantage of this format is the possibility of taking lessons from a highly qualified professional guitarist. You may not have a Berklee educated guitar teacher in your town, but through the internet you can be taught by one. Another advantage is being able to find a teacher who specializes in a style you are learning. For instance – Hawaiian Slack Key guitar, country chicken-pickin’, or tapping ala Eddie Van Halen. Your local music store guitar teacher may not be as advanced in that style as someone you can find online.
Group In-Person Lessons
This would be in a school setting or maybe at your local library. Obviously, you are not going to get a lot of individualized attention in a class. It can also be frustrating if you are more or less advanced than the group. However, playing with other guitarists is a great way to learn and generally this type of course is going to be inexpensive or even free.
Informal In-Person Lessons
These are the lessons you get from your buddy or your neighbor. These are great but generally are not going to be enough. Of course the price can’t be beat but these are more like tips than lessons. That being said, I would never turn down a chance to jam with someone who could show me something.
Self-Taught with Books and Videos
So you go on Amazon and order a how to play guitar book and watch some instructional videos on YouTube. These are great, I always go on YouTube to learn. A big problem however, is what if you have a question? Sure on a YouTube video you can ask a question and maybe get an answer but you can’t ask a book any questions. Also, the YouTube teacher and author cannot tell you when you are playing something wrong.
In this case, you have a guitar, your ears and maybe a radio. Think a deserted island or prison cell. You will probably need a great ear, lots of patience and a lot of time. Chances are you will finger the chords incorrectly but have a truly unique technique. It can be down but it’s going to be a long process. Of course if you are in prison, what else are you going to do?
All of the above ways to learn guitar have their advantages and disadvantages. And truthfully, you may do all of them at different parts of your guitar education. I strongly recommend the first two choices: private in-person or private online lessons. Here’s why…
Reasons to Take Guitar Lessons
Learn It Right the First Time
We see the social media posts all the time about so and so who failed thirty times before finally becoming successful. And while these little tidbits can be inspiring, they don’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of every opportunity we have to avoid failure!
When we learn our first chords, our first scales or how to hold a pick – we want to learn that correctly. The way we finger chords helps us go from one chord to the next. If you finger your chords incorrectly, chances are going from a D to A is going to be a struggle for you.
One of the first things guitar teachers instruct their students to do is to alternate their picking – down and up, down and up. This muscle memory starts from the beginning. Imagine a student who only downpicked for six months. Learning to alternate would be challenging and probably take another six months!
This is closely related to the previous point. When we learn something on our own and practice all week alone, we may not always know if we are doing it right. Your teacher will tell you. You may get discouraged – I’ve been practicing this chord for a month and it still sounds like a fart! Your teacher can let you know that you actually improved.
The opposite can happen too. I once tried to learn trumpet, long story there. But anyway, I told my teacher I could play the C scale. I was so proud. “OK, let’s hear the C scale.” I play it like I’ve been practicing it. “Oh Ok, don’t you think you should play the right notes?” Turns out intonation on trumpet is the responsibility of the player. It was a kick in the pants but I never forgot it!
When you set a time once a week to have your lesson and you know someone else is depending on you to be there, you are less likely to break that meeting. If you are someone who doesn’t mind breaking meeting times – change your way! That is a huge character flaw! (Sorry, someone has to tell you that.)
So anyway, back to accountability. Not only are you going to show up for your weekly lesson, you are also going to want to show your teacher that you practiced. Teachers know when you didn’t practice and a good one will politely call you out. As a young student, I would feel like a turn when my teacher assigned me the same thing for a second week in a row. “Practice that again, since you didn’t do it last week.”
There is the money factor too. You’re paying good, hard-earned cash for these lessons, you better practice!
Learn About Musicianship
As you develop a relationship with your teacher, eventually he or she will teach you a lot more than guitar. A good teacher is going to share stories about their experiences. When they learn your interests, they will be able to recommend artists to you to expand your taste. Your teacher will tell you about playing with other musicians. How to form a band.
And what about the best amp? The next guitar? Which pedals to use? A good teacher can share his or her experiences with you. Even if they work for a music store, when they are in the lesson room, they will usually tell you what pedal is the best.
Learn The Right Things
Think about learning math in school. First you learn to count with your fingers. Then you go past ten. Eventually you learn to add, then subtract, multiply, then divide. Then we learn about fractions, decimals and then algebra. Kids all around the world learn math in basically the same order. These are methods that are shared and built upon through the years. Imagine trying to teach a kid decimals when they can’t even count. Order matters.
When learning guitar, should you learn a C chord first or Gb diminished? C of course, but how would you know without a teacher. Sure a book could place things in the right order but again, a book can’t give you feedback. You think you are playing it correctly but are you?
Remember That Team That Won The Championship Without a Coach
You don’t remember? Of course not. It never happened!
You may hate sports and sports analogies. But let’s agree on one thing. In America sports is a big business. No matter how talented an athlete is and no matter how much they know about their game, every team puts a coach in charge.
Some musicians will argue it takes more to be a good musician than it does to be a good athlete. It’s an argument that can’t be resolved. The best in both fields work hard. But an athlete would never think about going without coaches or trainers. So why would a guitarist?
In conclusion, are guitar lessons worth it? Yes! If you can afford them, get them. If you can’t afford them, save up!