How to Teach Yourself Guitar

Getting guitar lessons with a private instructor can often times be too expensive for our budgets.  Because of that many people opt to learn guitar on their own time by themselves.  While I do believe private lessons with an experienced guitar teacher is the fastest way to improve quickly, teaching yourself is certainly manageable.  It may even fit some peoples lifestyles better.  Here is how you teach yourself guitar.

Your First Steps

How to Teach yourself Guitar

1. Get a Guitar 

I would assume most of you are already past this step, but I just gotta make sure we are all on the same page.   : )

If you don't already have a guitar here is a good beginner electric guitar, and acoustic guitar.

This is the Squier Affinity series Stratocaster.  It's a great beginner guitar because it offers high quality at an affordable price, and produces a sound that is synonymous with many guitar legends.

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This is the Yamaha FD01S.  Similarly to the Squier it offers high quality sound at a beginner's price.  It is a fastball down the middle.  Exactly what you should expect from an acoustic guitar.

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2. Make Sure the Guitar is Playable

This mostly just means to change out old strings.  Many people that want to pick up guitar use that one old guitar that is just lying around their house.  The strings on that bad boy are super old, and make playing far harder than it needs to be.  

Changing strings is a super easy process, but can be confusing for someone that has never done it.  Thankfully we have guides on how to change strings for both electric guitars, and acoustic guitars.



If you do not want to try that, going to a friend that plays guitar, or a local music store to get the strings changed would be great alternatives.  

Here are a good pack of electric guitar strings for beginners!

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And here are a good pack of acoustic guitar strings for beginners!

3. Learn to Understand Tab

Tab is a way that musicians can put the music down on to paper, so that other musicians can see the music and learn it quickly.

Tab is a system about reading where your fingers are put on the fret board to play songs.  A tab could look like this E: ----1-----  That would mean to put your finger on the first fret of the E string. 

Often times tabs are structured so you can see what all the strings on the guitar are doing.  Like this:

E: ---3---

A: ---2---

D: ---0---

G: ---0---

B: ---3---

e: ---3---

That is how a G major chord would look like in tab.

Understand tab is very important because it is a way that you can communicate musical ideas to other guitarists quickly and easily.  It is also important because it is likely how you will learn your first songs.  

4. Learn Songs that You Like

Now that you can read tab, it is time to move on to learning songs!  Learning how to play songs is one of the most simple and effective ways for beginners to learn how to learn to play the guitar.

It teaches new guitarists about timing, musicality, being in tune, and tonnes of technical skills.  

Pick out a few songs in your head that you would have fun playing, and see if you can find a tab of them online.  The two most classic songs to start out with are "Smoke on the water" and "Seven nation army". Both are super iconic riffs that almost everyone knows, and both are great starting points for new guitarists.  

Another place you can find tab is in songbooks.  If there is a particular artist or band that you really like, and you want to be able to play their songs.  You can buy a songbook of theirs.  Songbooks can be bought online or in a music store.  These songbooks will give you almost exactly 100% of what your favorite guitarists are playing.  

5. Learn Songs in Other Ways

Tab is a really great tool, but relying on it too much is something that far too many musicians get in to, and that limits you as a musician.  

Try to learn a few songs by ear.  It may be super annoying to go through, but it is worth it.  This is another step in developing your ear.  What are you going to do if you need to learn a song for a gig, but you can't find a tab for it?  You'll need to learn it somehow, and likely that 'somehow' is to sit down and learn it by ear.  It is far better to already have this skill developed than to try to develop it when a gig is on the line.

Another way you could learn new music is through sheet music.  This is not a realm that many guitarists travel into, but it is certainly a part of being a well rounded musician.  Gigs that might require you to learn off of sheet music include playing for musicals and jazz ensembles.  Although these may not be what you really want to play in, they will help you develop a wider sense of musicality.

How to teach yourself guitar

6. Challenge Yourself

There have been many times while playing guitar that I wonder if there's any possible way I could play what I'm about to begin learning.  The speed, timing, or technique seems nearly impossible to replicate, but then after a few short hours of practice later I have this concept, lick, or idea down super well.  

Finishing a task like that gives you a massive sense of accomplishment.  Being able to do something that you thought was impossible a few hours or days ago is an awesome feeling.  It is one of the most rewarding parts of playing guitar.  

So start trying to learn some things that seem super difficult to you, but still within the realm of possibility for you to do.  After you complete your first big task you will have a new appreciation for the art of concentrated practice on something that is difficult.

7. Enjoy the Process

The pursuit of becoming the best guitarist you can be is a journey without end.  There is no true destination.  Just stops along the way.  Make sure you enjoy these stops.  If you are constantly thinking "I just need to be this good, and then I'll be content".  You'll never be content with your playing.  There is always something you'll find that is flawed.  If you simply love the craft and getting better every day, you'll feel much more content.  Sometimes enjoying the process is stepping away from the guitar too.  Although making yourself practice most of the time is good.  Sometimes it makes you resent and dislike the instrument.  It is supposed to be fun.  Have all the fun you can have with it!

How to teach yourself guitar

Be in Tune

How to teach yourself Guitar

Always tune up before you begin.  This is for a few reasons. 

  1.  Being out of tune is frustrating, and will make you not want to play
  2. Being in tune trains your ear, so you know when you are out of tune

Reason number one is the biggest reason to always tune up before you play.  You cannot teach yourself how to play guitar if you don't want to pick up the instrument.  

Training your ear is an extremely important part of a well rounded musician, and the simplest way to do that is to think "does this sound good (in tune) or bad (out of tune)?"  The more you think about it the more your ear will become refined, and you will be able to hear if you're out of tune by just a little bit.

Setting Goals

How to teach yourself Guitar

The very most important thing in knowing how to teach yourself guitar is knowing what level of playing you can realistically achieve, and what level of playing you want to be at. 

Maybe your goal is simply to learn a few chords and strum along with your favorite song.  Great!  Another person's goal could be to become a professional musician.  Awesome! Both of these are worthwhile goals, but the paths to achieving them are very different from each other.

To figure out the path to your goal, you must figure out what small things will help you get to your goal.  Work on these small tasks consistently, until you reach your ultimate goal.  

A teacher is very helpful in this regard because they see the weaknesses in your playing, and see where you want to go.  Then they attack your weaknesses, and this is how you get better at guitar.  However,  if you have the discipline to work on your weaknesses by yourself, more power to you.

The lesson of this is to give yourself something to work towards.  Always be trying to improve.

how to teach yourself guitar

Outside Help

How to teach yourself Guitar

Although this is called "How to Teach Yourself Guitar" no one really teaches themselves guitar.  Everyone needs to learn from someone or something.  

An important thing to remember is to not let your ego get in the way of you getting good help.  Many players want to continue being "self taught" because it has some sort of cool status to it.  In the end though, denying good outside help for your ego's sake is going to make you a worse player with a bigger head.  No one wants that.

Buying an online course, or going to private lessons once in a while aren't things you should completely rule out.  These resources will clearly show you how to improve in specific areas of your playing, and will help you immensely on your journey.

Maybe your source of outside help is a friend or an acquaintance that is a little above your playing level, and can show you a few new things.  It doesn't need to be something that is paid for.  Just drop your ego about being "self taught",  and allow for as much help as possible. 

Play Everything

How to teach yourself Guitar

Many people like to put themselves in a box.  They say "I'm a punk rock guitarist" or "I'm just a jazz cat".  Although it is perfectly okay to have a specialty, purposely limiting yourself to one style negatively impacts your playing.

Purposely shunning a genre or style gives you less to use in your musical tool kit.  Techniques and styles differ from genre to genre.  Not playing multiple genres limits your technical knowledge, and makes you less well rounded. 

This is massively impactful if you hope to gig eventually.  It is hard to make a living playing one style of music.  There are only so many jobs in one specific genre.  Being able to play a little bit of everything is far more practical for a working musician.  

There is something to learn within every genre that you can take into your own playing to help create your own sound.  

Country music helps me learn how to write simple, but effective songs.  Soul music helps me learn to play everything with feeling.  Metal music helps me bring my chops and technique up to par with others.  Jazz helps me practice my theoretical knowledge, and pushes my limits of understanding.

Not only is this impactful in gigging, but also in developing your own personal sound.  Hearing different techniques and styles may influence you to incorporate those into your own style, and help you craft something that is all your own.  

The important lesson to learn here is that pigeon holing yourself as only a metal player, or only an R&B guy will be detrimental to both your bank account and your artistic pursuits.  

Telecaster Headstock. How to teach yourself guitar

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

How to Teach yourself Guitar

This point kinda goes hand in hand with the last one.  Stepping outside of your comfort zone is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve.  One of my first gigs ever was with a country band.  I am by no means a country guy.  I was absolutely terrified when I got sent a list of 60 songs to learn within a month.  This was way outside of my comfort zone.  Not only musically, buy also just because I had not gigged much up until that point.  

I showed up to the first rehearsal so prepared.  It went great.  Through this experience I learned a whole bunch of intricacies within country music.  This helped me expand my musical pallet, and become a much better guitar player.  Not only that, but it also helped me learn how to perform in front of an audience.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be extremely stressful and mentally taxing, but if you take it seriously.  It will pay off extremely well for you in the future.  


The beginning of learning to play can be super overwhelming.  There are so many different roads to go down, and so many different things to learn.  No matter what though, there are tenets that stay true within any style of guitar playing.  I hope we were able to teach you some of those today.  The importance of things like stepping outside of your comfort zone, playing in tune, and playing with new musicians cannot be overstated.  

I hope our article helped you learn how to teach yourself guitar.  Have a lovely rest of your day 🙂

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