Looking for the best way to learn guitar? Meet “Steve”.
Steve understands that if you are on the right road, it doesn’t matter how fast or how slow your travel, so long as you stay on that road.
Steve was just like Joe (except that he also purchased a beginner guitar course from ebay that was primarily written in Chinese. Weird moment.)
One day, he realized that he simply hadn’t found the right road.
Hopping from Youtube instructor to Youtube instructor wasn’t the best way to learn guitar. It took up too much time.
Today, Steve comes home from work, logs into his computer, watches a short video lesson, and practices for 20 minutes. It’s an easy way for him to unwind from the workday, while learning guitar on his own.
And the lessons build, in sequential order, day after day.
After just a couple of months, he was proficient enough to start playing in the evenings around his family. They sing their favorite songs while he plays, just like he used to do with his Grandpa.
Because Steve is on a proven path and he makes sure to travel down that path daily for 20 minutes, Steve is guaranteed to get to his destination.
And it started with just two weeks of staying on one path.
I’m “Steve”. Here’s the path that got me to my destination, and some lessons I learned on the way.
The Easiest Way To Learn Guitar
- Choose The Right Guitar
- Choose The Fastest Guitar Learning Course
- Learn Simple Chords
- Proper Finger Drills (see video) build muscle memory and speed learning.
- Challenge yourself with new stuff.
- Play your music backward.
- Make practice easy.
- Have fun by playing actual songs.
- Find an accountability partner for jam sessions.
The best way to learn guitar requires hacking the brain and gamification of the learning process. Following these six rules have helped me make progress faster which is key for adult students. Remember that daily practice is essential to retain muscle memory — even if it is only 10 minutes a day.
I had always wanted to play an instrument but never had the resources or sufficient interest in disciplining myself to do it.
My Wife Convinced Me That 20 Minutes A Day Was The Best Way To Learn Guitar
I had always wanted to learn guitar. I even bought a few different guitars and invested a few hundred hours in practice.
But I never got any good at it — especially not for the amount of time that I invested.
The wife is quite musically accomplished and comes from an accomplished family. Each sibling plays at least one instrument, with several of them even composing music.
Her dual skills in playing both the piano and the cello stirred my competitive spirit. Surely I could learn the measly guitar?
She made a suggestion that the best way to learn guitar was to get some training.
At first, I was resistant. After all, as adults, we are afraid of failure. We want to experience the illusion of winning.
Failing in front of other humans is hard.
But then, I learned about online guitar lessons.
All I needed to do was to spend 20 minutes a day in front of my computer with my guitar, and I was guaranteed not to fail.
Guitar Instructors Aren’t Always The Best Way To Learn Guitar
Cons of hiring a guitar instructor:
- Instructors cost a lot of money
- Instructors are location dependent.
- Instructors are schedule dependent.
- It is uncomfortable to practice in front of an instructor.
Plus, if you are an introvert, the fear of meeting someone new and creating a relationship makes it extremely tempting to cancel the whole idea.
For me, the time commitment of driving to lessons was too intense.
I did try it for a few weeks and felt like I was seeing the progress I expected for the time I was investing in learning.
Unfortunately, we soon ran into scheduling conflicts thanks to a shift change at my job, and I was on the hunt for a new instructor — and a new system.
However, his systems and secrets for helping me get the most out of every session are now mine to keep!
It is my turn to pass them on to you, and make it easier for you to teach yourself guitar.
The Fastest Way To Learn Guitar In 9 Steps
As with most blog post of this genre, some “secrets” will seem quite obvious, and a couple will appear so stupid that no one will try them. I encourage you to truthfully practice these drills for a week and let me know what you think in the comments below.
They might look easy, but some of these are surprisingly hard to follow through on.
The goal of each exercise is designed to help you become super-focused in your practicing to help you squeeze the greatest learning out of every second you spend practicing.
By using these best practices, you can sync the brain with your muscle memory.
1. Choose the Right Guitar
If you haven’t purchased a guitar yet, the first thing you want to do is to find one that is of high enough quality that it won’t impede your ability to play.
Your first guitar is going to have a surprisingly large impact on how easy it is for you to finger the chords. Something to consider is that an electric guitar will be easier to play since the guitar strings have a lower action and are much easier to depress. However, electric guitars do require an amplifier.
Most beginner guitarists go with an acoustic guitar since they can be played anywhere. These range in price from $100 to $10,000. For most of our readers, I’ve found that investing $400 to $600 in your first acoustic guitar gives you the best guitar for your investment. I’ve done some reviews on guitar sound and playability to make that buying decision easier.
Finally, most of my readers will be right-handed and will need a right-hand guitar. I do recommend that the left-handed readers invest that little bit extra in a left-hand guitar. Sure, you can save money by restringing a right-hand guitar, but in my experience, it is generally too much frustration to deal with.
2. Avoid Scattered Practice (Get The Right System)
There is so much free information available online about how to teach yourself guitar. You can easily hop on Youtube or Vimeo and find tabs and chords with demonstrations for how to play nearly any popular pop song.
Whiles these videos are fun and engaging, they can slow your progress. They are inefficient.
As you hop from video to video, you are creating gaps in your knowledge. It’s the hard way. It’s inefficient.
The result is that — with enough patience — learning songs is doable and you can be popular at parties with the few tunes you know. But you never develop the foundation of music theory and how to read music required to be able to play any tune.
So, not only will you be limited in when and what you can play, but this method of hopping from one video to the next can slow your progress. Lacking the foundation of proper fingering and positioning, you will find yourself trying to make superhuman leaps in your skillset as you reach for impossible chords you lack the proper base for.
Additionally, you often have to incorporate extremely difficult fingerings into your practice long before your muscles are ready. It’s like trying to teach a baby to run before they can walk. A better way would be to find a course that teaches you in a natural progression.
You can also end up wasting time, hopping from video to video, trying to fill in all the gaps. You learn when you PRACTICE, not when you surf Youtube.
With structured lessons, I was able to progress in a very stable and predictable manner. It felt slightly slow at first, but by the end, we were mastering techniques much more swiftly, and I could tell a notable improvement in my progress.
While in-person training helped, the key thing that helped me progress was a proven system.
These days, I recommend Guitar Tricks, which offers a straightforward, in-depth training program for like 35 cents a day. I suggest setting an alarm and every day, stop everything and play for 20 minutes. With their system, you can visualize your progress, which just encourages you to do even more. Jamplay is another good program. (I compare them in-depth.)
It’s so simple, there is no way to screw it up.
The alarm goes off. You practice. Boom. Everyone thinks you are amazing. (no, for reals. Most people think learning to play is hard)
I truly believe that they have created the fastest system for learning guitar online. I’ve seen folks get confident enough to lead worship at their church in 6 months or less with daily practice on their program. They have a painless practicing system that enables them to make unwavering progress.
3. Learn Basic Chords To Start Playing Your First Week
Most of us simply want to play guitar so that we can sing along or play with friends. Learning chord patterns is the best way to learn guitar for this simple activity.
Chording is when you play 2 or more notes simultaneously in harmony. Learning chords are fast and relatively easy compared to note-playing. Once you’ve masted 2-4 chords and strumming patterns, you can start playing songs in your first week of practice.
One reason I like Guitar Tricks is that you start by learning chords, which shortens the time it takes for absolute beginners to feel proficient. Just so you know what you are about to run into, let’s talk about chord types, briefly:
These are the chords where one or more strings are open when you strum. So you might press one or more strings, but the rest stay open and vibrate freely. These chords are the easiest to learn since you only have to master a few fingers at a time. Some of these include ( A , Am, Bm, C , D, Dm, E, Em, F, G ).
Even better, most of these open chords have an “Easy version” where only one or two strings need to be pressed. Master these beginner chords, first.
These easy to play version of the chords are undoubtedly the fastest way to play guitar. However, you will be somewhat limited in your repertoire if you stop at only learning easy chords. Continue reading for inside tips on how to not only learn guitar faster but to also become a better guitarist!
These guitar chords are a little more challenging. These require you to “barre” the otherwise open chords with a finger. It can take more practice to master these chord shapes, but they open up an entirely new realm of music. A dirty little secret is that you can use a Capo as your “barre” and just use open chords. So once you master the open chords, you can use a Capo to play any song you want while you practice the more difficult chord shapes.
Once you make it past barre chords, you can be reassured that you have the grit to go all the way. Invest in some training on pentatonic chord progressions (good for rock and blues), music theory, and tabulature.
As you learn these finger shapes, spend time mastering chord changes until you can do them without looking.
4. Finger Drills Are A Game Changer For Learning the Guitar Quickly
My wife loves drills. I always hated hearing her repeat hers, but now it is payback time as she gets to listen to mine.
You see, learning an instrument isn’t just brain activity. It also uses muscle memory to implement what the brain wants to do. And the only way those neuromuscular connections form is when you repeat the same motions over and over and over again. One of the most important keys to mastering an instrument is the development of these neuromuscular connections.
It can take hours of practice to train the body to build those new synapses.
Most people don’t give this much thought. They just think the mind needs to learn the shape of each chord pattern. And then they get frustrated and discouraged where their fingers don’t do what their mind says to do.
You can get around this frustration and speed up your success by daily forcing your fingers to practice the most common patterns. I would spend 15 minutes every day (half of my daily session) practicing these finger drills.
It was surprising how much this discipline sped up my development.
Within weeks my learning jumped, and we would tackle pages of new music every week.
Once the muscles learned what the brain wanted, we could simply teach the brain something new, and the muscles would respond to each new chord.
For a nerdy klutz like me, it was surreal to have my body mastering a skill like this.
Here is a video of some of my favorite finger drills:
5. Don’t Relearn Stuff
Most of us have a tendency to play our songs or music drills from “the top” or the start of our piece of music. We play along until we stumble, and then, often, start over from the very beginning (or throw the guitar through the wall and start playing Call Of Duty instead . That happens, too. )
The downside of starting the song over from the top is that we are practicing the parts we are good at and then when we hit our “problem areas”, we quit and start over. This means those problem areas never get adequate attention, and we become “stuck.”
The best way to learn guitar is to hone in on those problem zones like a sniper hunting their prey.
Like I mentioned above, those problem areas are where we typically are lacking in neuromuscular development. And by drilling them, we can get those synapses built and move forward.
6. Play Your Music Backward
One of the most random tips my instructor had was to play my piece of music backward.
The trick here is that sometimes our brain starts predicting how the song is supposed to sound, and we get in a rush. We even got to the point where we would play songs.
Playing the notes backward forces us to hone in on our technique and give our muscles a change to store that memory pattern in different ways. It is a fun way to master material without getting bored.
Granted, it is a little odd, but it allowed us to get more practice out of one sheet of music.
Plus, we could always brag that we knew a piece of music “forwards and backward”.
7. Improve Your Practice Environment
I’ll always remember that fourth lesson I had with my instructor. It was so embarrassing.
I didn’t know the music he had assigned, and my fingers were stammering all over the piece. Frankly, you’d think that with a $40 lesson on the line, I would have been much better prepared.
Finally, he interrupted my pitiful performance to ask: “How much did you practice this week?”
I had my excuses. It’s hard to find time to practice. Especially as a dad with kids.
This is when he gave me one of my best “hacks”
Stop thinking of it as “guitar practice time”
Make that guitar part of your life.
Stop thinking of it as a time that you must set aside to.
The best way to learn guitar is to treat as part of your life instead of as separate practice time. Start leaving it out of the case, on a stand, in easy reach. I like to leave mine near the couch.
Then, pick it up. Two minutes here. Three minutes there.
What we’ve done is we’ve made guitar playing as easy as getting on Facebook or watching TV.
Within a month, picking up the guitar for random practice routines become second nature.
Sure, investing in long practice sessions (at least 10 minutes per day. I liked to do 30 minutes). But what I soon discovered was that three minutes becomes ten minutes and the next thing you know you’ve “accidentally” done 3, ten-minute sessions.
Practicing should not be a big, intimidating thing. Shoot for 2- to 3- minute intervals, and you’ll be surprised to discover how much time you get in.
8. Learn Faster By Playing Songs
I know that earlier I encouraged you not to get on the Youtube bandwagon of learning pop songs (unless you are Brad Paisley).
However, there are many easy songs that every beginner guitarist should learn immediately. They don’t take much time investment and are hugely rewarding.
Mastering one of these pieces provides your brain with an immediate “win.”
Now, your brain can better understand the importance of what you are doing, and it makes you more eager to seize that knowledge and use it.
It is important to progress along the program of study that you have chosen (as I talked about above). These fundamentals are what will make you a great guitar player.
But these easy wins are what keeps your brain in a learning state.
My guitar teacher helped me find balance by having me spend the last 10 minutes of every session working on a simple song.
This little exercise was fun and gave me a reason to keep learning.
So find some balance.
The System For Learning Guitar In 20 Minutes
Here’s an idea for a productive 20-minute guitar learning session:
- Spend 5 minutes on drills.
- Spend 10 minutes on GuitarTricks.
- Spend 5 minutes practicing a favorite song.
Do that 3 or 4 times a week, and you’ll be blown away at how the variety keeps your brain engaged (and how quick and easy the practice sessions are!)
After all, if learning a song keeps you practicing for 30 minutes longer than you would have otherwise, that is a major win.
Plus, these early wins gives you something to show off!
9. Accountability That Hurts
Ok, here goes the least-favorite tip.
None of us want to be publicly humiliated.
Ok, here goes the least-favorite tip.
None of us want to be publicly humiliated.
An instructor serves this role of “accountability partner“.
If you are taking guitar lessons online, you may want to set up a local friend as an accountability partner.
This is common in the bluegrass circles. It’s common to find weekly jam sessions where folks get together to learn new tunes and play favorite oldies.
I remember listening to my Grandpa jam out with a bunch of other strangers. It’s the way that folk music has been passed down for hundreds of years. Children are often handed instruments and encouraged to jam along with simple chording.
Meetups and friends are where you can recreate this in multiple ways every week and month.
Create a group where you get together and jam and swap tips on the best way to learn guitar. Do it once a week — or once a month — and it will soon become the highlight of your week. Jam it out. Swap tips. And inspire each other.
And, while online lessons are handy, there isn’t an easy cheat that can replace having a real coach. Even if you have to hire a guitar teacher over Skype, it can be worth it. (the popular ones have more limited scheduling times)
Skype instructors can be cheaper and are typically more flexible with their time.
Even better, I’ve noticed that with Skype lessons you can find professional musicians and Youtubers who give lessons. For the student who dreams of one day “going pro,” this can be an excellent first step.
How Long Will It Take Me To Learn Guitar?
If your personality type is like mine, you want to know how long your journey will be before you start playing. Just how long is it going to take before you can play like Ed Sheeran and start busking on the Subway?
Most instructors will say “it depends”. In my experience beginner guitarists who are picking up the guitar for the first time and who dedicate 20 minutes a day to practice (5 or more days per week), are able to play confidently in 9 months.
By 24 months, they are comfortable playing on stage and with groups of other guitarists.
Of course, if you have more time to dedicate to your practice, you can shorten that learning curve. Practicing two times a day is a secret that athletes like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan used to get maximum benefit from their muscle memory systems. Two, twenty-minute practices every day is one of the best hacks I know for mastering guitar in less time.