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It has been said that there is one guitar for every ten people on the earth. What with manufacturing numbers of instruments only rising during the last year and a half, it is safe to say that there are more and more of us wanting to learn guitar and due to global social contact limits, it is no wonder why a whole world of online guitar lessons have sprung up out of the shared boredom of lockdown. 

There are currently 594,000,000 “Learn to play guitar” videos on YouTube and by the time this article goes to print there will no doubt be at least a thousand more. So how do you choose which information to listen to? How do you go about finding videos that fit your needs and goals?  

Don’t worry - this article will help you answer these questions and help you decipher the online guitar education world so you can get the most out of what the internet has to offer. 

1. Know What You Want to Know  

Knowing what you want to know is the secret to fast tracking your way to progress on any instrument, without any point of departure it can be easy to end up bouncing between videos of extended finger-style techniques and step by step tutorials of “wonderwall”. So work out what you would like to get out of this experience, do you want to start a guitar journey in which you will ultimately find yourself performing on stage, or do you want to learn a Johnny Cash song to impress a date?  

Whilst these sound like joke, perhaps even arbitrary questions, it is absolutely vital that you start with a goal in mind. Look at it this way - even just refining your goal to learning ‘Classical Guitar’ cuts your YouTube video selection down to 131.000.000 results, refining your search to learning ‘Romance Anonimo’ brings that number down to 443.000 results. 

Do not worry that your goal might change, if this is the first time you are playing guitar and even if it’s not, it is perfectly normal that as you get acquainted with the instrument and its possibilities your compass point will shift, whether that be moving from strumming to finger picking, from the baroque period to 20th century music, or from classical guitar to death metal! The only important thing at this stage is to start somewhere and have courage in your convictions. 

If you are struggling with where to begin, or if you have begun playing but are feeling lost in the sea of information about what you should or shouldn’t be learning at this stage, check out tonebase’s Level System, which gives you an overview of classical guitar techniques and links to tonebase classes to either get you started, or get you stuck in! 

2. Follow a Few Channels  

We will come back to this point later, but it is important to mention at this early online searching stage, that there are millions of videos about learning guitar for a reason and it isn’t just because there are so many songs written for guitar. There isn’t just one approach to learning the instrument, there are infinite trajectories and infinite methods that people ‘swear by’, and that is simply because every person is different; physically, mentally and musically. Once you have a topic in mind, use the power of the internet to view at least 5 different sources on the topic - see what they have in common, what differs, and start to try things out! 

3. Listen to Yourself  

Ultimately, whether you are learning guitar online via theory, videos, video call or in person lessons - you will be your own teacher, in that, it is not so much the information but in the application of the information that will transform your playing from complete beginner to pro. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. 

So you can decide for yourself what you feel is useful information and what you can filter out for the moment. As a rule of thumb, put a sell-by-date on things that you do not understand, perhaps try that technique in a new way, perhaps try breaking it down, but if you still do not understand 

the concept of something within two weeks of learning, try to find a simplified version or change your learning tactics slightly.  

It is very important in the ‘understanding’ stage to define what understanding really means in this context. Try to get used to the difference between not being able to perform an action on the instrument, and not understanding how to perform an action on the instrument. If you are not getting something simply because it needs more work, but you can see the end of the tunnel then stick with it! On the other hand, if something feels like you are completely stuck in a tunnel and you can’t see the light at the other end, then simplify! 

4. Cross Reference  

I cannot express this enough - one stream of information will always lead to disappointment and confusion at some point. Learn to ingest a lot of information and filter what feels right to you! Learning anything creative is very much a ‘march to the beat of your own drum’ style of learning - and the internet has given us the opportunity to gather information on how to march, how to beat a drum and where to get that drum from!  

Use every piece of information to your advantage and if you haven’t found something that feels right, then keep searching! It will be out there - trust me! 

5. Try a Paid Resource  

tonebase was created to bring the wisdom of legendary players to guitarists all over the world, it’s no secret why players who dedicate their time to using platforms like tonebase enjoy the learning process (and stick with it!) more than players who don’t. Motivation is a key factor in learning, and what better way to motivate yourself than to pay for a premium service that gives you access to some of the highest level of information the world has to offer? 

6. Watch Your Posture  

A recent study found that 80% of musicians will suffer a playing related physical injury in their lifetime. So watch how you are sitting while you are craning your neck in front of the computer. Remember that screens can be a bit of a vortex and ideally as a beginner you should not be playing for more than 20 minutes without taking a break to stretch your hands, neck and back. Use these exercises to keep your muscles as warmed up as possible whilst playing. 

7. Find a Community  

The benefits of learning online is not just the wealth of knowledge and information that is out there in a fixed format, there are hundreds upon hundreds of groups and communities dedicated to learning instruments that you can take part in for free to ask questions, discuss lesson topics and even get some troubleshooting help for problems you might be having. 

As with every time you engage with other accounts online, stay safe. Learn more about internet safety here

8. Remember That All Learning Takes Time  

The beauty of learning an instrument is all in the process; the discovery of information, the search for uncharted territory, the time to exercise your will power and enjoy some time to yourself. So don’t beat yourself up if it feels like the process is taking a long time, the process for all of us is unending by its very nature, so sit back (or forward - see point 6) and enjoy the ride!

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Guitarist

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