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Have you ever wanted to learn to play a musical instrument? Sometimes as an adult we look back and say “I wish I knew how to play…” We think that the shipped has sailed. We don’t have time for lessons or we think we are too old to learn. Today we are going to see if it is really possible to teach yourself. From learning easy guitar chords to playing your favorite song. Everything you need to know about learning to play guitar.
As I started 2018, I thought a lot about what I would like to accomplish in the year. One thing I realized is that there were a lot of things I wanted to learn or try that I have kept putting off. In fact, I have a goal to do 40 new things before I turn forty. One of the first things I knew I wanted to do was try and learn to play the guitar. As an adult, and a parent, I don’t have time to take lessons every week, so I wondered if it was possible to teach yourself guitar.
I decided I needed to start with a simple goal. Could I teach myself some chords, how to strum and hold a guitar, and eventually learn to play at least one song. That was it. I wanted to learn one song that took at least 2-3 chords.
Today I am going to share my experience and talk about whether it is actually possible to teach yourself guitar or not.
Why I Wanted To Learn To Play Guitar
I can play piano (though I am a bit out of practice) and I played the violin for 12 years. For many that would be good enough. I could play some musical instruments. I could probably sing along to the piano. So why did I want to learn to play guitar?
It might seem silly, but I wanted to learn to play guitar because I think it would be fun to be able to play the guitar around a campfire, or when we travel, or at family get-togethers. I have always wished I could at least strum out a few chords here and there.
My older sister used to bring the guitar when we would go camping together as a family and I remember singing around the campfire while she played. I kind of want my kids to have those kind of memories. Maybe I am getting nostalgic in my middle age.
So, I decided to take on learning to play guitar as my first experience for my 40 new things before forty. Part of the reason I chose to start here is we happened to have an acoustic guitar already. My husband used to play a little when we were newlyweds. Though he hasn’t picked it up in years, we still had his guitar. That meant I wouldn’t have to spend big bucks on equipment.
The second reason I chose to start with the guitar is because I do have some musical background, so I thought it might be somewhat easy for me to pick it up. I figured my years of violin would help me with figuring out the chords and strumming the guitar. So I set forth to learn to play the guitar, with a goal to learn 1-2 songs.
Equipment Needed To Teach Yourself To Play Guitar
If you are wanting to teach yourself guitar there are a few things you will definitely need to have on hand.
- Guitar (Electric or Acoustic). I suggest heading to your local guitar store to try out some different guitars, check size, and maybe get some tips from the pros. While I started with my husband’s guitar, I actually found, because I am so short, his full size guitar was a bit big for me. I actually am better off with a 3/4 size student guitar. There are several affordable guitar options available for those learning on a budget.
- A Guitar Tuner. You will either need a guitar tuner, or a piano if you have experience tuning instruments and a good ear for whether a note is too high or too low. I could probably get away with using a piano, but we don’t have one right now. Instead of purchasing a tuner, I downloaded an app for my phone. It has worked well.
- The Internet or Guitar Lesson Books. You will need access to something to help you learn to play the guitar. I only used free resources on the internet because I wanted to keep it low budget. Believe it or not, there are a ton of free resources out there. YouTube was probably one of the biggest tools for me in learning to play the guitar.
- A guitar pick. I suggest having some guitar picks on hand as well. On the advice of several YouTube videos I ordered some light guitar picks because it was shared on several channels that they are better for beginners as they are a bit more forgiving (whatever that may mean).
- A Capo. If you want to be able to easily change the key of songs you are playing without learning new chords, or want to shift it to your vocal range, a capo is a great tool to have. This one is not be necessary to learn to play guitar, but it is nice to have.
How I Learned To Play Guitar For Free
Now, I am still learning, but I can now play a few songs, including the one I decided was my goal (I Lived by OneRepublic) but for those that are like me, and just want to be able to play enough to strum out some chords, you can totally teach yourself guitar for free (outside of your equipment).
Tuning Your Guitar
To start, I began by tuning my guitar. Now, if you do not have experience with string instruments, you may want to find a friend that can tune your guitar for you. I strongly suggest having a back up set of strings when you are learning to tune your own guitar. The high E string especially as it tends to break more often. If you do not have a friend, you can always head to your local music store to have them help teach you how to tune your guitar.
I already knew how to tune a string instrument and had actually tuned the guitar for my husband several times when he played. So I tuned the guitar and strummed it a few times.
Utilize YouTube For Free Guitar Lessons
I then searched out YouTube videos. Simple searches on YouTube brought up plenty of videos, but here is the thing: Some of them were partial videos trying to get you to buy their courses.
You could still probably learn from those videos, and maybe even find a teacher and course you might enjoy, but it is not necessary to buy courses if you just want some basic guitar skills.
After searching, and watching several videos, my favorite YouTube channel for learning to play the guitar for free is Marty Music.
He has some great tutorials but my favorite of his was the strumming patterns. He also has a beginning guitar lessons series.
One you find a teacher you like on YouTube, just remember that they are offering you free lessons, and the ads shown before their video is how they make their money. So be patient with the ads in the videos.
Practice Makes Perfect, Or At Least Makes Better
Once I found a teacher I liked, I would spend 15-30 minutes a few days each week learning chords, practicing strumming and more. The biggest thing for me was building up the calluses on my fingers. But I also devoted time to learning the guitar chords and then training my fingers to go between the different chords.
I also did a google search for easy guitar chords. It brought up a lot of simple charts that showed how to play different chords that maybe I had not learned on the YouTube lessons.
As soon as I felt I had a good handle on some chords and playing those with the strumming patterns in the lessons, I decided it was time to choose a song to learn.
Choosing Your First Song When Teaching Yourself Guitar
When I started this process, my goal was simple. To learn to play one song I really enjoy. I didn’t need to be able to finger pick the song, but just be able to strum the guitar so I could sing along to it.
I knew that I would not stick with it if the first song I tried was complicated or had a lot of chords. So I started by making a list of songs that interested me. Then I simply searched out the guitar chords needed for each song.
I then looked at the different chords to figure out how complicated they were. Be sure to check out different sources as you might find one site shows you the chords in one key, while another site uses a different key so the chords are different.
I finally found that one of the songs on my list only needed 3 simple chords. I lived by One Republic. So I set out to learn to play that song.
Start Slow When Learning Your First Song
In the beginning I simply practiced strumming the chords only when the chord changed. It was pretty bland, but it gave me time to think about the next chord and where I needed to move my fingers to. Then I began strumming on each down beat. Eventaully, I worked up to finding a strumming pattern similar to the beat of the song.
Changing Keys On The Guitar The Easy Way
Once I had the chords and the strumming down, I realized that I was not playing the song in the best key for my vocal range. Rather than learn brand new chords for this song, I decided to use a capo to change the key.
In simple terms, the capo pushes down on the guitar strings wherever you place it, so you can simply move your hand up the guitar neck to change keys rather than having to figure out all new chords.
Perfection Wasn’t My Goal
When I started singing and strumming, I found it was really hard for me to keep the strumming patter while singing. So instead of aiming for perfection, I aimed for something that made it so I could sing the song and feel like I had a little accompaniment. As I progressed, I kept adding in more.
I still don’t do a perfect job at keeping my strumming patter while I sing, but I know with more practice it will get there.
Will I Continue To Learn To Play Guitar
Now that I have one song and a handful of chords under the belt, I think I will continue learning to play the guitar. I do not think I will ever try finger picking (where you pluck individual strings) but you never know. For now I think I will stick with strumming chords. That was my goal from the beginning when I set out to learn to play guitar.
You can teach yourself guitar. Will you be playing in a band as the lead guitarest this way? Maybe not, but you can learn the basics without having to take guitar lessons that you pay for if you are self motivated and can learn through video and text. If you learn better with one on one teaching, then guitar lessons may be a better fit for you.