By Kate Koenig
There was some good news in 2020, at least if you’re a fan of the guitar. While we were all deprived of human contact for a year, cultural trends suggested that playing guitar might be the next best thing. And there’s more than one way to learn guitar online—whether it’s from an app or online lessons. According to Rolling Stone, Guitar Center’s online sales “more than doubled” in 2020, and by January of this year, Sweetwater was selling “a thousand guitars every day.” Last fall, Guitar World reported that Fender had sold “more guitars in 2020 than any other year in its history.”
Along with these inspiring statistics still came the question: Where were all these new players to go when in-person lessons were out of the picture? For many, it was remote lessons with an instructor over video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype. For others, it was the self-taught way, using the countless other resources that can be found online or through guitar apps.
If you’re interested in that self-taught method, finding the right resource might be a bit of a challenge with the amount of resources to choose from. But we’re here to help: Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll be that much better equipped to advance your guitar skills with nothing but you and your computer or phone.
Learning Guitar on YouTube
When searching for the right tutorials, YouTube can seem like the Wild West—but among the massive range of content out there, there are some teachers who have come to rank high on the list of online instructors. Take note that while each of these instructors have high-traffic YouTube channels, their personal sites tend to be much more organized. Some also offer additional paid content for those looking to go past the basics.
As one of the most popular channels out there, Andy Guitar features countless song tutorials along with some more detailed courses. In one series, instructor Andy Crowley presents the 10 Day Guitar Starter Course, where he guides viewers to play the guitar for 10 minutes for 10 days. He covers basic open chords, common strumming patterns, scales, and easy-to-play songs that make use of just four chords. Other videos include lessons on how to play everything from Van Morrison’s “Moondance” to Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” ones that give tips on songwriting, and how to approach learning a fast guitar solo. One great aspect of Crowley’s lessons are how the song lesson thumbnails display icons of the chords used in each song, and chord diagrams are shown on screen as he plays.
Instructor Marty Schwartz of Marty Music updates perhaps the most frequently out of the teachers on this list. Schwartz organizes his videos into categories like “Gear Thursdays” and “Beginner Guitar Lessons,” and playlists based on genre or decade. His longest playlist, Classic Rock, has 337 entries (as of publication time), while the majority of his decade-based playlists, which date back to the 1960s, have 100–200 entries. Schwartz’ gregarious personality makes him entertaining to watch, and works well with his monthly Guitar Tours, where he sits down with professional guitarists to talk shop. Past guests include Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ed King, Canadian country star Lindsay Ell, and Garry Tallent of the E Street Band. On his personal site, he has more structured courses, most of which are behind a paywall.
We made mention of JustinGuitar in our last piece on learning guitar online, but thought he would be worth giving more attention this time around. Instructor Justin Sandercoe has been teaching online from as far back as 2001, and has built a significant following since then. He organizes his courses into Beginner 1, 2, and 3, Intermediate 4, 5, and 6, and Advanced 7, 8, 9 grades (8 and 9 to come as of publication time). Some of these courses are available on his YouTube channel, but they’re much easier to find on his site, where there’s also a very extensive song library where each song is helpfully labelled by skill level. Known for his carefree and friendly persona, Sandercoe’s experience really shows as he guides you through each lesson—and as an added bonus, excluding a handful of Premium lessons, the vast majority of his content is entirely free.
These are just some of the most popular teachers, but feel free to browse for whatever you feel might suit you best. When browsing, be sure to select lessons that match your skill level, so not to get discouraged, look for teachers who can explain concepts with clarity, and see if you can find a teacher whose personality shines through and keeps you entertained while you learn.
8 Subscriptions to Learn Guitar
Next in line after free YouTube channels are subscription-based lesson databases. The main benefit that consistently separates pay-to-play resources from most free ones (aside from sites like JustinGuitar) are their myriad structured courses—essentially virtual schools, these sites give you access to detailed lesson plans built around chosen genre and skill level, which saves you from option fatigue and the stress of designing your own course of study. Some of the most reputable subscriptions are TrueFire, JamPlay, GuitarTricks, ArtistWorks, and Acoustic Guitar Plus. In our 2021 installment, we’ll touch upon Fender Play, LickLibrary, and Jamorama.
Fender Play starts you out by inviting you to select a genre-based path, where you can choose from blues, folk, country, rock, or pop. You’re then guided through five levels, where on the folk path, for example, you begin with the very basics, and work your way up to Travis-picking songs like Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.” Where applicable, you’re provided with tablature and chord diagrams to accompany the lesson. And aside from these guided lesson plans, a Fender Play subscription includes access to a song library, where lessons and tab are available for individual songs; “Collections,” with more courses that focus on specific subjects like “Scales You Should Know” and a range of songs by individual artists, and a feed of articles written for the site on guitar-related topics. The lessons in Fender Play are very clean and professionally delivered, with beautiful production and articulate instructors, making the information that much clearer for beginners. After a 7-day free trial, the cost of a subscription is $9.99/month or $89.99/year—the latter of which comes with ten percent off Fender gear for a year.
Like Fender Play, lesson database LickLibrary begins with asking you which genre you’d like to study, with a bit wider range of options that include ‘80s rock, jazz, and classical. The library, which includes 10,000 hours of content, is then set up almost like Netflix or, dare we say, an actual library, where you get to choose from courses that are entirely separate from one another. Courses, like Ultimate Beginners Rock Guitar Part 1 or Learn to Chord Encyclopedia Volume 1—Triads, are broken down into a series of videos, while alternatively, a wide selection of lessons teach you basic to advanced music theory, or how to play songs. LickLibrary also comes with more than 950 backing tracks that you can practice along with. And, as part of membership, you have access to one one-on-one lesson a month. Thanks to the library-esque experience of LickLibrary, the platform is a great choice for someone who wants the option of trying different styles of courses if just one format doesn’t suit them. The price of a subscription is $15.99/month or $135/year.
Taught by instructor Mark McKenzie, Jamorama is an online database that features 11 courses with more than 275 video lessons. This happens to be a lot less than some of the aforementioned examples, but one main difference is pricing: Where with Fender Play and LickLibrary, you’re required to pay a monthly subscription rate for continuous access, Jamorama charges a one-time fee of $97 (at publication time, as we’ve seen different prices listed at different times) for lifetime access. The 11 courses focus on subjects like the basics of the guitar, fingerstyle, the blues, and basic music theory. Each is broken down into 4–10 lessons per week, and many come with supplementary PDFs with chord diagrams and tab. Like other databases, you have access to a song library, whose lesson videos deconstruct songs by Ben Harper, Oasis, Phil Collins, and others to make them simple to digest and learn. New Zealander McKenzie is a clear, engaging, and relatable teacher, making Jamorama a great instructional resource, especially for beginners.
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Fender Play and LickLibrary have a free trial option, while with Jamorama, you can access a small portion of the site with a free membership. We encourage you to explore each database for yourself before diving in with payment, to see if it’s the right fit for you.
New Guitar Apps to Try in 2021
While what we’ve covered so far are desktop-based databases that have been around for a few years, let‘s get into a couple of brand-new apps for your smartphone or iPad. While these haven’t been around long enough to have significant user reviews, we’ve found them to be strong resources for beginner guitarists.
The recently released Gibson App, introduced in January, comes with a lot of basic tools and guided lessons, as well as access to Gibson TV, which boasts exclusive conversations with legendary guitarists, documentaries of music landmarks, and more. A tuner and metronome are built in, with very specific settings—you can set the tuner to alternate tunings, while the metronome allows you to change the note values set to each beat and the time signature. You then practice along to the broad selection of exercises to a Guitar Hero-style, side-scrolling tab—all you need is to give the app access to your phone’s microphone, and it will pick up on what you’re playing. Newbie mode lets you get used to playing simply in rhythm, making it less about nailing the specific part. The app has a 14-day free trial, after which you’re required to sign up for a paid subscription of $14.99/month or $89.99/year if you want to continue. It claims to be available for iOS and Android; however, I wasn’t able to find it at the Google Play store on my Android.
Another brand new app is Simply Guitar, created by educational tech company JoyTunes. Not so unlike other apps and services available, Simply Guitar starts you off with guided videos that go over the basics of the guitar, such as tuning, string names and numbers, and how to read tablature, and work up to playing through songs and improvising. Throughout the videos, you’re prompted to play along to a side-scrolling tab to make it through the lesson. The lessons are clear and concise, and playing along makes it a lot of fun. If you want to continue after the 7-day free trial, you’re required to pay a subscription price that ranges but starts at $9.99/month.
Again, like the subscription-based services mentioned earlier, we encourage you to check out each app using the free trial before signing up for a subscription, to make sure first that it works for you.
If all of these choices feel a bit overwhelming, think first: Would you rather focus on the mostly song-based learning offered by the YouTube channels? Or, seek out the structured, class-like courses found on paid subscription sites? Or as a third option, would you be interested in learning by playing along to the video game-like tools that you can install on your phone? You can use these questions to guide you to the resource that best suits you, and if you’re not sure, you’re of course free to give them all a taste before committing. We wish you the best of luck in your self-taught guitar education journey!