Apart from lessons from two different teachers with each for about a year, I’ve taught myself guitar since I started playing in 2003.
Since you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you prefer the idea of teaching yourself guitar as opposed to getting lessons.
Even if you’re set on teaching yourself guitar, I recommend checking out my article where I discuss how to decide whether guitar lessons are worth it for you.
As a proponent of teaching yourself your instrument, I explain the instances in which I think it’s helpful to have a teacher in the article mentioned above.
So how do you teach yourself acoustic guitar quickly and easily?
- Get the right instrument setup with the right strings.
- Learn the eight chords that are the foundation for countless songs.
- Use those chords to learn the chords to your favorite songs.
- Learn alternate styles and guitar theory when you feel like you’ve plateaued.
1. The Right Instrument, The Right Setup, The Right Strings
If you want to teach yourself guitar, getting your instrument setup the right way is critical!
If you have a beautiful sounding instrument that is as easy as possible to play and not too hard on your fingers, you’re much more likely to stick with it for the long-haul.
On the other hand, if your instrument sounds dull and is unnecessarily hard on your fingers, your will to push through the beginner difficulty of learning something new will probably fizzle.
Even John Mayer says getting your guitar setup is his number one recommendation to new guitarists.
Let’s start with your instrument.
Buying the Right Guitar
I cover the topic of which acoustic guitar to buy extensively in my acoustic guitar buyer’s guide.
But the short answer to which acoustic guitar you should buy is:
If you’re on a tight budget and you’re only interested in purchasing a guitar (no gig bag, learning materials, etc.), the Jasmine S35 Acoustic Guitar is a great buy.
However, if you’re willing to spend $90 more, you can buy the more versatile Fender FA-125CE Dreadnought Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar Bundle.
The electric/acoustic Fender will allow you to plug in to an amplifier which is great if you want play live.
But even if you have no desire to play live, having an acoustic electric cutaway guitar with a gig bag and strap allows you transport your guitar and play in all different scenarios.
It also comes with an educational DVD which could help you on your self-taught journey as well as picks, a tuner, extra strings, and more.
Guitar Setup and Strings
Most beginner musicians aren’t aware of any need for a guitar setup or what a guitar setup is exactly.
Though there is no fixed definition for a setup, it typically involves an instrument repair expert (a luthier) evaluating your instrument and doing some or all of the following to make your instrument sound as good as it can like:
- replacing the strings,
- filing frets down if any of them buzz,
- adjusting the action of the guitar (changing the distance between the neck and the strings),
- and other repairs or tweaks if necessary and requested.
The two aspects of a setup that make a huge difference for the beginner guitarist are:
- lowering the action (the distance between the strings and neck) so that the strings are as easy to press down as possible, and
- putting high-quality extra light strings that are easiest to press down on your instrument.
Getting your guitar setup to sound great and play easily can be the single difference between an aspiring guitarist giving up because his guitar doesn’t sound right or it’s difficult to play, and continuing on because he got his guitar setup, it sounds great, and it’s easier to play.
Do yourself a favor and get the right guitar, with a setup and great strings.
As an aside, I really can’t recommend these strings more highly.
I’ve played $1,000+ guitars strung with mediocre $5-$10 strings that don’t sound nearly as good as my ~$300 Ibanez guitar strung with these ~$15 strings.
Learning Strategies for Self-Taught Guitarists
In general, I recommend taking an inductive approach to learning the guitar when just beginning and a deductive learning approach as you become more advanced.
An inductive approach involves learners detecting or noticing patterns from an example and extrapolating a rule for themselves from the example.
A deductive approach involves learners being given a general rule which they then apply to a specific example.
In the context of music, an inductive approach to learning the guitar involves learning songs and extrapolating music theory concepts from those songs.
On the other hand, reading a music theory book in which you learn which chords sound good together, scales, and other theoretical concepts is an example of an deductive approach to learning the guitar.
As you learn more and more songs, you begin to notice patterns of which chords sound good together, which licks to play, and maybe even some scales.
I recommend starting with an inductive approach to learning guitar by learning your favorite songs.
Learning simple songs helps the beginner guitarist obtain some quick wins early in the habit forming process of practicing the guitar.
Getting quick wins at the beginning of the guitar learning process is critical because there are so many hurdles for a beginner to overcome like:
- finger pain as you develop callouses on your finger tips and the hand strength needed to press down the strings effectively,
- establishing a new habit and learning how to work practice into your daily schedule,
- finding learning materials,
- and the general difficulty of learning something new.
2. How to Teach Yourself Your Favorite Songs on the Guitar
The first step I recommend to learn your favorite guitar songs is to learn the eight or so chords that are the basis for countless songs on the guitar:
A Am C D E Em F G
To learn these chords, simply search the web for the chord + guitar chord chart.
For instance, you could google “G guitar chord chart”
If you know these chords you’ll know the basis for countless songs on the guitar.
Use your thumb or pick to pluck each individual string when forming the chord to make sure each string rings clearly.
As soon as you can play each chord successfully with each string ringing clearly, you’ll want to practice switching between chords.
At first, you will take a long time to switch between chords.
But given enough practice, it will become second nature to you.
3. Using Basic Chords to Learn Songs
You don’t need to wait till you’re a pro with chords to start learning a song.
Countless songs use just a few of the eight chords mentioned above as the basis for the entire song like Wild Thing by The Troggs.
There are more examples of simple three chord songs here.
Just search the web for the song you want to learn + chords or + guitar tab and you should be able to find the chords for your song.
Once you’ve found the chords for your favorite song, it’s time to start practicing.
In my article 9 Tips to Help You Learn Guitar Songs Quickly and Efficiently I cover how to learn songs comprehensively.
However, I’ll include highlights of the post below.
- Mute the strings with your left hand and try to follow the strum pattern with your right hand.
- Once you feel confident with the strum pattern, start playing the chords with your left hand.
- As soon as you think you can play the chords with the correct strum pattern, try humming along with the lyrics.
- When you feel like you can hum along to the tune of the lyrics, start singing along instead.
- Once you feel confident playing the song in its entirety, use a metronome to fine-tune your practice and really make your song “performance-ready.
I recommend repeating this process becoming performance-ready for 5 to 10 songs at least.
You’ll learn so much through the process of becoming proficient playing other people’s songs.
Plus, having a song vocabulary is handy if you ever do find yourself in a performance situation, even a casual one like a camp out with friends and family.
How to Teach Yourself Guitar Beyond Learning Songs
If you’ve become performance ready in five to 10 songs, and you’ve stuck with the guitar for several months, you may want to consider deductive approaches to improving your skills.
Learning guitar concepts from books is an excellent deductive method to improve as a guitarist.
In this post, I provide 10 examples of books that can help you improve your guitar skills.
But if I had to choose one book for a beginner guitarist who has learned a handful of songs, I’d choose The Hal Leonard Guitar Method, Complete Edition.
This three volume set should round out a beginner’s education of the guitar.
Though some concepts will probably feel too simple, this volume will expose you to much of what the guitar has to offer.
When you find concepts in these volumes that pique your interest, you can further investigate them in books that go into more detail about them.
Again, check out this post for more guitar books to help you learn about specific styles of subjects.
4. Pushing Through Plateaus on the Guitar
At some point you’ll probably start feeling like your skills have plateaued with the guitar.
I’ve certainly felt this way before.
I recommend breaking through plateaus in one of two ways:
- Focus on learning a style you aren’t as familiar with like blues, jazz, or country.
- Learn more about music theory.
Getting Past a Plateau By Learning a Different Style
Learning a different style can really help you get out of a rut with the guitar.
You can even learn a lot from styles you don’t necessarily like.
For instance, jazz isn’t my favorite genre to listen to, but I’m confident there’s much for me to learn from jazz style guitar.
And even though it’s not my favorite, I’m also confident there are aspects of jazz guitar I could learn that I would like and could incorporate into my own playing style.
Try not to write off genres that you don’t like when it’s always possible to take parts of that genre that you do like and can incorporate into your own style.
Also, keep in mind that you can learn different styles both inductively (by learning songs in a different style) and deductively (by studying from books).
If you need some ideas for books to learn different styles from, check out my post here.
Getting Past a Plateau by Learning Music Theory
I’ve mentioned before on the blog that learning music theory is possibly the least appealing aspect of learning an instrument.
It’s also one of the best ways to push through a plateau in your learning due to how it can improve your music knowledge and guitar skills.
Music theory is difficult to learn inductively.
This is why I think the best way to learn it is through books and
Fretboard Theory is a great place to begin your study of music theory as it relates to the guitar.
Is guitar hard to learn by yourself? Guitar can be hard to learn by yourself especially if you’re young and lack motivation or you feel overwhelmed by the learning resources available to you and don’t know where to start. However, if you follow the guidelines in this post, it shouldn’t be too difficult especially if you carve out time every day to practice and improve.
And if you want to read more about beginner guitar concepts, check out my post about finger pads vs finger tips and when you should use them!