Dear Lifehacker, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, but I can’t afford private lessons. Plenty of people have told me I can learn on my own with online tools, but I have no idea where to start. How would you suggest I learn how to play? Thanks, Waiting To Shred
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Learning an instrument is a bit intimidating at first, but the benefits range from increasing your memory capacity to making you better at maths. You can learn to play on your own as long as you’re willing to devote the time. Here are a few of the better resources and the habits that will help you along the way.
Use Free Video And Web Tutorials
You have a lot of options for learning how to play an instrument online. YouTube is one of best ways to get expert education on playing an instrument for free — you can find lessons for just about any instrument you can imagine.
YouTube’s music section has tutorials for how to play any instrument in virtually any style you want. Search for the instrument you want to learn, and spend a couple of minutes watching the teacher. If they feel like a good fit, you’re done. If not, move on to the next one. It’s OK to be picky; you have a lot of options, so spend time and find a teacher you like.
If videos aren’t your thing, you can almost always find free written guides for most instruments. About’s hobbies section can help with common instruments like the guitar and piano. Otherwise, a Google search should reveal free guides for just about every instrument imaginable.
If sheet music is more your speed, a webapp like Soundslice is an excellent way to learn songs with both interactive notation and tabs. Queue up a song and you see the song streaming across a sheet of music. Similarly, you can use YouTube to learn songs you already love. Chordify turns a music video on YouTube into tabs so you can practise and play them.
Use Mobile Apps To Learn On The Go
Both the iTunes App Store and Google Play have massive directories of mobile apps that help you take your learning on the road. It might sound silly, but having a way to (quietly) practise an instrument on the bus is pretty great.
The bulk of these apps teach you skills such as chords and how to read sheet music. They do a good enough job at it that you might find yourself using them even when you’re at home. Assuming you don’t want to take your instrument of choice with you everywhere you go, an app’s a pretty good stand-in for most aspects of the learning process.
Get Live Video Help When You Need It
Sometimes no amount of video tutorials or reading can help you figure something out. In that case, it’s time to turn to a real-life teacher. Teachers are great because it’s easier to ask a real human questions. They can also point out if your posture is bad or if you’re misunderstanding a core concept.
Of course, a real person does cost money, but since one-off meetings are more common online than they are with an in-person teacher, you won’t need to spend as much. Google’s Helpouts are a great place to find a cheap teacher, and music lessons over Skype or Bandhappy are easy to set up. You don’t need to do this for a full course of lessons, but for the occasional question and check-in, a video meeting can help a lot.
Set Up A Time To Practise And Stick To It
When you’re learning how to play an instrument on your own, it’s important to stick with some kind of routine. As with any online education, it’s best if you’re independently driven since a teacher won’t hound you to finish your work every week. So, set a time and practise deliberately. If you need some help with motivation, we’ve got you covered.
You’ll also want to intentionally hinder yourself sometimes. As we’ve pointed out before, failure helps us learn. When you’re taking lessons online or learning how to play a specific song from YouTube, it’s easy to rely too much on those guides. Remember to take a step away from the computer and practise without it now and again.
After you get comfortable with playing, it’s a good idea to start recording yourself to see how you sound so you can improve. You don’t need a special crazy music production studio. Your phone or computer’s mic is fine. The goal is to make yourself aware of your mistakes so you know what you need to work on. This is an important part of having a teacher that’s hard to emulate on your own, but it’s possible if you can tune your ear enough to notice your mistakes.
Finally, have fun and experiment. It’s easy to get caught up in rushing through a series of videos or a set of lessons and forget to enjoy what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the computer and start writing your own stuff. Even it’s terrible it will at least be your own. Good luck!
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