Have you ever wanted to teach yourself to play the guitar but you felt overwhelmed and crunched for time? I think this is the way every person in the world feels at one time or another. But luckily for you, it’s never been easier to pick up this popular instrument. Learning guitar is a life-long enjoyable skill. Guitar players know this from experience, but we also have research to back this up. Donald E. Michel in the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education noted that learning to play guitar increases self-esteem and confidence in learning and doing other activities. With the internet and all it has to offer, it’s more than possible, it’s easy to teach yourself guitar in 2 short weeks with the right tools.
As much as technology has grown over the years, there are still only 3 main ways to learn to play guitar. But the growing technology has made access to these tools much easier and more affordable! In this section, we’ll look at the 3 main ways to learn guitar.
The first and most common way to learn guitar is from a private teacher. Back in the day, you had to go to a music store to take these lessons. You’d walk into where all these instruments were and a ton of other musicians. It was quite intimidating. Then you’d be taken back into a practice room where you’d be given your lesson. This method works well, but it does scare off some. And it’s quite expensive. Sometimes, to be honest, the teachers aren’t great. Now, you can pay and take video lessons online with teachers.
Many people try to save money by learning from free sources like YouTube videos and watching others play. This is a fine method for learning guitar, but I believe it has the highest fail rate.
The third way is the newer way and walks a great middle road. You can learn using learning programs like Solfeg.io. This program gives you the visuals and information you might not get from a video, but also helps you stay motivated by playing along with real music.
Most people view learning to play guitar as some monumental task, but breaking it down into steps shows it’s not so complicated. These 7 easy steps will help you teach yourself to play the guitar.
The first thing you need to do is learn how to hold the guitar. This may seem simple, but having poor posture can set you up for pain, failure, and frustration. In fact, it can also limit your hands and their ability to play. Do these quick checks to make sure you’re holding the guitar properly (these are also covered in the Skills section of the Solfeg.io app):
*Though you can play guitar while standing up, I recommend sitting down when first learning. **This is assuming you’re right handed. If you want to play left handed, you need to also have all the strings reversed. But you don’t have to, I’m a lefty, but I just play right handed. Note: I recommend learning software like Solfeg.io for most things, and they also have a feature teaching this to you. Look for the Skills section of the app and select the first class, “How To Play The Guitar.”
Before you jump into playing, you need to look at a song and understand what it involves. There is a lot to even simple songs, and it can get overwhelming. This is why I like using Solfeg.io. I open up the song I want to learn, and I’m greeted with visuals showing all of those elements. I see the following elements: Melody - The melody is the tune of the song. It’s often carried by the singer, although the guitar or piano will sometimes take it as well. In Solfeg.io you see this on to with the lyrics tracking as the song goes by. Chords - The chords are structure of the song. Chords are groups of 3 or more notes played at the same time that lead the song. The melody, piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass parts are all built off the chords. Often, the guitar will just play the chord with different strumming patterns. These are shown with letters “A, B,C, D,E, F,G”. If the letter ”m” is shown after the main letter, this means the chord is minor. More on chords in the next step. Piano - You’ll also find the piano part. This provides some interesting structure for the chords and counter-melody. Beat - The beat is the pulse that holds the music and rhythm together. Solfeg.io shows this with a literal “1,2, 3, 4” so you can see and hear where everything lines up. Drum set - The drum set is responsible for reinforcing the beat while also embellishing the transitions (more on that later too). Form - Songs are built on different sections. Sometimes these sections return with different words while sometimes they happen only once. Solfeg.io puts these sections clearly labeled at the top of the song, so you don’t have to figure out what the form is yourself. Here are some common names for form sections:
When you’re learning to play guitar, it’s good to know about all of those elements, but then you need to focus on what you’re doing which are the chords. You can have this explained to you by a teacher, you can even scour YouTube videos for people teaching you the songs, or you can just look at a simple and responsive diagram. Solfeg.io has this for you. First, click on the music note circle on the right hand side of the program once a song is opened. Then, click on one of “Chords” and “In this song.” Pick a chord to learn. At the bottom a chord diagram pops up showing you the guitar strings. If a letter is bolded and circled, it means the string should be played with no fingers pressing down. If a string is “x”-ed out, you shouldn’t strum that string for this chord. On the other strings, you’ll see a circle with a number in a specific spot. The number tells you which finger to us to press down the string.
If you see the circle stretched out over multiple strings, this means you need to flatten your finger and press down multiple strings with one finger (but this is advanced). You’ll notice the circles are in different lanes divided by lines. These are the frets on the guitar, and they line up with the frets or spaces on your guitar neck. Place your fingers in the correct spot and press down fairly hard. Then strum! I recommend starting with C and G. Then, learn D and Am.
After you’ve been practicing a few chords and can play them a little, you can start looking at some songs. But there are a lot out there which are quite difficult. Then again, there are a lot out there which are easier than you’d think. (You can also make some songs easier). Here are the steps I use to find an easy pop song. This can be done on your own or using the Solfeg.io app.
*Any two or three chord songs will do, but C, G, D, Am, and Em are the easiest to start with.
Learning the chords and playing them on their own takes some work, but when it comes to switching between chords (called transitioning), this is where the real work comes in. When I taught myself guitar, I didn’t have anything to play along with. Every time I popped on a recording and tried to play along, it went much too fast. It was frustrating, and I gave up the first time I tried learning to play. Fast-forward a few years, and I learned to just play the song on my own and slow it down in my head. I always played the same sections over and over again (called looping). But again, I just had to do it all on my own. Not anymore! You all have an opportunity I didn’t have when learning to play. Open up an easy pop song with Solfeg.io, and you can do these 2 things while still playing along with other musicians. At the top of the song, you’ll see a plus and minus. These buttons let you change the speed (tempo), so you can practice those transitions easier. You can use the loop button or the loop presets to practice a tricky switch over and over (at a slower speed). Then, gradually speed it up. Much easier than just trying to do it all yourself.
As you get the chords going and the speed is close to the original, you’ll begin wanting to just play the song. If you’re someone who wants to sing along while playing guitar, you’ll find it difficult to do at first. But Solfeg.io’s learning tracks take care of that for you. With quality recordings, you can play along with a vocalist, piano, drum set, and other guitars if you want. You don’t have to feel like a lone player. You’ll feel like a real band mate. This will increase your motivation which is key for sticking with guitar and getting really good.
After you’ve got one song done, you can easily transfer the skills to other guitar songs you want to play. Solfeg.io has a huge catalog, but with the skills you’ve developed with the program you can expand to songs out of the apps catalog (although keep checking back because it’s growing all the time). With a lot of work, following these steps, and help from good tools, you can learn guitar in 2 short weeks. Note: Succeeding in 2 weeks is also dependent on how much time you put in. But practicing at least one hour every day should get you to the point where you can play easy pop songs on guitar.
I hope you enjoyed learning about how to teach yourself to play the guitar in 2 short weeks. Honestly, as a guitar player myself, the biggest hurdle is that initial learning curve. But with YouTube videos and especially Solfeg.io, you can play along with real music to help keep you motivated. You couldn’t do this back in the day, so take advantage of it now!
Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher at Bay City Public Schools and writer for Dynamic Music Room. He also serves as Past-President of Michigan Kodaly Educators and current Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.