Self-Teaching: What Is It And How To Use It For Playing Guitar

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 26, 2022

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Self-teaching or autodidactism or self-education is the act of self-directed learning, and is a powerful way to learn something new.

It’s especially great for those interested in learning how to play the guitar. This method allows individuals to become their own teacher by researching and exploring different teaching resources.

Self-teaching can give you the freedom to learn at your own pace, allowing you to tailor your learning to your schedule and interests.

With this approach, you can design a program that works for you and your goals.

Read on to learn how to use self-teaching for playing guitar.

What is self-teaching

Benefits of Self-Teaching

Self-teaching has become an increasingly popular way to learn guitar, and it can have many advantages over traditional music instruction. Those who are motivated and take initiative can teach themselves guitar and learn to play at their own pace in a way that suits them best. Self-teaching provides flexibility, convenience, and control over one’s learning outcomes.

Being able to set your own learning schedule with self-teaching is incredibly valuable. You can work through lessons at any time of day, in any place that you may be staying or living in. Having the freedom to progress at your own pace is enjoyable and enables you to learn effectively without stressing about grades or expectations from a teacher. Unlike formal classes or lessons, you never have to worry about falling behind when using self-teaching methods. You also have access to more resources than just what is offered in a typical course: online lesson tutorials, YouTube videos, music books, etc., all offer unique learning experiences depending on your individual needs as a player.

Additionally, with self-teaching you can explore new musical styles and techniques beyond the curriculum of traditional instruction methods. At its root, self-teaching is about making music that expresses your personal style with no rules or formulas; this provides an unmatched sense of creativity and ownership over the result of your playing. Additionally–on the flipside–being able to exclusively focus on topics that interest you makes it more likely for concepts to “stick” while giving yourself more room for experimentation as well as mistake-making!

Disadvantages of Self-Teaching

Self-teaching is an individual’s effort to learn a subject without the help of an instructor. It is the process of acquiring knowledge by oneself through reading, research, practice and experimentation. Although self-teaching has benefits, it also comes with various challenges.

One of the main disadvantages of self-teaching is that there is no one to provide feedback or guidance. Without this feedback loop, it can be difficult to make progress and identify areas where you may need improvement. Additionally, it can be harder to stay motivated while learning on your own since there is no teacher or accountability system in place which may lead to disinterest or procrastination. It is also important to note that attempting works which are too advanced for a beginner’s level of skill can be discouraging and therefore self-teachers should make sure they have adequate background on the subject before embarking on any difficult projects.

Another potential downside of learning by yourself is not having access to the same resources as instructor led classes offer; classroom environment, practice sessions and workshops can provide invaluable hands-on experience you may not get from studying at home without external assistance. Additionally, having access to expert opinions from professionals in your chosen field can help you stay on track with your learning journey and accelerate growth as there are many nuances within a subject matter which could take longer for a self-taught student to grasp than their peers in a course based program.

Preparing for Self-Teaching

Self-teaching can be a great way to learn a new skill, especially something like playing the guitar. When self-teaching, it is important to prepare properly to ensure you give yourself the best chance of success. Preparing for self-teaching includes:

  • Researching the material you need to learn
  • Establishing goals
  • Setting up a plan to reach those goals

Let’s get into the details of how to prepare for self-teaching guitar.

Researching the Basics of Guitar Playing

Before beginning self-teaching, it is important to have a good understanding of the basics of guitar playing. It will help keep the learning process on track and provide a valuable foundation for learning more complex techniques and concepts. Research is essential for building this knowledge through articles, books, blogs, and YouTube lessons from experienced players. Here are some details to consider:

  • Guitar anatomy – Familiarize yourself with the different parts of the guitar (neck, bridge, strings, knobs), their purpose and how they interface with other elements such as pedals or amplifiers.
  • Music theory – Having a basic understanding of music theory is invaluable when fumbling around on the fretboard. Learn about time signatures, notes, keys and intervals so you’re better able to interpret chords diagrams or songs you want to learn quickly.
  • Guitar chords – Forming basic chords on your guitar is going to be an indispensable part of your playing journey so make sure you get these under your fingers as quickly as possible by introducing yourself core chord shapes – maj7/min7/maj9/min9 – and how they can be used in combination with open chords shapes like E or Am.
  • Right-handed technique – You should be aware of good posture while sitting or standing while playing – how far apart should my feet be? where do I grip my pick? what’s the sensation like when I dampen strings with my left hand? Start practicing correct technique from day one!

Creating a Practice Schedule

For successful self-teaching, creating a personal practice schedule is essential. Before beginning to devise your practice plan, it is important to consider the following: how much time can you commit in a week to practicing, how much of that time do you want to dedicate to learning and playing the guitar, and what approach do you want to take when it comes to practicing. These considerations will help you create a practice schedule that works for your lifestyle and allows ample time for reaching your guitar playing goals.

A good practice plan should incorporate several elements:

  • Multi-practice: Taking small chunks of time during each day of the week instead of organizing everything into one long session. This also ensures money spent remains efficient, as every minute can be given its due worth.
  • Set Goals: Setting specific, achievable goals helps avoid becoming overwhelmed and keeps focus on progress made over time instead of results expected in the short term.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Staying motivated can be one of the most difficult aspects when teaching oneself anything; reward yourself or make fun experiences out of learning!
  • Mix It Up: Playing can become stale if practicing in only one way; try incorporating different techniques such as finger picking or going through different pieces at random intervals rather than trying to work methodically through them all in one session. This will keep motivation high and learnings keenly absorbed due to increased attentiveness while also making sure play remains enjoyable!

In addition to creating a practice schedule, setting aside certain times per day dedicated solely for practice will help improve overall efficiency significantly since it programs the mind better than sporadic fits here and there. It also helps foster consistency with your goal which is key for achieving desired results on the guitar!

Setting Goals

Establishing clear and attainable goals is a crucial part of any successful self-teaching experience. Goals should be focused on the skills that you want to develop as a player. Consider short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, each with incremental benchmarks for measuring improvement.

Short-term goals are highly important for gauging where you are at any given moment in the self-teaching process and can keep you motivated when the going gets tough.

Most importantly, be realistic about what you can achieve. It’s better to set more achievable goals so that success is achievable in small increments rather than attempting something too difficult which could lead to disappointment or frustration.

Include rest and FUN days as part of your goal setting too – focussing exclusively on practice can lead to burn out or overwhelm! Allow yourself brief breaks which can assist in learning better and faster in the long run – so having fun is all part of your learning journey too!

So set some realistic and meaningful intermediate targets; these will help keep your self-teaching progress rolling forward in a positive direction.

Learning the Basics

Self-teaching is a great way to learn to play the guitar. It’s an efficient and fun way to learn and it can be tailored to your specific needs and interests.

When it comes to learning the basics of guitar, there are a few key components to focus on:

  • Learning chords, scales, and notes by ear.
  • Fingerpicking techniques, strumming patterns and music theory.

You can use self-teaching methods to master these components and become an expert guitarist.

Learning Chords

The first step in learning to play guitar is mastering basic chords. A chord is a set of notes that, when played together, create a harmonious sound. Once you can recognize and make each chord shape, you’ll be able to play many of your favorite songs.

One important aspect of playing chords is understanding how the different chord progressions work. Chord progressions involve the notes of a chord being strung together in a repeating pattern. As you learn different chords, practice connecting them into various progressions to develop fluidity when playing and ensure that your fingers are comfortable with the shapes they need to produce at any given time. A great way to learn new chords is by playing simplified versions of popular songs that use only two or three chords – there are lots of free tutorials available online that can help you get started!

Guitarists often talk about “tightening” their fingers as they practice new chords; it just means getting used to making the same finger movements over and over again as your muscles remember for muscle memory sake how best to form those shapes. As you become more familiar with which fingers press which strings and in what order, then switching between chords quickly will become easier; master this skill early on what will be one of your most used skills when playing guitar!

As you start to understand how different chords are constructed, be sure to apply what you’ve learned directly into pieces or songs so you can hear the effect it has on the sound produced by an entire song rather than just individual portions or sounds made by each note/chord combination stands alone. This will help unify theory with practical application and ensure musical enjoyment as well!

Learning Scales

Scales are one of the fundamentals of guitar playing, forming the basis of all music theory. A scale is a series of notes that are based on a set pattern. To learn scales on the guitar, you will need to understand how they work and practice regularly.

Most scale patterns start with one note, called the root note, which is repeated at set intervals along the fretboard. This pattern provides a basis for improvisation by allowing you to form riffs and melodies by adjusting your playing position or simply choosing a different series of notes from within it. Learning scales is also key for understanding chords and progressions, as well as enabling you to transpose or convert songs from one key to another if needed.

The most commonly used scales in rock, jazz, blues and country music include:

  • Major Scale
  • Minor Pentatonic Scale
  • Blues Scale
  • Mixolydian Mode – used for soloing over dominant 7 chords)
  • Dorian Mode (uses minor chord qualities)
  • Phrygian Mode (features minor 3rd chord tones)
  • Lydian Mode (prominent major 3rd chord tone)
  • Locrian Mode (dissonance in active motion)

Learning scales gives you access to a whole range of arrangements that can be used to create expressive solos suited to many different musical styles. With practice and dedication, all levels of skill can benefit in some way, so take this opportunity to focus your training on learning and exploring various guitar scales.

Learning Strumming Patterns

Strumming is one of the most important aspects of playing a guitar and is the basis for many popular songs. Learning the basic strumming patterns can be intimidating but it doesn’t need to be. There are various techniques and ways of learning the basics that can make it easier and more enjoyable.

The specific techniques used to strum each song will depend on what type of music you’re playing, however there are some basic fundamentals that can help students quickly understand how to strum. These include:

  • Understanding timing and rhythm,
  • Knowing how to use accents in your playing,
  • Understanding different types of strokes (downstrokes and upstrokes),
  • Mastering muted guitar strokes (commonly referred to as ‘deadened’ or ‘muted’ tones),
  • as well as learning essential strumming patterns such as eighth notes, quarter notes, and sixteenth notes.

Timing and rhythm are two very important elements when learning guitar strumming patterns so it’s important to take your time getting familiar with them by practicing frequently with a metronome or drum machine/pedal. Accents also serve an important purpose when you’re playing – they give expression to your songs by providing a heightened intensity at certain points throughout the song where extra force is desired.

Using downstrokes versus up-strokes will also greatly affect your sound so it’s a good idea to become familiar with both. The importance of muted strokes should not be underestimated either – this technique will provide texture and character that cannot be achieved with normal strokes alone.

Once you understand these basics you’re ready to start learning simple strumming patterns like eighth note rhythms which are perhaps the most commonly used in popular songs today. Once mastered, these can easily be transposed into quarter note patterns or sixteenth note patterns depending on what type of song you’re playing or what tempo the song is in! When linking chords together within a song, try separating each chord change into separate down beats within your counting system; this should help you stay organized while transitioning between chords during hectic sections.

Practicing Techniques

Learning to play the guitar can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Through self-teaching, you can learn how to play the guitar on your own time. Self-teaching involves breaking down the songs into smaller parts and slowly building up your skills and techniques.

In this article, we will discuss techniques and methods you can use to learn how to play guitar on your own:

Using a Metronome

Using a metronome is one of the most important practices for developing good timing as a guitar player. Metronomes are tools used to keep beat or measure tempo, and are very useful for helping you stay within a certain rhythm or feel. The metronome will give you an idea of how fast some of the notes should be played in your part or solo.

To get comfortable with playing with a metronome, start by setting the device at a slow speed, perhaps 80 to 120 beats per minute (BPM). Begin by playing four simple eighth notes, keeping in time with each click from the metronome. Make sure that when you play your notes they blend together and don’t sound misplaced or forced. Simply try to match your picking hand to each click until it feels natural.

Once you have achieved this consistency, you can begin to pick up the pace – increase the BPM of your metronome by 10-20 beats until it is difficult to stay perfectly in time with it. You may also want to experiment with playing three or six notes per click; using triplets instead of eighth notes can really add complexity and make your guitar part more musical and interesting!

No matter which approach you use, be sure that you practice regularly while monitoring the tempo and maintaining strict adherence to timing accuracy – trying each faster speed only after mastering slower ones – until steady execution becomes instinctive. With practice and dedication, it won’t be long before you are integrating time-keeping accurately into all of your riffs!

Using a Jam Track

Using a jazz track as part of your self-teaching practice is an important way to move your playing forward. A jam track is an audio recording of just the rhythm section of a song without the melody or solo parts – usually, this involves drums, bass, and sometimes piano, organ or other accompaniment instruments. Jam tracks allow you to play along with a recorded track and start to explore the different scales and chord progressions associated with jazz music.

When practicing with a jam track at home, you should use a metronome so that you can keep time correctly. Additionally, make sure you’re playing in the same key as the jam track – if not, it may sound out of tune. As you become more familiar with jazz progressions and the scales associated with them, try different rhythms while still keeping good time. Listen carefully and respect how long each note lasts so that your playing complements what’s already been recorded on the backing track.

Always allow sufficient time for practice sessions in order to isolate any weak areas that need improving or elements that require further exploration before moving onto new material. You should also record yourself when possible; this will help identify any issues such as intonation or timing problems so that they can be addressed before progressing further.

Experimenting with Different Styles

As you learn the basics of playing guitar, practicing different techniques is key to developing your skills. Experimenting with different musical styles will broaden your musical horizons and can help you develop a unique sound that’s all yours. It’s not enough to just play what you hear, though. You must be willing to push past your comfort level and explore new rhythmic and chordal concepts.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate various musical styles while practicing:

  • Select songs from multiple genres and try playing them in diverse patterns or shapes.
  • Become familiar with various strumming sequences, like down strokes and up strokes, ghosting or alternating between two or more notes, etc.
  • Develop an understanding of fingerpicking and plucking patterns in blues, folk, rock and classical music.
  • Listen closely when you’re performing songs from different genres; pick out their signature sounds so that you can better emulate them when creating your own music.
  • Practice boosting your fretting hand accuracy by playing movement pieces such as arpeggios or scale patterns over single chords or progressions.
  • Vary up your rhythm by playing “swing” style rhythms like triplets or shuffle time signatures between other grooves such as rock beats or hip hop beats that are more commonly found in popular songs today.

By exploring the endless possibilities in each genre of music while playing guitar, you can become a well rounded musician who has the ability to write perform in any style imaginable!

Working on Your Own Songs

One of the best ways to self-teach yourself to play guitar is by working on your own songs. By creating your own songs you can get creative and have fun with the process. Working on your own songs also gives you the chance to show off your skills and express your own style.

Let’s look at how you can use self-teaching to work on your own songs:

Writing Lyrics

Writing lyrics is a creative and rewarding process; it allows you to express yourself and communicate your emotions with others. Writing may also be challenging at times when you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by creative blocks. It’s important to recognize that these feelings are normal, and they can be overcome by following certain steps.

  1. Choose an idea to write about. Write words that connect to the theme or emotion of the song, starting small with single words or simple phrases like bridges or choruses. It’s easier in the long run if you jot down thoughts as soon as they come, even if it’s only a word or phrase for later use; this way new ideas don’t slip away from memory before being written down.
  2. When adding together lines of lyrics try keeping to a song’s structure: intro, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus (and having an outro). To make sure everything flows together connect sections of the melody by using motifs: using similar or repeating elements like rhyme schemes, chord progressions and melodic phrases are excellent strategies in making sure your piece is unified between sections.
  3. Word choice also has a huge impact on how effective your song writing flow will be; choose words that have power! Look up synonyms for words you already use in the project, opt for direct language rather than vague descriptions involving sentimental terms that mean relative things to different individuals—this way your messages are properly communicated clearly throughout the song. Don’t be afraid of breaking clichéd phrases! Boldness can often add more life into any original project—uniting parts together in more meaningful ways than what is common within popular music choices today.

Writing Chord Progressions

Before you can create self-taught songs on the guitar, you need to understand how to write chord progressions. Chord progressions are the building blocks of songs, providing a structure on which to play lead guitar, solo or even base the melody.

Chord progressions use a combination of notes and chords known as keys. In order to create a song, it is important that you understand key relationships, what each key represents and how they fit together musically. A sequence of chords creates movement in a song and provides emotion; these chord progressions can be radically altered by changing one note or adding extra notes in between chords.

The most popular key signatures are based around major and minor scales. Within each of these keys, there are 6 different formats (or “plans” as they are sometimes referred to) that create chord progressions for each song written within it. These plans come with a set of guidelines for choosing chords that sound catchy and allow for a fluid musical development (such as harmonizing certain notes). Examples of popular chord progression keys include:

  • I IV V7 I
  • I vi IV V
  • IIm7b5 V7 Imaj7
  • III VI II V and so on.

Writing consistent chord progressions is essential for creating professional sounding music so it’s wise to take your time learning about various keys and their structures before beginning your own compositions. Once you become familiar with common chord structures, your understanding will grow exponentially as there are limitless options when constructing a progression – allowing you express yourself personally in your music.

Writing Melodies

When working on your own songs, one of the first key elements to consider is the melody. Craft a simple, yet engaging tune that brings life to your piece and captures the audience’s attention. Try to divide your melody into phrases that vary in length—ideally no shorter than 4 or 5 beats and no longer than 8 or 12 beats—each of which should have its own signature. To get creative, apply techniques such as syncopation and repetition of certain motifs. Additionally, experiment with diverse sounds that you can bring out with articulations (such as staccatos and slides).

To start developing a good sense of what constitutes a great melody, listen to classical music pieces by composers like Bach or Mozart. The melodies from their works are incredibly memorable and will help you develop an appreciation for storytelling with music. Additionally, explore various genres such as pop ballads, rock anthems, bossa novas—each genre typically has four-bar themes followed by elaborations on those themes; learning how these follow one another will help you work out memorable melodies for your songs.

Start small and simple as you build up layers of melodies over time; beginning with a few ideas from either yourself or someone else can spark a few more ideas when combined together! By observing these guiding principles regarding

  • length variations
  • repetition and elaboration of themes
  • articulation techniques
  • observing other compositions in different genres

–you’ll be well on your way to crafting well-crafted melodic content for your songs!


Learning to play the guitar is a rewarding process that takes time and dedication. With proper instruction and guidance, you can become an excellent guitarist. However, when it comes to self-teaching, there are several tips you should use to help optimize your learning.

  • Fuel your enthusiasm with passionate commitment and don’t forget the basics like tuning your guitar before each practice session and warming up regularly.
  • Break down bigger concepts into smaller chunks and find motivation through feedback from peers and mentors.
  • By following the advice outlined in this guide, you can learn independently how to be an excellent guitarist.
  • Remember that there is no one perfect method for learning the guitar – great results come from transforming knowledge into playing habits that work for you and keeping up regular practice sessions with enough challenge, but not too much difficulty so it’s still fun!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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