By Matt Chanway
Guitar players have had access to various forms of instructional content for decades. Prior to Web 2.0, VHS tapes (anyone remember the REH instructional videos?), books, and magazine columns all offered up content to guitar players to help them better their skills. Back in those days, private one-onone guitar lessons were relatively expensive, and for just $20, you could get a VHS tape packed with tips and tricks from top guitarists of the day. Although tons of musicians used these resources and got benefit out of them, there was never really much sentiment (or any that was taken seriously), that these products were a replacement for private tuition.
In 2006, YouTube was created, and quickly became flooded with content. This included guitar-related content, and seemingly overnight, YouTube channels dedicated to teaching guitar appeared. These channels promise to teach you to easily play songs of your choosing, learn technique and theory, all from the comfort of your own home. And for a slightly more organized approach, there are apps such as Fender Play that offer step-by-step lesson videos for a very small monthly fee. This is all great, however the presentation of this info seems to mislead viewers that these videos make in-person music instruction obsolete. As a teacher myself, I have seen students come into my studio, proudly explaining they learned one of their favorite songs “from YouTube.” When I ask them to play the song, they often play something that sounds quite literally nothing like the song. It’s a troubling phenomenon.
Although there is some good information online, here are the main reasons online free video lessons do not replace proper guitar tuition:
1. Online guitar lessons are a mile wide and an inch deep. Look at the titles of many online lesson videos. A very high number of them are nothing more than song tutorials – guess what, these have existed in print for decades, and are nothing new. Learning “how to play your favourite song” is not going to help you play in time and accurately, play successfully with other musicians, help you exercise creativity in your playing, or even help you sound good.
2. Online guitar lesson videos do not include any sort of supervised application of the content that is taught. How easy is it to watch a video on a subject, and think to yourself, “Great! Now I understand x.” The reality is that without a trained professional helping you integrate content you’ve learned into your existing music skill set, the time you spent learning the concept is wasted. For example, a rare find in the online video lesson world might be one explaining how to improvise on guitar, and how to practice improvisation. This video might include some instructions such as “practice improvising in this scale, focusing on these notes, over these types of backing tracks.” This is not bad advice, but it is not specific or focused enough for you to benefit massively and make fast progress.
3. Online guitar lesson videos do not watch your technique or application. While some apps promise to “track your progress,” it’s simply not feasible with this type of content delivery system for bad habits to get spotted and corrected. In fact, you can actually set your progress backwards by teaching yourself through lesson videos, by developing bad physical habits in your playing.
4. Online guitar lesson content is not ordered properly. Even the paid apps have a generic linear structure to the order the lesson content is presented. The reality is that one size does not fit all, and if the order of lesson content is not personalized, the student’s progress is not going to be optimized.
These points are not to say that online guitar lessons are totally useless, but just to demonstrate that there are some real hazards with self-teaching through online resources. To become the best version of yourself musically, you want to make the investment into proper music education. Your audience, however big or small, will thank you for it.
Matt Chanway is a professional guitarist and teaches guitar lessons in Surrey, British Columbia.