Can You Teach Yourself Guitar From Apps?

The invention of the smartphone and tablet devices has greatly affected the world in which we live. Many industries are experiencing massive change as we now move into the digital age and spend more and more of our lives glued to our phones.

10 years ago the majority of people who wanted to learn guitar had only two options, learn from a guitar teacher or self teach from a book, DVD or VHS. These days guitarists can learn from a host of sources including smartphone apps, online courses, youtube videos and skype lessons with actual teachers online. There has never been more information available to potential students with more and more content being added every day. This is a good thing right? Wrong! There has never been so much content available but there is absolutely no quality control and the vast majority of it is garbage. Furthermore there is just so much available that you can spend an endless amount of time just learning without ever actually applying your knowledge to a practical context.

Don’t get me wrong I think there are some wonderful guitar applications and believe there many positive things that apps do. One feature that many apps do well is gamifying the learning process which makes learning really enjoyable, particularly for children. The ease of access and affordability of many apps also means that more and more people can teach themselves the basics of guitar. This means the average Joe who just wants to learn how to strum along to some of their favorite songs can do so in the comfort of his own home and can learn at his own pace. If you’re a casual player and you’re not too serious about learning an app might be just what you need.

If you are serious about your guitar playing and want to be more than a hobbyist then learning from an app probably isn’t for you. While apps can provide you with an abundance of knowledge (assuming the app you have is created by an expert guitar teacher and not just thrown together by a company looking to cash in on the app market) they don’t give you feedback on your technique. If you’re not holding your hand the right way, have synchronisation issues between your hands or a host of other problems that are faced by many guitarists then the app can’t give you that feedback. This may lead to you practicing incorrectly and developing bad habits which will be harder to break than if you learned correctly the first time.

The other big downside to learning from apps is they give you all the information you need without actually giving you the opportunity to apply it, integrate it and master it. What’s the point in learning 100 chords if you’re only going to use 12 of them 95% of the time? What’s the point in learning 30 scales if you don’t know how to improvise solos or create your own licks with them? An app can give you the information that you need but it can’t show you how to use it. You would be much better getting lessons from a teacher who can already do what you want to do and show you how to think creatively so you can avoid getting stuck in a rut.

Another point to consider is that the majority of apps are targeted at beginners and have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ format that assumes everyone wants to learn the chords to strum along to their favorite radio songs. This is mainly because the biggest market is beginner guitar players many of which will buy the app while they’re motivated and give up a few weeks later. Not only do you get severely limited in the content you learn within an app but once you’re done (assuming you haven't quit already) you’ve got nowhere else to go. If you’ve reached the intermediate phase or if you’re into heavy metal, blues, jazz, flamenco or other niche genres then you’re extremely limited in the amount of apps available to you. This is where having a guitar teacher who can create a personalised lesson program built around your own goals and musical tastes really wins out.

One final note is that the vast majority of people who try and teach themselves from apps end up quitting before they reach their goal. It’s easy to tell yourself you are going to practice 20 minutes before bed and an hour on saturday but when you have a bad day at work and a friend pops around unannounced then all your plans go out the window. By signing up for guitar lessons you automatically get a teacher to hold you accountable.

So in summary, I believe there are a some wonderful guitar applications out there that can give the casual player a great start to playing guitar. Nothing however can substitute for guitar lessons with a great teacher who can create you a program around your goals, give you live feedback on your technique and hold you accountable. If you’re content learning some of your favorite songs and don’t mind it taking the long road with the potential to develop a few bad habits along the way,, then an app may be for you. If you’re serious about guitar playing, developing a great technique and learning how to apply everything you know to real musical situations then guitar lessons with a teacher will be a much better investment of your time and money.


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About The Author

Michael Gumley is a virtuoso guitarist and highly sought after guitar teacher from Melbourne, Australia. His hobbies include fishing, camping and fixing bad habits that people learn from the Yousician App. If you’re serious about your skills taking guitar lessons in Melbourne will make you a better player in no time at all.