Instruments,  Music

The Many Mistakes of the Self-Taught Guitarist


More and more people are becoming interested in learning to play the guitar. Even though many are lamenting the death of guitar-centric music in popular culture, there’s not that much reason to worry about the future of the world’s favorite musical instrument. The steady increase in people purchasing guitars, combined with great online resources for learning such as YouTube and Ultimate Guitar, will also see a steady rise in the number of people teaching themselves how to play guitar. Of course, while many people have found success in this area, it’s worth looking at the many errors that people who attempt to go down the route of the autodidact often make.



Jimi Hendrix. Jimmy Page. Jack White. Alex Turner. Eric Clapton. Great guitarists, classic and modern, have taught themselves how to play guitar. But if you were to try to find others who had taught themselves, you wouldn’t find very many. The fact is that most people really do need a bit of guidance in the form of formal guitar lessons, and you shouldn’t assume that you’re going to be great enough to avoid it. If you can, you should consider tutoring, at least at first. Most of the time, you’re just making a colossal mountain out of what is an already freakishly big molehill.


Because of the lack of formality or rigidity, many people teaching themselves guitar will waste a lot of time. They’ll pick up their guitar and fiddle around for a little bit, then try playing an easy scale as fast as possible, then learn half of a famous riff, then search the Internet for decent lessons, then they’ll stop and go do something else. Just as with most things in life, a strict schedule and plan of attack is the best way to get good at this. Too much informality will see you making very little progress.

No alternative picking

So many self-taught guitar players end up playing down strokes almost exclusively. Yes, it’s true that many famous guitar players do use down strokes predominately, even when they could do otherwise – Metallica, for example, use down strokes for pretty much everything. But this is because of the specific effect – there’s more of a ‘chug’ aesthetic when you exclusively down stroke. For the most part, especially with licks and solos, you’ll want to use alternative picking – using both down strokes and upstrokes to play things as smoothly as possible. You’ll have a bunch more control over what you’re playing if you use alternate picking.

Misunderstanding music theory 

Pfft, who needs music theory anyway, right? It’s true, again, that many people do just fine without it. But I can’t stress enough how much easier it will be to both practice guitar and compose your own music if you understand at least some of the basics of music theory. You may think that it’s not really that relevant to the actual playing of a guitar. It also seems dry and unexciting – which is precisely why people without a tutor looking over their shoulder are tempting to skip it. But having this knowledge really can help you advance here.

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