When I was growing up, the only ways to learn to play music were to either take a private tutor or to join a music school, mainly a conservatory. These days you can still learn at a conservatory or with a tutor, but you can also learn almost everything on your own.
Here are a few recommended resources for learning to play music on your own.
Free online courses
There are hundreds of free online guitar/bass/drums/fill-in-the-blank learning websites. I came across many such sites as I was trying to learn to play guitar (in general), or as I was searching to improve a specific skill or to learn to play a specific song. I don’t recall the names of all the sites and teachers I experimented with, but here are a few that stood out:
- For guitar – JustinGuitar. Justin has hundreds of lessons and resources, including a free beginner program that leads you step-by-step from the most basic skills such as how to hold a guitar. He also has a structured intermediate course, and a few modular courses focusing on different guitar styles such as blues, jazz, and folk. All the lessons are on video, and many have accompanying text, charts, and audio. Almost all content on Justin Guitar is free, some is paid. You can learn a lot from watching just the free stuff.
- For Bass – studybass.com is a great spot to start your bass journey. Most of the lessons are free, including interactive exercises in which you can play along with the audio on the website and change the exercise speed.
- For Drums – Drumeo.com is a great start, with tons of courses on different drum styles with leading drummers. Some courses are free, including beginner courses.
- For keys – if you like to study by reading instead of by following a video, be sure to check out Piano Nanny, pianonanny.com, which has sequenced lessons fitting beginners, mixing music tuition with the technicalities of playing the piano.
- Vocals – well, this is a bit of a challenge. There are many free online singing lessons, but from all the methods I looked at, only the CVT (Complete Vocal Technique, more about it in the vocals section) method worked for me when I was a complete beginner, and I couldn’t find anything free from CVT. I assume they have an agreement with their certified teachers that they can’t offer CVT content for free. CVT has a book and an app you can purchase, but they cost around $90. There is a basic, free CVT app in which you can get an introduction to the method. A couple of free options for learning to sing: the free videos of Chris Liepe (YouTube) which one of my friends really likes, and this free course on Udemy (am not sure it would work for complete beginners but try it, it’s free www.udemy.com/course/sing-like-a-pro-the-free-mini-course/).
Paid online courses
You can find free tutorials online on almost every topic you can think of, yet there can be two reasons to purchase access to paid courses:
- Paying for something can create more commitment – some swear by paying for courses as a way to make themselves persevere. If you are the kind of person that gets motivated by spending money on something, use it to your advantage.
- Structure – I’m a big fan of structure for learning, and paid programs often have the benefit of being more structured, as they are sold as one coherent unit (think of the difference between reading a non-fiction book about a subject you’re interested in, versus following a blog on the topic. Even if they contain the same content, the book will be more structured – the author likely spent time structuring the information in an order that makes sense). After consuming many hours of free content, I bought a couple of paid programs from Justin Guitar, and a few other courses on Udemy. Each of the programs I purchased provided hours of tuition that cost less than one face-to-face guitar lesson, and unlike guitar lessons – I could pause, skip, speed the video or go back and watch it again whenever I wanted.
I suggest that you start with free online lessons. If you are the kind of person that gets motivated by spending money, buy a program from your favorite site/instructor. And if you get lost in the sea of information and options, simply start with one of the free beginner courses I listed above.
We live in a digital world, yet many of us still find joy in holding a paper book in our hands. You will find that most music books have an eBook version, but when it comes to music, paperback rules, as music books contain images and musical notation that appear too small on e-readers. There are many how-to books for aspiring guitar players, and you can order most of them online or get them in music stores and libraries.
There are many ways to learn from books, here is the method that works best for me. I first skim through the entire book cover to cover (this is especially easy with a paperback). That way, I get an overview of the whole thing and know what to expect. Then I go back and read chapter by chapter, following the instructions and exercises. In the future, I plan to add an extra step: go over the book again and try to incorporate relevant teachings into my songwriting (be it a new strumming pattern, an interesting scale, or a guitar riff).
To sum up
We reviewed a few methods for how you can learn to play music on your own. Will be happy to hear more ideas! Check out the full 4 chapters of my book dedicated to learning to play music here.