Much of the world's information sharing has moved online, which means education and music instruction have followed suit.
The popularity of the guitar, in particular, has given way to a number of online guitar lesson options, some of which have been operating for well over a decade. Yet, even with a generation now extremely familiar with technology, aspiring guitarists still ask: Do online guitar lessons work? Are they "for me" or just a waste of time?
I want to answer that question honestly, as an educator and someone who is passionate about learning, the free exchange of ideas and the free sharing of information.
The best initial answer to this question is that online guitar lessons work for some people, but not everybody.
Before we get started, here are the four guitar lesson programs that I've used and recommend to students:
Compare Top Online Guitar Lessons
Learning Styles and Personality Types
Generally, I'd put people (guitar students) into two types of learning personalities:
- Social or group learner
- Self-motivated, analytical learner
It's essentially the difference between an introverted and extroverted person, having little to do with how talkative you are. Introverts, like myself, are more energized by being alone and working independently (I'm still quite talkative). Extroverts, like my wife, are energized by being with people and interacting socially.
Understanding which side you fall on will have a lot to say about how effective the online learning format will be for you. Let's talk a little bit about online guitar lessons in general, then discuss how they would impact each type of learner.
Online Guitar Lessons vs In Person: Strengths and Weaknesses of the Online Format
From a purely educational perspective, the online video guitar lesson format has some common strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths would include the following:
Benefits to Virtual Learning
- Easy to access, always available
- Much more affordable
- Wider range of skills, ideas, and styles to draw from
- Properly categorized and ordered topics
Weaknesses, particularly when compared to in-person guitar lessons, would include the following:
Drawbacks to Virtual Learning
- Significantly more difficult to get direct feedback
- Learning is entirely contingent on self-motivation
- Content and course arrangement is uniform and not tailored to a particular student
With a simple rundown of strengths and weaknesses, the issue of whether or not you are an introverted or extroverted learner is extremely important. For those who are not self-motivated, or rely on having a social component to their learning, the online guitar lesson model is going to be a less optimal environment.
What about the quality of the material itself?
I would also caution against viewing this in terms of a binary answer, as in, "either online guitar lessons work or they don't." It's certainly more nuanced and complicated. It's also not so much a question of whether or not online guitar lessons meet the same quality standards as in-person tutorials.
It's much more important to establish how you're wired to learn and what motivates you as a student.
Yes, you can find high-quality online lessons but, you can also find stinkers that are a waste of time.
The same is true when it comes to in-person guitar teachers.
There are some good teachers and classes, but there are also some really bad ones.
When you're talking about format, and whether or not the online method will work for you, it's much more important to establish how you're wired to learn and what motivates you as a student. If you're the more extroverted type of learner, who depends on social interaction, I'd be careful about taking on an online guitar course, regardless of its quality.
Let's talk about someone in that situation first.
The Extroverted or "Social" Learner
This is not to say that social learners are doomed to fail in the realm of online education, but it should be clear that they're likely to have a more difficult time being motivated to participate in it. It's not an issue of the content being poorly designed or ineffective. If you can watch the videos and stick with the curriculum, there's certainly potential to get good results.
The bigger question is weather or not you'll be able to stick with it.
If you enjoy the social aspect of learning in a classroom, getting human feedback or interacting with a teacher, than it's fair to say that the online model in general is going to be a bad fit with your personality type because it lacks these elements.
Why Social Learners Benefit from Classrooms and In-Person Tutors
A person in the social learning camp will want to talk to someone, share ideas and have a sounding board to bounce questions off of. This person might also need the added motivation of a steady schedule with an authority figure (at least a musical authority) to motivate them to learn.
Again, I could use the example of my wife to illustrate this.
Putting her in front of a computer to read instruction or watch a demo video is almost never going to be a comfortable environment for her to learn in. Sure, she might comprehend the information, but she's not really retaining it.
On the flip side, put her in a classroom or a one-on-one tutoring session with another human being and she absolutely comes to life with interest and engagement.
That's how she's wired to learn.
This is how social learners benefit from an actual in-person guitar teacher, and why online guitar lessons - where that component is largely removed - might not work as effectively.
The Introverted and Self-Motivated Learner
Assuming an understanding of what motivates us to learn, we can easily see how the self-starter or the introverted learner might be poised to benefit from the online format. Unlike my wife, I'm motivated and energized by working alone and internalizing information outside of a formal learning environment.
This didn't bode well for me in the classroom or tutoring model. I made it through college with a computer science degree (I even took a few music courses), but in that setting I was a terrible student.
Once I got away from that format, I was able to learn by experience and work individually on the things that I was really interested in.
Why Online Guitar Lessons are Perfect for Self-Starters
The online guitar lesson programs, and virtual learning environments like Udemy, are absolutely tailor made for this type of person, primarily because they assume the following:
- You're already motivated to learn guitar
- You're better off working on your own
- You're ready to take advantage of always having access to your learning material
Online guitar lessons allow you to learn at your own pace and to access the material whenever and however often you choose. If something like this is already motivating you - and we assume that the program meets a high quality standard - than it's a safe assumption that the online format will benefit you.
Remember, it's not really a question of whether the format works in and of itself, or even if the quality is reliably good. We can find the good quality guitar lessons.
The more important question is whether you'll be motivated to take advantage of the content available to you online.
Choosing a Program
While it's true that how you learn is a critical factor in determining your success with the online guitar lesson format, the program you choose should also be addressed, as they are not all created equal. Generally, the major online guitar lesson sites and courses are comprehensive and well-designed, often developed by professional musicians and instructors.
In that earlier recommendation chart I noted that each program can accommodate the full range of skill levels, yes certain programs are more ideal for differing goals and ranges of skill. This should be your primary consideration when choosing. For a quick review of what I recommended in that top chart, here's how I'd break each one down:
All four of these program offer free trials of varying lengths, are risk free and easy to setup. If you want more info on any one program, I've done a thorough review and write-up of each one that you can access here:
Each program has its own instructors and unique take on how they feature their courses and how they arrange all the guitar lessons. TrueFire and Guitargate also make single courses available for purchase and download, without having to worry about a monthly commitment or recurring plan.
In any situation, it's best to take advantage of whatever trial period is offered so you can decide if the program will work for you.
Recourse for Asking Questions and Getting Feedback from Instructors
All of the programs I've recommended here have mechanisms in place for getting students in touch with instructors, which range from private forum discussion to actual live lessons and direct email or chat feedback from instructors. Guitargate is probably the strongest in this area, since it's still small by comparison. Creator Michael Palmisano is still able to answer inquiries and provide feedback directly to subscribers, which gives a more personal feel to his material.
Guitar Tricks uses a private forum that only members can access where each instructor has their own forum, while JamPlay and TrueFire have a mixture of live lessons, forum discussion and built-in feedback systems.
None of it can truly replicate an in-person interaction, but it's not as though things go dark outside of the pre-recorded videos.
I know many of the people that work for these companies, and they want to help you. Not only is it part of their "mission," so to speak, but it's beneficial to them if you're happy with your experience and refer other people to their service.
It's mutually helpful.
Wrapping Up and Your Questions
Getting back to our original question: Can online guitar lessons work?
The answer: Absolutely, yes they can, provided you can come to terms with the format and give yourself over to self-motivated learning.
I suppose that's a fancy way of saying "you get what you put into it." The quality is there, the material is well-organized and the value is certainly evident. The question you need to ask yourself is, "Would I have any fun or be motivated by simply watching a video on my computer? Would I learn that way?"
If your answer is yes, I'd say your chances of succeeding are pretty high.
Questions, Comments and Whatever Else
If you have questions about these programs or anything else in this piece, feel free to drop it in the comments section below.