There are a lot of good reasons to use an actual guitar tutor, as opposed to some kind of an online program.
Over the years I've found that both can be good for certain people, depending on their situation and learning style. Some people need the motivation and social interaction of a teacher and/or classroom, while others thrive on the self-motivation that spurs you on to complete an online guitar course.
What I'm not as crazy about is the melding of the two. Skype guitar lessons are not something I would recommend.
This article defends that position.
It's Not You, Skype. It's Me.
To be clear, this is a not a commentary on how I feel about Skype in general. As a program it certainly has its uses.
My argument is that guitar lessons are better served by other mediums. If you think differently, give me a shout in the comments section below this article.
It's always good to hear constructive criticism and opposing views.
Alternatives to Skype Guitar Lessons
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What are Skype guitar lessons?
Let's start with the basics: What are Skype guitar lessons?
This is when Skype (or perhaps a different video calling service) is used for a teacher and student to communicate and execute a guitar lesson.
How it Works
In this environment you usually have a teacher and student holding a guitar, where the teacher is explaining and illustrating concepts over the computer's microphone. Setting up a lesson this way means guitar teachers can teach remotely and students can save travel time by simply "remoting in" via Skype and getting their lessons that way.
This is the most common Skype guitar lesson setup.
In other words, it's exactly what it sounds like: A guitar lesson delivered over a Skype call.
Are Skype guitar lessons effective?
While it's fair to say that all guitar lessons have potential to feel a bit awkward, Skype is an inherently awkward way to communicate. I've found that when using it for business, especially with the camera portion, it's one of the least effective ways I have to communicate with someone.
Yes, you can see the person and could potentially read body language. However, in a face-to-face meeting you aren't always expected to stare straight at the other person.
In a Skype call, you essentially have to stare right into the camera.
For a student and teacher trying to communicate, this is going to feel odd, especially for the student who is probably a little nervous anyway.
Lack of Price Difference Between Skype & In-Person Lessons
You'll often see guitar teachers on sites like TakeLessons.com who provide both in-person and video call guitar lessons. Yet, they only have one rate.
I would argue the quality of education you're getting via an in-person lesson is superior to that of a webcam lesson. If Skype guitar lessons cost less, they might have more value, but often the Skype "version" of a guitar teacher's session will cost exactly the same as if you were in the same room.
When paying for a guitar tutor, you're paying a premium for their time, but also for physically being in the same space as that person.
Removing the location factor should drop the price.
Instruction and Feedback are Reduced
One of the major advantages of having an actual guitar tutor is that he or she can physically show you things about the fretboard. This happens by having a teacher engage with your fretboard by pointing and physically directing your hand to certain frets and notes.
This type of feedback is reduced in a Skype lesson because the teacher can't really do that.
They can explain to you what is happening on their guitar, but they can't truly guide your hand.
Communication is Difficult
The third problem that Skype presents to those wanting to learn guitar is the potential for communication issues. These can arise for multiple reasons, but primarily the following:
- Teacher is not loud enough to hear through the microphone
- Student is not loud enough to hear through the microphone
- Computer equipment - microphone or speakers - not adequate for the job
- Technical malfunctions (audio problems, driver issues, or software updates)
In most cases you'll be able to hear your teacher and they'll be able to hear you, but it's not nearly as functional as if that person were in the same room as you. Video calls are inherently worse environments to communicate in compared to face-to-face interaction, and that's assuming you don't have any technical issues.
Potential Technical Issues
If technical issues do arise, that makes it even more difficult. Yet, for a new student or teacher, it's impossible to know the condition of the opposing party's equipment.
Is their laptop too old?
Does it even have a web cam?
These are just some of the things that can get in the way of communication when you take (or provide) a Skype guitar lesson. And while I'm not saying these concerns can't be overcome, they do make it harder to learn.
Situations Where Skype Lessons Work
But, are there situations where Skype lessons make sense?
I think in some cases they can work, depending on the circumstances. Here are a few things I would like to see in place before going with the video-call option:
- Quality of equipment on both ends (teacher and student) is confirmed
- A rapport has been developed with the teacher outside of Skype
- Distance or scheduling prevents you from getting to a teacher you like and want to take lessons from
If you can verify the equipment quality on both ends of this arrangement (laptop, internet connection speed, webcam, microphone) the most important thing is that you know the teacher you're getting lessons from. For example, let's say you have a teacher you like and then one of you moves a couple hours away.
In that situation, taking guitar lessons via Skype from that teacher makes sense.
Because you already know them and you've already developed a communicative relationship that you wouldn't have to start from scratch over a webcam. In that scenario, a lot of the awkwardness and difficulty communicating is mitigated by a substantive relationship that has developed in a face-to-face environment.
Getting Skype guitar tutoring from a complete stranger is - in most cases - not going to go as smoothly as it would if you already knew the teacher.
Alternatives to Skype
It's also true that there are a just a lot of better alternatives to Skype guitar lessons than many people realize.
For example, the online guitar lessons we mentioned above are great in-home options that can help you learn a ton of guitar without having to leave your living room. Even if you use them in conjunction with in-person lessons, they're a great resource that I'd far prefer over Skype lessons.
Again, you can try them out here:
If you can't find a good fit for taking guitar lessons in-person, my recommendation is to embrace the full benefit of taking guitar lessons from home and go with the online option. It's far cheaper and a far better alternative if you can't make the in-person lessons work.
There's a narrow window where Skype lessons can work.
And while I don't believe they're always the wrong move or they can't work for some people in unique situations, they take away a lot of the benefits that you get by going with either the online option or the in-person/tutoring option.
For example, online lessons are much more affordable, less awkward, can be accessed anytime from anywhere, and can be completely self-driven.
In-person lessons are effective, in large part, because of proximity and personal attention, some of which is lost when it's just a video call. This is why I say that Skype guitar lessons remove a lot of the benefits of the two extremes on either side of it.
Unless your situation dictates that a Skype arrangement makes the most sense, I'd go with a different option.
Your Questions and Comments
I understand there are a lot of people out there who give guitar lessons over some kind of video call, and I'm sure there are other opinions about this topic. Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
I'll be happy to respond there and we can chat about this idea.
Thanks for reading.