Picking through Online Guitar Lessons: What Works and What Needs Tuning

Rudy Tardin

Type in “how to play ‘Free Fallin’ on guitar” in the YouTube search engine and about 358,000 results turn up. Most within the guitar playing community consider Tom Petty’s classic tune a beginner’s song to learn with its basic three-chord strumming. But sift through the first page of search results and at least three different versions instructing a how-to of the same song exist from an assortment of amateur and professional guitarists.

The difficulty of determining the correct way to play can be instantly frustrating when starting off, especially to those who just picked up a guitar for the first time. Try searching “online guitar lessons,” and Google spits back 12 million options. Where to begin!

How to Find the Best Guitar Lessons Online

The advent of online video streaming with high-speed Internet provides a multitude of lesson options for people with the incapability of taking in-person lessons or for those who merely enjoy the convenience of not leaving home. However, the enormous quantity of free video tutorials and pay sites can make choosing the most effective guitar lessons harder than learning the instrument itself.

“Teaching yourself guitar is much easier with free videos and tab sites now than it used to be but can definitely create some bad habits,” said Kyle Richey in an email response. Richey is the creator of LessonsReview.com, a site devoted to reviewing different guitar lesson platforms including pay sites and DVD sets.

Richey, who has 15 years playing experience, said he wanted to create a website that helps others looking to learn guitar choose the best lessons. Although Richey finds that some free online lessons can prove to be effective learning tools, he also believes the freebies lack consistency.

Nvate Online guitar lessons jamplay.com Kyle Richey, lessonsreview.com and Andrew Morrison, Skype

Credit: RTP411 freedigitalphotos.net

“I found pretty quickly that most of them are either not professional instructors, or they were trying to get me to pay for lessons so they only included the ‘tip of the iceberg’ with each topic,” Richey said. “Having more structure with organized lessons helps to keep you pushing forward and learning new skills.”

Richey soon began using other guitar lesson options, which includes paid membership sites. He now reviews similar sites using what he calls an “unbiased spreadsheet algorithm” that considers factors such as lesson quality, video quality, instructor quality, support, convenience, and structure of the website. Richey said he tries to tour each site from the student’s perspective, and that anyone motivated to learn guitar should consider three things when shopping for guitar lessons: quantity, quality, and organization. According to him, websites need to have enough lesson material for continual learning, high-definition video capability with good camera angles, and organized lessons, which help a student progress.

Based on Richey’s metrics, the top-rated website for inspiring guitar players to take online lessons is JamPlay.com. At JamPlay, members pay a monthly fee that gives them access to thousands of studio-recorded video lessons taught by professional musicians. In three phases of learning, instructors begin with the guitar basics, slowly progress into song playing, and branch off into advanced-style techniques. Outside of the lessons, JamPlay is an entire social community for guitarists who can create personalized profiles and participate in online forums to discuss topics such as musical influences, songwriting, and concerts with other members.

Despite the ability for guitar lesson sites to dazzle with an extensive amount of videos, it’s the user who ultimately must stay engaged in the material and the structure of the lessons, which can be challenging to people who appreciate individual attention. Sure, sites like JamPlay hold live sessions where attendees can communicate with instructors via a chat feature. Many of these websites, however, lack the in-person element of instructors observing and evaluating a student’s hands for proper fingering technique.

One-on-One Lessons via Skype

Perhaps Andrew Morrison capitalized on the two-way visual deficiency of other online pay sites when he began giving guitar lessons through webcam services like Skype. Morrison, who has taught guitar for over 25 years, said he found using webcam for live lessons advantageous by providing availability to students who have a difficult time traveling to his guitar shop and for others who don’t live near an instructor to take private lessons.

“I think the problem is people become insecure,” said Morrison over a Skype interview. “They’re not sure if they’re doing it right or not, so that’s where the private teacher can say ‘strum it like this or play it like that.’”

Nvate Online guitar lessons jamplay.com Kyle Richey, lessonsreview.com and Andrew Morrison, Skype

This is an example of what a Skype guitar lesson can look like. This is a student taking a lesson with Francisco Burgos. Credit: Francisco Burgos

Morrison finds webcam lessons similar to in-person lessons. Instead of following along with tabs and chords on a sheet of paper sitting on a music stand, he says that he simply emails his students the information for them to follow along right on their computer screen. “I feel like it’s just the same as having them in the room with me,” Morrison said.

The only drawback to Skyping, Morrison admits, is the difficulty of playing along with students because of video and audio delays. Until Internet speeds increase, he still uses a webcam device to observe a student strum and transition in between chords, something not generally done in real time with other online lesson sites.

In the end, the effectiveness of any online guitar-learning format depends on the aspiring guitar player. Skill level, motivation, and commitment all factor into whether someone wants to comprehend advanced music theory or impress a couple people at a campfire with an incorrect version of “Free Fallin.”

To read guitar lesson reviews, visit Richey’s LessonsReview.com.

For more information on Skype guitar lessons with Morrison, visit his website.

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