Learning the electric guitar is much different today than it was 20 years ago. Contemporary guitarists have a wealth of information available to them including online lessons, tablature websites, gear reviews, and access to communities of guitarists of all ability levels.
While there are benefits to working with a teacher or multiple teachers, it is well within your grasp to learn electric guitar by yourself. All you need is the inspiration and a little bit of motivation and dedication to keep yourself on tracks.
Read on to learn some of the best tips and tricks for how to learn the electric guitar by yourself.
Start With the Right Gear
The Guitar is Key
While you should not expect to start out your guitar journey with an original, 1959 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, having suitable and appropriate gear for yourself will make your progress all the smoother.
Having a guitar that plays decently well and in tune will help you tremendously in myriad ways.
Every guitar is different, but there are a handful of beginner guitar brands that are reasonably reliable including Fender Squire, Epiphone, and Yamaha Pacifica.
Remember, you get what you pay for, so if you end up buying a cheap, $80 guitar on Amazon, it will likely sound like garbage.
Modeling Amps are Amazing
Make sure you have a workable amplifier and a dependable guitar cable. There are many options these days for inexpensive modeling amplifiers. Modeling amplifiers are especially cool because they offer “models” or software replicas of many classic and contemporary amps.
You can explore these sounds on a modeling amp relatively inexpensively and then upgrade to a better amp when you find a model you really enjoy.
Picks, Straps, Etc.
Additionally, you will need to find appropriate picks and a comfortable guitar strap. It is also advisable to get strap locks for your guitar, so that it does not fly off the strap pins when you really start rocking out!
Guitar picks come in a wide range of styles. Some are large, some are small. Some are thick and some are thin.
See if you can find a sample pack of different picks and experiment until you find a few styles you enjoy.
Know Your Gear
Learn everything you can about your new gear. Study your owners manuals so that you learn everything there is to know about your electric guitar, amplifier, cables, pedals if you have any, and any additional gear.
Understanding how your gear works will help you in many ways. You will be able to exercise more control over your sound and have a more clear idea of how to troubleshoot problems if they arrive.
Understand Your Guitar
Learn all the different components of your guitar. All electric guitars have similar components: a body, a neck, frets, strings, pickups, tuning pegs, a nut, and bridge, and a set of knobs and switches.
Make sure you understand what all the different knobs and switches do, so that you understand how to create different tones with your electric guitar.
For example, if you have a stratocaster type guitar, you most likely will have single coil pickups, a five-way toggle switch, and a set of volume and tone potentiometer knobs.
Single coil pickups are standard in most stratocaster type guitars and consist of a single magnet wrapped in copper with 6 pole pieces attached.
Single coil pickups sound brighter, thinner, and more spunky than humbucking pickups, which consist of a pair of magnets wrapped together in copper wire.
On a stratocaster type guitar, there are generally three single coil pickups, while on a Les Paul or SG type guitar, there are usually two humbucking pickups.
The five-way toggle switch on the stratocaster type guitar will select between the different pickups.
With the toggle switch all the way to the left, you will use the pickups closest to the neck, the neck pickup. With the toggle switch all the way to the right, you will activate the bridge pickup, or the pickup closest to the bridge. The 3 positions in between form different combinations of the 5 pickups.
On a two pickup humbucking guitar, the toggle switch generally has three positions, one for neck pickup, one for both pickups, and one for the bridge pickup.
Sometimes these positions are labeled as ‘rhythm’ or ‘treble’ on the toggle switch, but really you can use either sound for rhythm and lead playing as long as it fits your particular style.
In the middle position, you can use the volume knobs to blend the two pickups together. For example, if you have the middle position engaged, you can set the volume of the neck pickup to 50% and the volume of the bridge pickup to 100% or vice versa to create different tones and textures.
Diving into these different tonal possibilities will help you coax the most exciting and creative experiences out of your electric guitar.
Tuning and String Changing
Learning how to tune your guitar is crucial at all stages of your development. Fortunately, there are numerous high quality phone apps for tuning guitars.
You can also find inexpensive tuners that clip onto the headstock of your guitar (where the tuning pegs are). These clip-on tuners allow for fast tuning between songs and are great for performing.
Of course, if you are feeling really professional, you can always purchase a pedal tuner that sits in your signal chain. Generally, guitarists will place a pedal tuner first in their signal chain.
If you use any effects pedals, a signal chain is the path that your electric guitar signal takes before it reaches the amplifier speakers.
There are different philosophies around which pedals should go in which order. But, a safe bet is that your tuner should go first, if you opt to use a pedal tuner.
Additionally, learning how to change your guitar strings is a crucial component. There are many great tutorial videos available to check out.
Explore different string gauges and styles as well. String gauge refers to the relative thickness of the set of strings.
Lighter strings are generally easier for beginners to play and are easier to bend and move around. Some more advanced players of different styles prefer heavier strings for the thicker sound and more stable intonation.
Just like the different styles of guitar pick, you should check out a wide range of string gauges to discover your preference.
Learn How to Read Tabs and Chord Charts
The easiest way to start learning songs and teach yourself about the electric guitar is to learn how to read guitar tablature and chord charts. You don’t even need to know how to read musical notation to learn how to play the electric guitar!
Guitar Tabs are Your Friend
Guitar tablature is a sort of shorthand method to quickly notate music on the guitar. It consists of a series of six horizontal lines, similar to the five lines of the traditional music staff. Each of the six horizontal lines represents one string of the guitar.
We read guitar tablature from the bottom up. This means that the lowest horizontal line corresponds to the low E string, or 6th string on the guitar. The highest horizontal line corresponds to the high E string, or 1st string on the guitar.
We then place a series of numbers on the lines that correspond to particular frets on the guitar. For example, if you see a number 1 on the highest line, that means you play the first fret on the high E string:
If you see a 5 on the lowest horizontal line, that means you play the fifth fret on the low E string:
Chord Charts All Day
Learning to read chord charts is another quick and effective way to teach yourself how to play electric guitar. Many chord charts will include chord diagrams, so that you can learn how to play all the chords necessary for a particular song.
Chord diagrams are not extremely difficult to read once you get the hang of the layout. Essentially, chord diagrams are a pictorial way to display a particular chord shape on the guitar fretboard.
A basic chord diagram looks like a grid. It consists of 6 vertical lines corresponding to each of the six strings on the electric guitar. When you look at a chord diagram, imagine that you are looking down the fretboard from the bridge to the headstock. The low E string will be on the left side and the high E string will be on the right side.
There are then a series of horizontal lines, generally 3 to 6, that correspond to each of the frets. Check out this diagram to see a basic example of a chord diagram for an E major chord in open position:
In this chord diagram, there is a dot on the second fret of the A string, a dot on the second fret of the D string, and a dot on the first fret of the G string. Hold down these frets with your fret hand and strum with your pick hand.
The more you practice reading chord charts and diagrams, the more chord shapes you will memorize and the easier it will become to learn songs on the fly!
Use the Internet
There is no shortage of information and resources available online to today’s guitarist. It is truly a golden age of learning guitar. One can access a vast amount of information and material through the internet.
However, be sure to look for good quality resources. Not everything you find is accurate!
Try buying a course and follow it thoroughly with discipline. This way, you can gauge your progress and also learn to parse good information from bad information.
The surest way to develop as a guitarist is to follow a disciplined learning plan and stick with it.
Pick a Program and Stick with It
Try to avoid learning from random videos from YouTube. There are many channels putting out extensive content. But, these channels often lack a curriculum or course structure.
Try to avoid being overwhelmed by every course you come across. Choose one and follow it thoroughly and then move on to the next topic.
Guitar Head offers excellent, step-by-step programs for guitarists. Our course, 'Guitar Exercises for Beginners' offers you dual benefit by helping you learn electric guitar and also sets a strong practice regime for you to accelrate guitar learning.
The best part is we show you how to 10X your guitar skills with just 10 minutes of practice a day. Check out the course here.
Set Goals to Stay Focused
Learning by yourself and making consistent progress requires a certain degree of self-motivation and discipline. For these reasons, it is extremely useful to set reasonable and accomplishable short and long term goals for yourself.
For example, set a goal of learning the five forms of the minor pentatonic scale in five months. This means you spend one month learning one form. This is an example of something that can be reasonably accomplished without too much effort or time required.
Keep a Routine
Your best bet is to develop a solid practice routine and stick with it. Find a consistent time to practice each day and keep a schedule so that you use your time wisely and don’t just end up noodling for an hour.
Start with some warm up activity, then practice scales, next chords, and finally songs. That is just a sample, you can create endless variations on this structure to accomplish whatever goal you have set for yourself. The key is consistency.
Listen, Listen, Then Listen Some More
Listening to music is crucial to becoming a skilled musician. You need to know what a guitar is supposed to sound like in the hands of a master.
Additionally, you need to find fresh music to keep you inspired to continue developing your skills.
Oftentimes, if your listening stagnates, your progress on the guitar stagnates as well.
Interviews and Concerts
Search out interviews with your favorite guitarists to help you understand their approach and mentality surrounding music. Get inside their head and try to understand everything that makes their particular sound so unique.
Watch live performances - even better go see concerts when you can to feel how the atmosphere shifts and evolves with every note.
Make Sure You Master the Basics
No matter what genre you are interested in, it is imperative you learn at least the basic open position and barre chord shapes and basic major, minor, and pentatonic scale patterns.
These are the basic building blocks of guitar technique and by studying them, you will develop strong fundamental skills that will be applicable to most every playing situation.
Additionally, if you understand basic chords and scales, you will be able to communicate more effectively about the guitar to your fellow guitarists!
Chords in All Keys
It is important to learn how to play guitar chords in all twelve keys. This is far easier to do on the guitar than on the piano for example. On guitar, we can use a system called CAGED to move various chord shapes up and down the fretboard.
For example, the C shape chord when rooted on the third fret of the A string is a C major chord. However, if we move the chord shape up two frets so that the root is on the fifth fret of the A string, the chord becomes D major. We can do this with all of the shapes in the CAGED system.
You Need Some Scales
Just as we have some movable patterns and shapes for guitar chords, so too do we have movable patterns for the major, minor, and pentatonic scales. For example, in order to play the minor pentatonic scale in all twelve keys, all you need to do is learn one pattern. Then, you can move this pattern up and down the fretboard to match whatever key you wish to improvise in.
You can do the same with the various major and minor scale patterns as well. This movability makes learning the guitar significantly easier than other instruments like the piano where there is a different combination of notes and fingers for each of the twelve major, minor, and pentatonic scales.
Work on Specific Techniques
Identify the unique techniques of your favorite guitarists and practice implementing them in your own playing. Some basic examples include slides, bends, hammer ons, pull offs, legato runs, sweep picking, tapping, etc.
Explore the different styles of picking including alternate picking, hybrid picking, and fingerpicking. There is no shortage of guitar-specific techniques to explore, so find the ones that truly resonate with you and master them for yourself!
Your best bet as a beginning guitarist is to learn as many songs, riffs, licks, and solos as you can. This is the way that you will learn to internalize the language of the guitar fretboard.
Like all instruments, there are characteristic ways the guitar is played. It is very important to learn these sorts of guitar-specific mannerisms at an early stage so that you can internalize and master them.
Then, you can build upon them and develop them into your own unique style!
Use the Metronome!
Using a metronome will boost your playing to new heights. A metronome is a great practice tool and there are many helpful ways to use it.
Fortunately, there are many great metronome phone apps available for free download.
The most basic way to use the metronome is with it on all four beats, but you can twist and alter your practice to have the metronome on just one beat or on the off beats.
Think of it like exercising; the more you work with the metronome, the stronger your time and rhythm feel will become!
Record and Listen to Yourself
Use a voice memo app on your phone to record yourself practicing the electric guitar. Listen critically to yourself so that you can make notes on what aspects you need to improve upon and which aspects of your playing you are pleased with.
Reflection is Key
Listening back to your playing is an important tool to reflect upon your development and skills. If you are realistic with yourself while you listen, you will achieve your goals faster.
Don’t be Afraid of Music Theory
Music theory is simply a set of concepts, tools, and language that musicians can use to describe tendencies and patterns in music to one another. Do not be afraid of learning music theory.
Music Theory is Your Friend
Many self-taught musicians believe that learning music theory will somehow box them in and make their playing more rigid. The truth is quite the opposite!
By not learning how to use music theory, you are effectively cutting yourself off from a wide universe of understanding that you might otherwise be able to access!
Find Your Community
Perhaps the most important part of learning the electric guitar by yourself is to find a community of guitarists and musicians that you enjoy hanging out with and learning from.
The best way to stay inspired and learn about new ideas and concepts is to talk with other guitarists and musicians about music.
Whether your community is mostly online or mostly in-person, having a group of guitarists to engage with will help you develop faster and stay focused. Who knows, you might even start your new band!
Enroll For An Online Course
There is no shortage of material available today. Everyone can learn the electric guitar by themselves.
However, YouTube isn't your best option when it comes to learning giutar. It lacks the strucutre and the guidance needed to learn guitar. You'll only end up jumping from one video to another and head nowhere.
It's better to find a good online course and enroll for it. You'll learn electric guitar much faster this way and you'll enjoy playing your instrument.
You can give our course "Guitar Exercises for Beginners" a try. It has 7 chapters and over a 100+ exercises to help you progress from a beginner to a pro. The cool part about this course is that you only need 10 mins of pratice a day to 10X your gutiar skills. Check out the course here.