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With most of the world in self-isolation due to the Coronavirus, there’s no better time to learn guitar.
Face to face lessons with a guitar teacher are obviously a no-no, so that leaves us with online learning.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem. Online lessons have come on a long way, and there are a ton of high-quality options to choose from.
They all follow a similar format but they differ greatly in what they teach, who teaches it, and how they go about delivering it.
In this article, we walk you through the pros and cons of each.
Table of Contents
#1. Guitar Tricks
At a glance:
- Over 11,000 lessons
- Highly structured learning system for complete beginners
- Geared towards learning songs with the largest collection of songs of any online school (1000+ song tutorials)
- Costs $19.99 a month (coupons available)
First up is Guitar Tricks. They’ve been around for over 2 decades (established in 1998) and offer one of the most comprehensive packages on the market.
Membership gives you unlimited access to over 11,000 lessons and more than 1000 song tutorials, there’s a ton of learning for beginners and advanced guitarists alike.
It’s particularly good for beginners. The core learning system is incredibly well thought out and comprehensive. All routes start with Guitar Fundamentals 1 and 2, which explain useful rudimentary concepts for a complete beginner (such as the anatomy of the guitar). However, if you’re a returning guitarist, much of it can be skipped.
The real magic starts when you start the ‘style’ tracks taught by the remarkable Anders Mouridsen, a well-respected session player who has worked for Taylor Swift and Pink, among others.
Compared to say FenderPlay (see below) the depth of training is vastly superior.
Take the blues track for example, as well as all the typical stuff you’d expect (12 Bar Form Blues, Minor and Dominant Blues, Lead Playing, etc.) you also get an entire section on regional blues styles so you can appreciate the difference between, say, the Texas blues sounds versus the Delta blues.
You can follow any of these different styles which are all dealt with incredibly well:
There’s also an entire section on tone and equipment which is super useful. This gives you a much broader appreciation of the style than learning a couple of riffs, and for geeks like me, I absolutely love it!
Another of its major selling points is the easy to use interface which makes things very simple for beginners to use. Many people will find these online platforms confusing to use, and GT does an incredible job of keeping it simple.
The teachers are knowledgeable and friendly. Professionals, many session players e.g. Sharon Aguilar – lead guitarist for CeeLo Green and the incredible Anders Mouridsen.
In summary, GT is hands down the best choice for absolute beginners. Everything is laid out for the novice in a no-nonsense clear curriculum and is geared around getting the beginner playing some songs.
There’s less here for intermediate to advanced players who want to geek out of the nuances of David Gilmour’s picking style, for example. There is no Jazz option, unfortunately, check out Truefire for that.
I particularly like the length of their free trial (14 days) which should give you plenty of time to road test everything. If you’re still in two minds, click here for a more in-depth review.
At a glance:
- Over 33,000 video lessons / 700 courses (largest of all online schools)
- Superb for intermediate to advanced players, but still caters for
- Beginners (via their structured Learning Pathways)
- A broad range of courses, especially good for blues, jazz, and folk
- Brilliant apps, including the wonderful ‘In the Jam’ series
- Costs $19 a month
The big daddy of all online guitar schools, we have Truefire.
Launched in 1991, they have been around close to three decades and by the sheer quality of the platform and sheer breadth and range of their lessons, you can tell.
Stepping into Truefire is a bit like browsing one of those old school video stores. Courses have very cool thumbnails, much like the movie cover art of yesteryear. From a design and coolness factor, Truefire wins in a heartbeat.
But it’s the content that really shines through. They literally have thousands of courses on offer (over 33,000 video lessons!) that range from beginner to advanced levels, covering most if not all genres of guitar.
How good is it for beginners? Well, pretty good actually! Their learning pathways is a really neat approach. Like with GT, each pathway grounds you in the basics, then takes off down a specific route.
They offer more routes than GT too (Jazz and Bass). You can choose from:
I don’t think it’s quite as intuitive as the Guitar Tricks interface which is really simplified for the absolute beginner and TF doesn’t have the number of songs that you find in GT.
However, in my opinion, Truefire is the trailblazer in this space (the ‘Apple’ of the industry, if you like). They ooze class in everything they do, and their material is top drawer. I personally know Brad the CEO and he’s one of the good guys. So you know you’re in safe hands.
At a glance:
- 6500+ lessons
- Superb for intermediate to advanced players
- Especially good for metal / hard rock genres
- Costs $19.95 a month
Next up we have JamPlay, founded in 2006.
In its somewhat retro-looking design (I kind of like it, but others are less generous with their praise) it packs a ton of value and is quite unique in its approach.
It’s broadly structured four phases:
- Phase 1: (Beginners)
- Phase 2: (Genres & Skills)
- Phase 3: (Songs)
- Phase 4: (Songwriting)
The beginner’s section is categorized based on teachers and guitar type (Acoustic guitar or Electric guitar), depending on which style you want to learn.
Here’s where JamPlay differs from the others. You don’t pick a genre you want to learn, as you do with GT and TF, you pick an instructor. Each teacher has developed their own curriculum and recorded an entire series of lessons for beginners.
So you basically find an instructor who you like the look of and follow them through. Knowing which instructor to follow can be slightly tricky, and it’s worth clicking around to see who you prefer.
Of course, each instructor is going to take their own approach to learning. The good thing about this approach is you can stick with one instructor throughout the whole beginner’s stage. The other platforms chop and change the instructors as you move through the course, which can be a bit distracting.
There are over 20 beginner courses on Jamplay, and they vary massively in terms of depth. Remember to top up on popcorn, as some have over 60 lessons (900 minutes long), while others are only 80 minutes.
It’s hard to deny there isn’t something a bit special about learning from the likes of Paul Gilbert or Steve Vai.
Jamplay definitely has a slant towards metal and hard rock. However, they do mix it up with country and acoustic styles, to name a few.
I particularly like the ‘Artist’s series’ of courses too, with dedicated, high quality, lessons about the technique of some of the best guitarists that ever lived, such as:
- Jimi Hendrix
- George Harrison
- David Gilmour
- Eric Clapton
- Rolling Stones (Keith Richards / Mick Taylor)
- The Edge
- Wes Montgomery
- Van Halen
- and more
These courses go super deep into their technique and go way beyond how to play a lick or two and provide a fascinating insight into how a particular player approaches the instrument.
We also like the interactive live lessons they run frequently.
You get all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect: HD video, AB looping, speed adjustment, etc. One thing that sets them apart, however, is their multi-angle videos (namely an instructor and student view) which is the best in the business as far I’m concerned.
Learning how to play a guitar is hard at the best of times, but it’s especially difficult when you’re doing it sat behind a computer screen, with no direct feedback.
Here’s where ArtistWorks offers a quite unique solution.
Using their own proprietary ‘Video Exchange System’ you get tailored, personalized feedback on your playing.
This is how is works:
- you video yourself playing a particular piece you’re struggling with
- submit it to the instructor who will then critique it and send you the video back.
- the two videos are then paired together to create the Video Exchange Lesson and published to the community
As a result, there’s also a really strong community feel too.
While this might not be as ‘instant’ as face to face lessons, it removes any performance anxiety. You’ll have to be comfortable with others seeing your performance, but everyone is in the same boat so nobody feels particularly exposed.
The best bit? The teachers are experts in their own right, famous musicians mostly.
- Online Rock Guitar with Paul Gilbert
- Flatpick Guitar with Bryan Sutton
- Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar with Martin Taylor
There are no generic beginners, intermediate and advanced lessons. Rather, all the teaching centers around particular courses run by musicians.
It’s not only about the video exchanges, though. There are 100s of lessons to follow at your own pace.
The pricing works a bit differently to the others too. You pay for a number of video exchanges which starts at $105 per month for 3 submissions (so $35 a lesson) and goes up in multiples of 3.
It’s more expensive than the rest, but you get tailormade feedback, much more akin to real lessons. For this reason, there is no free trial (understandable, really).
FenderPlay is the new kid on the block (they only open their doors a couple of years ago) but interestingly they’re the first and only guitar manufacturer (that I know of at least) to dabble in online lessons.
Surely Fender can pull this off, right? Well, not so fast Batman.
The problem is, the competition has been at it for years (Guitar Tricks 20 years, Truefire 28 years) and in that time they have amassed a shed load of content and expertise.
So much content, in fact, Fender has got an absolute mountain to climb to even compete.
It’s not all bad news, though.
FenderPlay does, however, have a surprisingly good offering for beginners.
Firstly, the user interface is super minimalistic and easy to navigate which helps with overwhelm (one look at JamPlay’s beginner section will make a lot of noobs want to run a mile). With FenderPlay, honestly, my 5-year-old could probably navigate it around it.
From the outset, you’re asked which instrument you want to learn (they also include Ukulele and Bass lessons which is cool) and what style you want to learn (blues, rock, etc.).
You then get a ‘path’ to follow that should, in theory, teach you that style.
The focus of each path is mainly around learning riffs to songs, which gives the user some early ‘look ma, I can play this’ moments and relatively light on music theory.
The lessons are divided up nicely, and the whole user experience is a pleasant one (they’re light years ahead of Jamplay in their design, for example).
It’s all a matter of opinion, however. The absolute noob might get on better with the lack of depth that FenderPlay offers (too much knowledge is often a bad thing). Plus, it’s focused on learning songs that will get some instant smiles.
Aside from the learning paths, you have a pretty decent selection of songs (though, controversially, many aren’t the complete song) and some of the content in the Skills section isn’t bad.
Advanced players won’t find much value, but then this is geared towards the novice (at the moment at least). Nor do you get any guitar legends stepping up to teach you. All the teachers perfectly affable, but unknown, teachers.
The other big upside is the price. At $9.99 per month (less for an Annual sub) it’s great value for money and as for best online guitar lessons on a budget, definitely up there with the best.
#6. Justin Guitar (Best Free Resource)
If you’re totally out of pocket, don’t despair.
The best free resource is by far Justin Guitar. Founded in 2003, Justin Sandercoe has amassed over 1000 lessons and a stack of free resources.
As they use Youtube to host the videos, the video player obviously lacks many of the features that help you learn, and the quality of the video recording isn’t as good, lacking the varied camera angles you find in paid courses.
As a learning platform, it isn’t bad though, and the beginner’s course comprises over 100 lessons.
He covers a stack of popular song lessons too.
Obviously, you don’t get the variety of guitar teachers you’ll find in Jam Play, and the lessons for advanced guitar are on the thin side.
It lacks the refined feel of the paid platforms, but it’s worth checking out all the same.
But it’s all free, so beggars can’t be choosers.
Benefits of Online Guitar Lessons
If you’re still wondering whether studying guitar online even works, here are the main reasons why it totally stacks up and, controversially, might be even better than face-to-face lessons.
First up, learning online incredibly convenient.
These days most of us have at least one device we can use, and most have several devices (laptops, i-pads, etc.) we can use. Any modern machine has all the spec you need to stream lessons without them buffering.
The biggest advantage in terms of convenience is you can study from the comfort of your own home. Well, honestly, you can be pretty much anywhere in the world so long as you have a decent internet connection. Most platforms let you download courses in addition to streaming, so even a decent broadband connection isn’t needed.
Another huge factor is the backing tracks you get with the paid platforms. It can be quite a hassle to record your own. If you have a guitar looper it’s fairly easy to lay down a few chords to play along to, but nothing beats being able to hit play on a ready-made jam track that usually sounds way better than your thrown together one, regardless of your skill level at looping.
Most paid platforms throw in some apps too, such as a guitar tuner, metronome and usually some kind of fretboard trainer to help you memorize the fingerboard.
The ability to not only take an online lesson whenever you like but to study at your own pace is hugely beneficial.
You might be a slow learner that really likes to take it slow and scrutinize what you’re being taught. Then online study will definitely appeal to you.
Also, the best online guitar lessons are structured in a way that slowly immerses you into the subject. It’s up to you to decide how much you study each day or each week.
It’s up to you to dictate your pace.
Sure, a good teacher can probably manage your pace better, but a teacher who you’ve committed to seeing once a week, for example, won’t be happy about no class for a month because you have a lot of work on. An online platform is always there waiting for you to pick up the mantle when you’re ready.
TrueFire and JamPlay are best known in the industry for offering a wide range of legendary performing artists to guide lessons. But GT is no exception either, employing the superb Sharon Aguilar (lead guitarist for CeeLo Green among others) and the multi-talented Anders Mouridsen (who has performed with Taylor Swift and Pink among others)
Convenience and the ability to set your own pace are important, but nothing quite compares with the range and quality of instructors available online. There are so many amazing players teaching online these days, it’s insane.
Wanna learn rock guitar from Paul Gilbert? You bet, sign up to Artistworks Paul Gilbert Rock School, and get personalized instruction (via a video exchange) from the master.
Want to get into Fingerstyle? How about you get Truefire lessons from no other than Tommy Emmanuel. Yes, TOMMY EMMANUEL can teach you how to boom chick! However good your local teacher is, it’s hard to compete with this.
Fan of Pat Martino? How about studying his incredible jazz guitar course (another Truefire course).
It’s not just the quality of the instructors on offer that makes online learning so ridiculously good, it’s the range of styles you can learn.
You can literally learn any style, from bluegrass to thrash metal and everything in between. Are you convinced yet? 🙂
Learning guitar online is actually the perfect medium to learn it on because you can not only pause and rewind but also, depending on the platform (they differ slightly in their capability), you can slow down, for example, a tricky passage of a song and learn to play it at a slower pace. Everybody knows the way to play fast is to start slow and build your way up to it. This is perfect for doing that.
Many video players also have an A/B looping functionality so you can not only slow it down but also set that tricky passage on a loop until you really nail it, increasing the speed as you get more confident.
In the pre-internet days, you had to manually rewind (or move the needle back on an LP) to hear the passage again.
This is what makes online courses so incredibly useful for us guitar players.
Last but not least, the greenbacks.
The cost of an online guitar lesson is considerably lower than a face to face session. Think about it. For the cost of a membership to many of these paid offerings if often less than one lesson with a teacher.
A private tutor could cost you anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars, whereas all but Artistworks come at under $20 for the whole month, cheaper in fact if you go for an annual subscription.
As you’ve seen, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to online lessons these days. You’ve just got to think about which best suits you.
My advice is…
If you’re a total beginner:
- Guitar Tricks clear, no-nonsense curriculum takes first prize
- Truefire’s Learning Pathways is similarly well structured and offers excellent value for money
- Jamplay has a lot of beginner courses and can be distracted which is dangerous for beginners as they can start jumping between teachers and end up not learning much
- FenderPlay is good if you’re on a budget
For intermediate to advanced players:
- Jamplay has a better range of courses for intermediate, especially blues, rock, and metal
- Truefire is superb for Jazz and alternative genres
- Artistworks is superb if you have a bit more disposable income and you like 1-to-1 feedback. Online lessons often suffer from a lack of community and a feeling of isolation. With Artistworks, you learn together with other guitar players and will often pick up tips and tricks from other students as well as the instructor.
The best idea is to take advantage of the free trials (they all have them except Artistworks), give them a road test, and stick with the one you like the most. Most give you full access to the entire catalog, so you can quickly get an idea of which is for you.
Just remember to cancel the others before the free trial finishes.