This might be a bit hyperbolic, but I honestly believe YouTube is one of the greatest creations of the 21st century—at least in the top twenty. There’s a plethora of information at our fingertips and it allows people to reach out to others in a way that was previously unattainable. However, in terms of learning the guitar, it’s an abomination that needs to be discouraged at all costs.
YouTube itself isn’t the problem, really, the issue lays with an ever-increasing array of guitar lesson videos that often do more harm than good. Here’s the most common issue facing guitar lesson videos on YouTube—they don’t teach you how to play guitar. Instead, they focus on teaching you how to play Stairway to Heaven and Country Roads. And, while this might be sufficient if your goal is to entertain some drunken millennials at a party in hopes of getting laid, it won’t help you in becoming your own musician.
There’s nothing more annoying than someone who says they can play guitar and then proceed to play the same five songs they’ve learned for the past hour. This doesn’t make that person a guitarist. It makes them a jukebox. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with learning songs. But learning how to play your favorite songs should help you add to your own musical knowledge and allow you to develop your unique voice. Take some parts from a song you enjoy the most and build on them. Songs should be treated like tools in a toolbox and not the final product.
Occasionally, you’ll find guitar lessons on YouTube that do cover the mechanics of how to play the guitar along with some basic music theory. The problem with these is that often there is no set pathway and you just learn isolated pieces of information. Remember when you were in high school and the football coach was your history teacher? Remember how he just throw out important dates and historic events without really tying any of it together? Remember how fucking boring and useless that class was?
Learning sporadic guitar lessons on YouTube is no different than a poorly taught high school history class. You end up learning a lot of content knowledge, but not the bigger picture of how to put all these ideas together. It’s important to note that just because someone is an excellent guitarist doesn’t mean they are an excellent teacher. What’s worse is while you learn all this arbitrary information, you’re doing nothing to develop your unique musical identity. This means that you’ll just as generic as elevator music along with everyone else who learned from those videos. There’s nothing more soul crushing than hearing someone play an instrument with no creativity.
This might be old-school, but honestly the best way to learn guitar, if you’re serious, is from a book. There’s so many useful, and entertaining, guitar instruction books that it’ll be easy to find one that speaks to you. With a book, you’ll learn basic music theory, the proper way to play guitar along with some basic chords and scales to get you started. Of course, you can always use YouTube as a learning supplement, but never as the one and only way to truly learn.
I earned my M.A in English Lit from Gardner-Webb University in 2019. My writing mainly focuses on disability positivity. I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy and classic rock. Oh, and I’m also a part time phone sex operator. So, that’s a thing.