The 7 Simple Keys of Teaching Yourself the Guitar (Play ANY Song)

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If you want to learn how to teach yourself guitar, you’ve come to the right place. But before we start, catch this: 90% of the people who start playing the guitar quit it within a year – most of them within a couple of weeks. (source – a study by Fender Guitars) It does not matter whether they were trying to teach themselves, learn online, or learn with a teacher. Almost all of them will end up as quitters.

How terrible is that?

All those people who had the motivation to buy a guitar and a vision in their eyes, of how they would be able to play songs and jam crazy solos, to sing with their friends around a campfire – or with their special girl or guy in the living room. All of those visions were shattered.

WHY? Simply because the way they were learning with was not right for them and did not give them enough motivation to continue.

90% of the people who get a new guitar with the hopes of learning to play it – quit within weeks. Here’s how you can join the 10% who stick with it:

Well, if you don’t wanna be on the side of the quitters – this post is exactly for you.

Table of Contents

Important notice before we start: this simple, fun roadmap of learning the guitar is not relevant to people who want to learn classical Mozart pieces, or heavy metal solos. But – if you want to learn how to play the songs that YOU love out of your own hands – then this article is exactly what you were looking for.

After over a decade of playing guitar, which I taught myself in the exact way I will show you, and teaching it online through my blog and courses to an overall of hundreds of thousands of students around the world, I believe I have the exact answer to why people quit the guitar, and what is the right way to learn it for most people.

The reason why all those people quit guitar is simple: They fall into the wrong assumption (fueled by most guitar teachers and musicians) that guitar is hard – and they do not focus on what they really want – which is in 90% simply playing the songs that they love! The problem I noticed is that most teachers and courses, instead of jumping straight into the action, focus instead on things like…

Scales, boring picking exercises that don’t give you much, solos, slides, bends, and other stuff that’s more advanced and belongs way further down the road, which is why all those people simply run away and quit the guitar.

how to teach yourself guitar
I’m in the middle here, playing in Amsterdam. I started playing a decade ago and taught myself how to play the guitar. The key that kept me pushing all the way was that the learning always revolved around my own favorite songs, those that I wanted to play out of my own hands, and that’s what always kept me excited about picking up the guitar every day. The improvement that I constantly felt.

The Only Two Ingredients You Need In Order to Play ANY Song:

Guitar is not easy, but it’s not hard either, and if you learn guitar in a smart way – within a month from now you can literally be able to play thousands of songs.

Thousands of songs within a month! That’s right. How’s that possible? Because here’s the deal:

Most rock songs, pop songs, country songs, really anything besides jazz music – are only made of two simple ingredients:

  1. The 1st ingredient of playing any song is simply fingering the correct chords at the correct time with your left hand. The interestingly easy thing here is that the vast majority of the songs never use more than a total of 4 chords throughout the whole song, and that there are literally 5-6 popular chords that keep repeating themselves in all of the songs – over 70% of them simply use the chords G, D, Em, C, Am and F.

    chordbook songbook
    A very typical looking chord sheet page. As you can see – it’s mostly a simple, repeating pattern of 3-4 basic chords.
  2. The 2nd ingredient of playing any song is the strumming pattern that you play with your right hand – which is a repeating pattern that goes throughout all of the song. It keeps repeating itself, so when you play it in a stable way and switch the chords on time – the song will sound great, and you (or your friends!) will also easily be able to sing along to the rhythm!
teach yourself guitar strum
A typical strumming pattern which is the repeating pattern in which you swing your right hand up and down. This specific strumming pattern works well with “Wagon Wheel” and with hundreds of other songs.

That’s it! Only two simple ingredients, so don’t let anyone tell you that playing songs on the guitar is complex.

Now, let’s get even more practical and show you how you can do it yourself.

With this simple attitude in mind (only two big ingredients to play any song + using only songs that YOU – the student, loves) I structured a simple course that will give you complete control over those two ingredients, and it’s based on those seven keys that I am about to show you.

The 7 Simple Keys of Successfully Teaching Yourself the Guitar

And to Beautifully Play ALL the Songs That You Love

In order to break these two ingredients into the practical roadmap that everyone can use to teach himself the guitar – I came up with the following 7 keys, based on what worked well for me while I was teaching myself how to play.

Key #1: Understand that playing all of your favorite songs on the guitar is simple.

The first thing is what we have been talking about up until now, so I won’t keep talking about it. Once you have this attitude and you understand that guitar songs are simple and are made of two simple ingredients – you are ready to go.

Remember, what we want in the beginning is the experience of “early wins” – the gratification of playing your favorite songs while sounding great, which will fuel you with more motivation to keep going and make sure you’re not among the quitters.

how to teach yourself guitar
Who’s your favorite artist that inspires you the most to play guitar? Jack Johnson? The Beatles? Ed Sheeran? Bob Dylan? Just go to, look up their songs, and start going at it. (but first, wait till you read the whole post!)
Key #2: Learn How to Play Chords with a Clean Sound (Make sure you start with the COMMON Chords)

This is the first practical key – where we will learn the 5 golden rules of playing any chords in a CLEAN way. What does clean mean? If you listen to most beginners, you’ll notice that there are lots of “buzzings” and extra squeaks and noises in their guitar sound, which means they can never really sound GOOD.

So, if you’ll learn how to press down chords in the correct way and keep that as a priority – you’ll immediately differentiate yourself from the sound of 90% of the beginners – and you’ll sound great.

Here, if you start by learning the most common chords, then you will get the most return (of songs you can play) on investment of time. So don’t learn a C#m chord now – because you’ll encounter it very rarely. Instead – learn G, D, Em, C and Am first since they will “open up” the biggest number of songs for you – and that’s what you want now.

In this video, I share with you my 5 Golden Rules of Playing Any Chord Cleanly. Grab a guitar and join me:

Key #3: Dive Into It! Start Learning Guitar Using ONLY the Songs That You Love

As much as this might not sound like a “practical” key of learning guitar, this is the single most important key if you don’t wanna join the quitters on the bench. When I learned guitar – the one reason that made me keep playing every day for 1-3 hours was that it never seemed like “practice” or a chore, but it was always pure fun.

How? Because every single second on the guitar was about learning and getting better with another song that I loved for years – and now I was about to be able to play it by myself, listening to it coming out of my own hands!

This feeling is unbelievably good. And guess what? This feeling just keeps getting stronger, since your skills and the way you sound will constantly keep getting better.

Now the great thing is that unlike 20-30 years ago, you don’t need to go to a music store and spend a lot of money on chord books of your favorite artist, but instead you can go online and get the chords to any song within literally ten seconds.

(it used to be that for example you had to go buy a chord book with just “The Rolling Stones'” songs for example, for around 20-30$ for each book)

Excellent free resources to get the chords for your favorite songs:

* Ultimate Guitar – the leading website for chord sheets, usually they have the most accurate chords.

* Dan’s Big Acoustic Songbook – a ready to print PDF songbook with over a 1000 different songs.

Key #4: Learn How to Massively Speed Up the Process of Learning New Chords

Learning each new chord by itself and being able to strum it and get a perfectly clean sound is simply a matter of ingraining it into your muscle memory. When your fingers’ muscles “remember” the shape of the chord – you’ll be able to press down all of them, easily, even if someone will wake you up at 3AM and place a guitar in your hands in total darkness.

After a few weeks of learning the first basic chords, as you’ll start further expanding your envelope, there will be a lot more chords on your plate. F, E, A, G7, D7 and more. (and later, also chords with even “weirder” signs next to them: like C#, G#, Bbm and more…)

The best exercise to ingrain new chords into your muscle memory is what I call “The Chord Reset” – where you simply play the chord, and then take your left hand. open it and place the palm of your left hand on your thigh, and then bring it back up to the fretboard (try to do it without looking!) back and forth many times – just like in the previous lesson.

I miss the New Zealand guitar jams with friends. (:
teach yourself
Ready for the show on a cliff by the beach in Tel Aviv
Key #5: Learn How to Effortlessly Switch Between the Chords As You Play

The first main challenge you’ll encounter is to switch smoothly between the chords in the song. When you can’t do it smoothly and quickly, you’ll have to stop playing every two seconds to look at the fretboard and move your fingers one by one – and your song playing will not be fluent and won’t sound good. It’ll just feel like a lot of work, like a hassle.

Also, your friends won’t be able to sing along since they’ll never know when’s the next time you’ll get stuck.

At first, changing chords won’t be a breeze, but after some practice, it will start coming more naturally, and eventually, you’ll be able to do it without even thinking about it. I usually don’t like to give exercises to beginners, but there’s 2-3 exercises that are actually tremendously helpful for your progress in the beginning. (beyond what I can describe in words)

One of them is to simply practice the switch many times in a row. For example: D-C-D-C-D-C-D-C on and on for two minutes every day. After two or three days you will be able to easily switch between D and C chord without even looking or thinking about it.

Entertainment break! Check out a video I made with some of the most famous guitar riffs you know – played on a special kind of instrument – the 12 string guitar:

Key #6: Learn How to Figure Out the Correct Strumming Pattern of Any Song

Each song has the strumming pattern that works with it and that will make it sound like the original recording. The strumming pattern should fit and match the rhythm of the song, and this is where most beginners have a lot of trouble.

Like I said, strumming patterns are the other main ingredient besides chords. The thing is, it took me over a year to figure out that the strumming patterns simply repeat themselves. So whenever you can count a 1-2-3-4 with the music, that means one pattern has passed by, and another identical one comes next. It’s as simple as that.

And it steadily keeps going. In fact, one listen to any song where the guitar strums are prominent and you’ll notice the repeating nature of the strumming patterns. Check out Oasis – WonderwallThe Eagles – Doolin Dalton, or Biffy Clyro – God and Satan to hear it yourself.

Over the years of teaching, I developed a very trustable method that lets you figure out the exact strumming pattern for any song just by listening to it, and it is one of the things that I share in the course.

Here’s the most common strumming pattern that’ll actually work for 20-30% of the songs out there:

Key #7: Develop Your Sense of Rhythm, So Your Strumming Patterns Always Sound Spot-On

This is a super critical point in order to actually sound good. Many people can play the chords and even switch between them pretty smoothly, but the thing is – if you can’t play with a solid time-keeping, than your songs’ playing will sound “all over the place”, messy, uneven, and very unpleasant to listen to and to sing with.

The best way to develop your sense of time is to play along with the original recording of the song or to practice with an app (I like Drum Beats+ and Loopz) or a YouTube video that plays a real drum beat for you (which is the fun alternative for playing with a metronome – the boring “tic tac” machine)

So these 7 keys will take you very far – and when you got them under control, you’ll have the keys to “unlock” and play thousands of songs – once you got the basic chords and strumming patterns down.

learn guitar

7 Quick Guitar Tips I Wish I Knew on Day One
  • Always make sure to cut your left hand fingernails before you play. If not, they’ll get in your way and it’ll be much harder to press down the chords and to get a clean sound.
  • Playing with a pick is a good idea for beginners, since it’s easier to grasp the whole idea of the strumming patterns’ ups and the downs. So go to a store and get a bunch of picks in different shapes and thicknesses, you’ll surely find one that you really like.
  •  If your guitar has some rusty old strings, take them to a store and ask them to install new strings for you. It’ll only cost around 20$ (including the work) and the new strings will feel much better, sound much better, and will be easier to play, which in turn will give you more motivation and joy when you play.
  • Get a guitar capo and start playing around with it. It costs around 5-15$, and when you place it on different frets, it will make your guitar sound completely different – and also easier to play.
  • ALSO – a capo makes sure you can play nearly every single song in the world with just the basic chord shapes using something called transposing which I also explain in this video.
  • And I can’t state this enough – as long as you’ll learn by using the songs that you love, you’ll never be tired of the guitar. It’ll be with your for literally the rest of your life.
  • Another thing that will make sure you never quit, is to keep your motivation tank filled all the way up and excited about the next time you’ll pick up the guitar by watching guitar videos and lesson that inspire you, reading interesting guitar stuff like the rest of the posts here on Guitar Songs Masters and other blogs, listening to more guitar music, etc.

Which First Guitar Should You Buy?

right now – if you got something, just start playing it – it’s good! Just make sure you change the strings since it’s a tiny investment that’ll make your guitar feel a lot better.

If you don’t have a guitar now – I recommend first testing the waters with an acoustic guitar that does not cost more than 100$-150$. You can also start with an electric or a classical guitar, but I recommend these two options only for people who strictly love and want to play songs that were made only for those guitars since that’s what will probably keep you more motivated. (like Spanish music for the classical, or metal music for the electric)

I explain more about the topic of which first guitar should you pick in the following video: (both about the type of it, and also about which specific model you should go with):

Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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The Guitar Campfire Songbook

I hope this list has given you some great ideas, and if you want to have another bunch of song ideas in a fancy PDF songbook form, then feel free to download the songbook in this link.

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