Our twelve-year-old Nick has taken guitar lessons that were helpful (thank you Robbie), and he has apprenticed and learned in a music store (thank you Dylan), but he also has learned a lot from lesson videos at YouTube.
Once at the YouTube site, you can type in the search term guitar lessons or find subcategories like Guitar Lessons for Beginners, Guitar Lessons Acoustic, Guitar Lessons Blues, and Guitar Lessons Scales. Each category has thousands of videos, and the ones nearest the top are typically those that people have found most helpful. While each video has a different style, the teachers are incredibly intuitive at answering their Internet students’ likely questions and often have just the right close-ups or slow, deliberate video of forming a chord or putting chords together to make a song.
We’ve also used YouTube as a source for particular lessons, like when Nick was working on learning individual notes rather than chords. Our search terms were guitar notes on the fretboard, and we were rewarded with many videos that explained how the individual notes were arranged. Many of the teachers had different approaches and tips for learning the location of the notes, so Nick had a variety of instructors to learn from.
When he wants to learn a particular song, we make the first part of our search term “How to Play,” followed by the song title, followed by “On Guitar.” So, we might search on How to Play I Wanna Hold Your Hand On Guitar. He points out that once you’ve learned the song, if you want to compare your performance to that of others, you can type in the song name followed by “cover,” as in I Wanna Hold Your Hand Cover, and that will give you many versions of the same song, not in lesson format, but as performances.
Nick particularly recommends that new guitarists search YouTube for How To Tune A Guitar for some helpful lessons on getting started with relative and absolute tuning methods, as well as for techniques on using an electronic tuner.
Over time, Nick developed preferences for certain teachers and sought out their videos. Many of the teachers have links to their own websites, which (parents beware) sometimes sell related products or services, host advertising (sometimes anything goes), or seek donations to offset their costs. One of his favorites has turned out to be JustinGuitar.com.
As Nick has advanced, he has used YouTube more rarely for explicit instructional videos and more for exposure to videos he can learn from by listening repetitively and watching musicians’ techniques up close. I often hear the same passage played over and over again–first on YouTube, then by Nick. He will practice for hours at a time on one aspect of something he’s learning, trying to match his own sound and technique to what he is hearing and seeing online.
Perhaps most valuable at Nick’s current stage of musical development have been the backing tracks available on YouTube. Backing tracks have the music by all the instruments in a song except the lead guitar–think karaoke for the guitarist instead of the vocalist. There are backing tracks for covers of popular and iconic tunes, so you can practice well-established guitar solos. For instance, you can find backing tracks for Stairway to Heaven, Johnnie B Goode, and Sweet Home Alabama. There are also more generic backing tracks, such as blues tracks laid down by bass and rhythm guitar, where the lead guitarist can improvise. Just search on Smooth Blues Backing Tracks to find a wide variety of tracks to jam with. For instance, you’ve got your Smooth Blues in A Minor or your Chicago Blues in G Minor–I am not even believing the blues Nick is playing to that Chicago Blues backing track right now–while we are testing out these links!
Of course, this not only being the Internet, but also related to music, there is a lot of possibility for inappropriate lyrics or video. Even some videos that don’t mean to focus on explicit content may have suggestive posters on the wall behind the person on screen. There is no substitute for parental guidance in the case of YouTube and music media.
With those caveats, YouTube has been a great way for Nick to have access to teachers, musicians, and music for many more hours than would otherwise be practical or affordable for our family. This has helped him make good musical progress and expand his repertoire, while giving him the opportunity to positively experience the power of his own focus and energy.