Guitar Lessons With or Without a Teacher

I can teach music theory.  I can teach voice.  I can teach at least a little piano.  I cannot teach guitar.  And, when you can’t find a steady guitar teacher, that makes life hard on a kid who really wants to learn the instrument.

My Caleb has been learning to play the guitar for a few years now, but we haven’t always had a teacher.  The teachers he has had have rocked (literally) and have each taken him to a new level.  But, the dry spells between teachers are frustrating for him.

How my son learned to play guitar whether a teacher was available or not.

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When a kid is really interested in something, though, he learns pretty quickly how to make things happen.  In this case, he decided to take lessons into his own hands – which makes this momma super-proud of his perseverance!

With the help of technology and a few dollars spent here and there, Caleb has learned to take himself to new levels.  I thought I’d share with you today exactly what he’s been doing.  And, how I’ve been quietly watching and noting the progress toward a student-led high school course for the transcript.

Basic Music Theory

Essentials of Music Theory

In between teachers the first time, Caleb wanted to understand a bit about reading music.  I was very happy to supply him with the Essentials of Music Theory, Book 1.

While I had to help here and there, he completed the book on his own for the most part.  It was nice having a piano in the house to help him understand the theory, but it wouldn’t have been necessary.

Basic Guitar Theory

Guitar Fretboard Workbook

Also during that first break between teachers, he continued practicing guitar using the Mel Bay Guitar Chords book that his teacher had assigned.  This led to his decision that a workbook in guitar theory would probably be useful now that basic music theory was under his belt.  We went with the Guitar Fretboard Workbook.

I was no help to him in this book.  Well, a little maybe, but he was pretty much on his own.  If he came to something he didn’t understand, good ol’ Google or a friendly guitarist at church came to the rescue.

YouTube Tutorials

By the time the second break between teachers rolled around, Caleb knew more about the guitar and craved to actually play real music.  Of course, he knows what all good homeschoolers know – – – you can pretty much learn anything on YouTube.  And, he went all over that site soaking in every bit of guitar goodness he could find.  He started with actual lessons and then moved on to listening to worship songs and rock songs trying to pick out leads and chords.  These practice sessions even helped strengthen his ability to play a bit by ear.

The Complete Guitar Manual

The Complete Guitar Manual

During his third hiatus, Caleb knew he needed more depth to his self-taught lessons.  He found The Complete Guitar Manual and has been working his way through it steadily.  The book is really pretty cool.  It’s in full-color and highly step-by-step illustrated (which works well since Caleb is a very visual learner.)  It’s almost like a guitar textbook with lessons on everything from finger positions to music theory.  There’s even a DVD to show him how to play.

I’m happy to report that Caleb just started guitar lessons with a real live teacher again!  However, I’m noticing that he hasn’t given up on his own plan at all.  In fact, I’ve even heard him talk to the teacher a few times about how the lessons can help him reach his own goals.  I love his passion!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that he wanted to round out his guitar instruction with learning about audio/visual equipment having to do with musicians.  He began helping in the sound room during youth band at church and quickly moved into helping in the sound room during church services.  This experience has taught him a ton!

High School Credit

We are definitely turning all this passion into high school credit.  In Kentucky, 120 hours of learning time equals one credit.  I’ve simply been logging the time spent on guitar and noting the materials used.  That’s it.  Not every course has need for a formal textbook or intricate plan.  It’s student-led learning at its easiest.

Senior Year Update

Three years after this post was published, Caleb’s passion for guitar has not waned. He’s a senior now and his ultimate goal is to play in Nashville someday – and I think he can do it!

He continues to work with new teachers who take him to new levels, and he takes his practice time as seriously as if it were already a job. With each new teacher, he’s made new connections and currently plays lead guitar monthly for four different churches.

He still easily learns by ear and, while he can read music, he rarely uses any on stage.

It’s been a bit of a stretch to be his roadie as I travel from different church to different church each week. But when I see how much he grows musically (and as a man) with each new week that passes, it’s a small price to pay.

What I didn’t expect as his passion has progressed is all the learning that would take place away from playing the guitar. He adds new layers of technical knowledge with every new pedal added to his collection and every new bit of equipment he uses at the various churches. And now, he’s even diving into mixing music on the computer. He’s gained a tremendous amount of social skills, stage presence, and confidence that often leaves me in awe.

Y’all, this couldn’t have happened without the freedom and time to explore his passions. Yes, there’s been quite a lot of money laid down for various instructors and mentors, but none of that would have mattered if he didn’t have plenty of time each day to do his thing.

I. Love. Homeschooling.

I should note that just as his sister had a senior year “work study” experience that encouraged her horse passion, Caleb is also having a work study experience. Half of his senior year homeschooling hours are spent working on guitar – lessons, practice, performances, working with mentors, figuring out necessary technology, and other other various things.

It’s my greatest joy to give my children the space and resources they need to do what God has called them to.

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  1. marykprather says:

    Nice! My daughter really wants to learn guitar this summer. She has a dream of becoming a music therapist, and while she plays piano and sings, she wants a more “portable” instrument that she could use as a music therapist. Sadly — this musical momma only learned the basics of guitar, so I’m really not much help to her! I imagine we will be approaching this the same way your son is. Thanks, Cindy!

  2. What a neat occupation aspiration she has, Mary! My daughter has entertained the idea of equine therapy, but I think her focus has shifted more towards managing horse farms at this point. I love, love, love when people use their talents to help people. Bless your daughter’s sweet heart!

  3. michellecaskey says:

    We also love student-led learning around here. And you’re right – you can learn just about anything on YouTube! My youngest son also wants to learn to play the guitar and your post has given me the encouragement to help him get started with that again. Thanks so much!

  4. My son started off in group homeschool lessons, did a few months with an individual instructor, and finished by teaching himself. He plays with our youth praise band and ALL. THE. TIME. lol

  5. I love hearing that, Melanie!

  6. The funny thing is…I never imagined this kid being one who would take the initiative to make learning happen on his own. I love how homeschooling has given him the freedom and time to carve his own path and see that he CAN do it!

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