The computer has changed the ways that we endeavor to acquire both information and skills, and guitar playing is surely no exception. While the tools that the internet offers are quite diverse, the two main instructional services provided seem to fall into two general categories, namely, pre-recorded guitar lessons and live online guitar lessons.
Pre-recorded lessons tend to focus on specific topics of guitar playing ranging broadly from issues of technique to styles of improvisation. For this reason, they seem appropriate for intermediate to advanced players, i.e. those who already possess both a systematic visual conception of melody and harmony on the neck as well as a generic discrimination that allows them to judge the quality and suitability of the lesson in question. If an experienced player wants to use the computer to cultivate his right-hand technique, he will certainly begin by searching for information from players that he knows to possess exceptional skill in this area, say, for example, George Benson, Django Reinhardt, Tuck Andress, Lenny Breau or Scotty Anderson. Any of the ancillary details of harmony or melody that may be touched on in the treatment of technique will probably pose no problem to the kind of player who would know to look here in the first place. In fact, most modern world-class players, trusting more in the deeds than the words of legendary guitarists, have scoured YouTube performance videos for insights into technique.
Beginners, on the other hand, lack the systematic understanding of music and the guitar necessary to process properly such pre-recorded online lessons. As most of us know from experience, the internet is rife with misleading and often incorrect information that is communicated with wildly varying degrees of clarity. A beginning guitar student runs the risk of unduly intimidating confusion and, perhaps worse, false assumptions concerning the rudimentary principles and bounds of music.
Can a beginning guitar student learn from the internet? Live online guitar lessons, via Skype, for example, are surely an alternative preferable to pre-recorded lessons for beginners. With virtual interaction, a competent player can address far more effectively the challenges faced by a student considering music for the first time. Still, the lack of a real, shared physical space here presents problems that seem to me insurmountable. Playing a musical instrument is as physical an undertaking as it is intellectual. A beginning guitar student needs to see and feel from all angles the different ways that a guitar can be held on his body and manipulated by his hands. Imagine showing a child how to tie his shoe with neither visual nor physical contact. Though a shared computer screen may help here, physical interaction seems an indispensable tool. As most parents will testify, you teach a child to tie his shoes by crouching behind him and demonstrating with your own hands, and showing a beginner how to play is no different.
The computer seems to me to have a place in teaching and learning guitar, albeit a place limited according to the experience of the student. Beginners need in-studio lessons in order to establish the fundamental physical requirements of playing the instrument. Once these rudiments have been internalized, live online guitar lessons are sufficient. Advanced players are by definition stewards of their own development and may use the tools of the internet at their discretion.
Professional Jazz Musician
Teacher of Latin, Greek, and Music