The internet has made learning available to everyone.
You can find learning material for pretty much any skill or discipline online, including guitar playing.
Yet for most of us, the time-tested medium of reading books is still a hard one to look past.
But there are just too many books out there, and finding the most suitable one will take a bit of careful weeding.
As a beginner guitar learner, which ones should you trust to break ground and shape your learning path?
I have asked myself the same question for a while, and finally sat down to do the research.
I now have a list of 5 books, and those looking to learn guitar should definitely have these on top of their reading lists.
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Are Books The Best Way To Learn Guitar?
Before the internet this would be dismissed as a dumb question.
Today, the question wouldn’t be waved away as quickly.
More and more people are turning to video for their learning.
Why shouldn’t they? Video is huge right now. Best of all, a lot of content is free.
But YouTube and free video lessons can be a big waste of time. Many times you will have to do a lot of digging before you can find any useful learning material there. This puts the quality of YouTube content into question.
Besides all that, YouTube content isn’t offered in a structured format that allows for progressive learning. For that you should look at books and face-to-face lessons with a teacher.
If you ask us here at Voices Inc, our #1 recommendation is always subscription-based online guitar lessons.
Not All Guitar Books are Suitable for Beginners
The dizzying choices it has revealed aside, the internet really has put information in front of more people than paperback books ever could do.
Yet it is also true a fair amount of guitar books have been published that it could be just as taxing deciding which one is the best for an absolute beginner.
The challenge most beginners face is the tendency to overreach and wanting to delve into more advanced playing techniques before they have tied down the foundational skills and theory.
Indeed, some of these books start off covering stuff that some adult learners may even consider too elementary.
But you will be amazed at how many of these basic skills some self-taught guitar players get wrong without even knowing it. Unfortunately, the more you practice with poor technique, the more it gets entrenched and becomes difficult to correct.
And if there is a common regret with guitar players lacking basic training it is their failure to obtain music theory and technical training before they ever got serious with the instrument.
What Must a Beginners’ Book Cover?
There are lots of benefits to picking the right book to guide your training the moment you start learning the guitar.
Are you a pure beginner? Check out the 3 best ways to learn the guitar here.
There are many guitar books targeted at beginners. Most cover a specific angle or interest level.
But they all should at least give the learner a solid appreciation of the instrument’s anatomy, how it produces sound, and the correct way to handle it.
You will find guitar books that are targeted at people who are interested in a more exhaustive learning process, covering all the technical aspects as well as music theory.
From the first chapter these books walk you through all the introductory chords, keys, scales and basic music notation.
Some books, however, are written for more recreational guitar players.
These are people only interested in learning particular songs and playing techniques. They are aren’t too bothered about following a linear learning path and are usually not interested in pursuing a career in music.
Such books will feature tabs and exercises for learning particular songs and could be dedicated to a specific musician or genre.
It is important to decide which one of these learners you are. That decision will help you decide which book is best for you.
Reviewing The Best Guitar Books for Beginners
Generally, a good beginners’ book should lay bare the basics of playing guitar and set you on a process of continual learning.
After going through such a book you should feel primed to explore options for instruction on the more advanced techniques.
I went through many guitar books for beginners while researching this article. The following five are the ones that rose above the rest.
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar
Written by David M. Brewster - a graduate of the Atlanta Institute of Music, author of other books on guitar, and a recording and touring musician, this is one of the most popular guitar books written with the absolute beginner in mind.
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar gently introduces the learner to the very basic guitar fundamentals like hand and finger placement and picks apart the instrument itself so you understand it down to its very anatomy.
The one helpful feature is it’s not written around any one music style. It contains lessons and song examples from a cross section of the more common music styles, including country, rock, and classical guitar.
The book also introduces the beginning guitar learner to guitar-specific notation in the form of tablature. It tries not overwhelm the learner by immediately thrusting them into the trickier realms of music notation.
For a book written for people who have perhaps never interacted with a guitar before, the author made sure the book wouldn’t be too bulky.
Don’t expect a thick volume. The book is, perhaps disappointingly for some, concise and and gets straight to the point. It however uses a fair amount of pictures, tips, hints, and tabs to help you digest the content.
Other Features and benefits
- Covers different playing styles, like chords, strumming, and progressions.
- Every purchase comes with a coupon for complimentary online lessons.
- Has a chord chart at the back for easy reference.
- Is a manageable read, which isn’t too overwhelming for beginners not yet fully convinced guitar is for them.
- Some readers feel the book would still have done with more illustrations and diagrams.
Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Complete Edition
Ask any trained guitar player and they will admit to having encountered a Hal Leonard guitar book at some point.
Hal Leonard is one of the most prolific and accomplished publishers of guitar books. The number of music teachers who recommend and confess to using the book in their lessons alone shows how highly it is regarded.
The Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Complete Edition book is not the ‘teach yourself guitar’ kind like the one we have just reviewed. Rather is lays the building blocks for progressive learning.
The book has a clear structure, is methodically set out, and covers all the introductory elements about learning guitar.
Less suitable for recreational guitar players, the book is perfect for beginner and intermediate guitar players looking to seriously advance their skills.
It packs years of teaching experience by the book’s co-authors, Will Schmid and Greg Koch, introducing basic skills like how to read music, chords, different scales, and strumming patterns. The authors then shepherd learners through the more advanced topics in the later books.
This edition actually compresses the first, second, and third editions into a spiral bound, easy-to-flip manual.
Other Features and Benefits
- Teaches standard notation instead of hamstringing learners by using just tablature.
- The plastic comb bind makes it easier to turn pages and to balance the book on your music stand.
- The font size is kind on the eyes, while the formatting is clear and makes the book easy to read.
- Introduces you to practice songs early for a bit of fun and to help maintain your interest in learning guitar.
- Uses melodies to practice, instead of chords which are harder to learn and can be frustrating for beginners.
- No longer sold with the CD accompaniment and the coupon code that’s supposed to unlock the online audio can be a pain to redeem.
Guitar For Absolute Beginners
It is always reassuring to learn you are reading material that has been tested in a real class setting.
David Emery used the same techniques he teaches in this book to grow the NYC Guitar Music School from humble beginnings to the success it is today.
It is not as popular as the Hal Leonard books or David Brewster’s Teach Yourself To Play Guitar, but you aren’t going to find too many negative reviews on this book.
Guitar For Absolute Beginners features ten different lessons designed to be tackled one every week. But you can pace the lessons faster or even slower, depending on the time you have for practice.
Learners who look to self-teach will love the two or three pages dedicated to fingering chords and exercises for building your calluses and finger strength.
From the way the lessons are ordered, and the fun little stories used to illustrate concepts, you can tell the book is written by an experienced and accomplished teacher.
Other Features and Benefits
- Includes detailed practice session plans.
- Uses motivational stories and examples to explain concepts.
- Goes into detail on how to play with the correct technique.
- Is broken down in any easy-to-follow format.
- Does not come with a CD – you will have to go the NYC Guitar School’s Youtube channel for video instruction.
Music Theory for Guitarists
Music theory is not fun to learn.
It calls for hours of study and needs you to knuckle down and really put in the work.
But no music career has ever suffered from a music theory knowledge. Quite the opposite:
A solid foundation in music theory can take your guitar playing to heights it could never scale without it.
Music Theory for Guitarists won’t offer you much in the way of exercises, nor teach you any fancy riffs and tricks. But it goes down to the nuts and bolts of why your guitar sounds the way it does.
The author, Tom Kolb, explains all the concepts that make some people dread music theory so much in simple language. Even after studying it, you will want to keep the book close by as you will find yourself constantly referring back to it.
The book teaches you everything from how to read music to the mechanics of your guitar, and breaks down scales, intervals, nodes and other music jargon in beginner-friendly language.
This is possibly the best book on theory for beginners that’s out there.
Other Features and Benefits
- An entire chapter is dedicated to teaching how to locate keys in songs by ear – an otherwise difficult skill to master.
- Gives practical ideas on how to apply learned concepts in real world situations.
- Contains targeted content, as it is written specifically for guitar, and not music theory in general.
- About as comprehensive a book on music theory for guitar beginners you will ever find.
- It maybe be a little difficult for less motivated people and absolute beginners to consume and process the book’s content.
Not the most conventional way of teaching guitar.
But it works like a charm.
The late Philip Toshio Sudo tackles the subject of guitar with honesty, calling on his own personal experiences and those of famous musicians - through quotes - to drive learners on a path of contemplation and life fulfillment through music.
Zen Guitar’s author took a unique angle but still knocked it out of the park.
The book will not affect you as much if you have read a lot on spirituality and mindfulness, but it still will bring you and your instrument a lot closer.
You can almost fail to notice that the book does not contain any technical exercises. And though written for guitar players, what the book teaches can apply to just about any musical instrument and even to people who just love music.
It will certainly help beginners adopt the right attitude towards their instrument and to set realistic expectations.
Other Features and Benefits
- Teaches you to enjoy your own music journey, and not to measure yourself against some illusional standard.
- Teaches you to play from the heart, which enables more expressive playing and enjoyment.
- Includes a handy Zen-Guitar terms glossary at the back.
- No practical exercises, but, as I have said, you probably won’t even realize it.
And Our Pick Is…
It is hard to look past a book as widely praised and used as the Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Complete Edition.
But honestly, the other books, especially Music Theory for Guitarists and Zen Guitar, also need to be on your bookshelf. The books tackle the subject of guitar that can be just as enriching, but in their own unique ways.
Zen Guitar will lend an almost spiritual appreciation for guitar that will alter the way you have always approached the instrument.
I would also stop short of saying anybody serious about learning guitar should read Tom Kolb’s Music Theory For Guitarists.
And Then There are Online Lessons!
Never underestimate the value of a good book.
When placed before a set of keen eyes, a good book can be the springboard for a journey of discovery and fulfillment.
For you that journey will be a lifelong love affair and tons of great memories with your guitar.
Yet there is even more benefit to be had when that book is paired with a more interactive form of guitar instruction:
Face-to-face lessons with a good teacher are a good option. But these often come at a high cost. And you cannot always find a good coach near you.
The next best, and perhaps better option, would be online lessons:
These are more accessible, a lot cheaper, have more multimedia options, and can be paced to your specific circumstances.
We have reviewed a couple of the best online lesson programs and I suggest you check them all out here.
A good online lessons program would be the perfect accompaniment for the book you finally invest in.