When I was 12, my parents bought me my first guitar. The acoustic seemed bigger than I was — but I kept practicing scales until my fingertips grew calluses. I wanted to be like my dad: as a teenager in Mexico, he trained in classical guitar while he also enrolled in medical school. Medicine won, but he still plays his guitar on weekends and nights, even the occasional morning. Music, he says, is one of the things he will always make time for.

Learning how to play an instrument doesn’t have to be another item on your bucket list. If you can’t take formal classes, teaching yourself online is a great option. With these handy online guides, you can learn the fundamentals of guitar playing. The best part? They’re all free.

Here are the best online resources I’ve found to teach yourself how to play guitar.

I realize that this is by no means an exhaustive list, rather it’s a work in progress. If you know of other awesome free resources to learn to play the guitar, share them in the comments or on this Reddit thread and I’ll add the best ones to the list.

Getting Started:

  1. Introduction to Guitar: If you’ve just picked up your first guitar, Coursera has a great online course in conjunction with the Berklee College of Music to get you started. These video lessons cover the basics: the anatomy of a guitar, chord structures, pick and finger-picking techniques, tuning, scales, and so on.
    Level: Beginner | Duration: 6 weeks | Next Start Date: April 28, 2014 | Read reviews

  2. Getting Started With Playing Guitar: This course by Erich Andreas helps first-timers gain confidence with chord constructions and transitions. He provides over two hours of video lessons and PDFs so that you can easily go over what you’ve learned.
    Level: Beginner | Duration: 2 hours | Next Start Date: Always on | Read reviews

  1. Developing your Musicianship: In another collaboration with Berklee, Coursera offers this course on music theory. Taught by Professor George W. Russell, Jr., the class covers major and minor pentatonic scales, chord-major and -minor triads, common chord progressions, song forms and more — and gives you a chance to practice writing these on sheet music.
    Level: Intermediate | Duration: 6 weeks | Next Start Date: July 19, 2014

  1. How To Tune A Guitar: Before you start playing, make sure your instrument is tuned and ready to go. This virtual guitar tuner is a great tool for those still learning to tune by ear, and allows you to choose non-standard tuning modes like Drop D and Half Step Down.


Learn Your A, B, C (Chords):

  1. All Guitar Chords: With easy-to-read diagrams, All Guitar Chords shows how to structure normal and split chords. It also has a really nice tool for learning the chords that make up different scales.

  1. Chord Book: Play around with Chord Book’s virtual fretboard and learn how to properly build chords. Chord Book also has a handy “Strum” option so that you can hear what your chords should sound like.

  1. Learn How to Read Tablature: Chords give you the building blocks to play almost any song — tablature is the standard way to write any song for guitar, even ones with complex riffs. In this tutorial, you will learn how to read guitar tabs and cover the techniques needed to play them.

  1. Video Tabs: When you’ve learned how to read guitar tabs, take a crack at playing a few with these free video tutorials. Video Tabs has over 500 lessons, mostly in classic and 90’s rock (though we did find Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, too.)

  1. Ultimate Guitar: For new initiates, Ultimate Guitar is your one-stop shop for guitar tabs and song chords. Search for a song or artist and filter by ratings for the most popular guides on the Internet. Learn to play everything from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

  1. 911 Tabs: Similar to Ultimate Guitar, 911 Tabs is another great database of guitar tabs, with hundreds more added each day.


Learn To Play The Hits:

  1. Music Radar: With cameos and interviews with music industry professionals, Music Radar offers a library of videos on acoustic guitar, bass guitar, amplifiers, song structures, recording advice and more.

  1. Dolphin Street: On another YouTube channel, Robert Renman offers an education on blues guitar, all with an impressive background in music theory.

  1. Jammit: Jammit is a cool tool for teaching yourself how to play your favorite songs: its software allows you to isolate guitar tracks from a given song, loop or slow down the parts you want to learn, and then record your own version once you’ve mastered it.

  1. Justin Guitar: Justin Guitar offers an extensive guide for beginners and intermediate guitar players — covering everything from scales and arpeggios to guitar solos and transcribing. The site is completely free, but runs off donations — so consider pitching in if you use and enjoy it.

  1. Bobby Crispy: On Bobby Crispy’s YouTube channel, you can learn how to play classic rock on your guitar: he walks you through popular songs by Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Metallica and more.


Different Strokes for Different Focus(es):

  1. Shred Academy: Shred Academy is an extensive online database of heavy metal guitar tabs and tutorials.

  2. Jazz Guitar Online: For the jazz-inclined, this online resources offers lesson, chord diagrams, and even an online gear shop so you can practice playing jazz guitar in style.

  1. Olav Torvund’s Guitar Site – Blues Guitar: A curated stop for blues aficionados.

Good luck! Want to learn more about music? Check out this round-up of music courses for all experience levels.