How to Learn an Instrument Digitally

Learn anywhere, anytime.

In today’s digital world and if you have the motivation, paying Grandma Sue to come to your house and give you piano lessons every Sunday is a thing of the past. Granted, there are advantages to one-on-one learning, but if you don’t have the money or if forced lessons make you lose your desire to learn an instrument, then there are many other methods for picking up an instrument or improving your skill digitally. The advantages of these tools allow you to learn at your own pace, focus on what you’re interested in, and have a great time doing it. Just don’t forget to teach yourself the basics and techniques that Grandma Sue would have forced you to learn before progressing to “Free Bird.”


Honestly, I think you can learn just about anything from YouTube these days. Whether it be hotwiring a car or Organic Chemistry — YouTube has tutorials on it — and music is no exception. As a guitar player myself, I am constantly searching for cool new licks to learn via YouTube. This medium is best for learning things like:

  • Song Tutorials
  • Licks
  • Common Chord Progressions
  • Music Theory

If you’re in need of any of the above, then YouTube is a great source for finding that information.

iPad Apps

The iPad is filled with cool apps for playing and learning instruments. If you’re looking to use the iPad as an instrument, then learning piano and music theory is generally what the iPad is most useful for. The fact that you can play a keyboard on the screen or plug in a midi keyboard makes it useful for learning piano. It is unrealistic to play a guitar app on the iPad and then think you can play the real thing. The feeling is far too different. But the iPad also has some great apps with lessons for those who already have an instrument and are looking for some instruction.

To list an app for every instrument would be too long of a list, so here are some of the most popular iPad apps for learning piano and guitar:


Learn Piano HD – This app is a set of video courses taught by Peter Darling. With this, you can set your iPad next to your piano and use it as your digital instructor. While it doesn’t take you into advanced piano techniques and instruction, it’s a great way to get an introduction into some of the basics of piano.

Piano Complete – If you already know the basics of piano or are just interested in practicing reading music and learning a few songs, the Piano Complete app has over 500 songs from various genres. Each song lets you choose whether you’d like to play along on it’s highlighted virtual keys with sheet music or falling notes. You can also choose whether or not you’d like to learn the right hand part, left hand part, or both.

iLearn Piano – This app gets into some more advanced piano techniques in it’s 50 lessons spanning from beginner to expert. It also teaches music theory and has a virtual keyboard to practice on.


Learn Guitar – This app is brought to you by the same people that created the previously mentioned app, Learn Piano. This app introduces beginners to guitar through a series of 27 video lessons. While it’s not an advanced course, it is a great way for beginners to learn the basics needed to get started playing and understanding guitar.

Rock Prodigy – This app was designed by two professors and taught by guitar instructors from numerous top music schools and universities around the world. This beginning guitar app is designed like a video game to make the process of learning guitar fun and easy. It has cool features like tempo control, pitch detection to track progress, and looping. In the app’s description they say, “Think Guitar Hero®, but with real guitars, lessons, and skills. Think P90X meets Rosetta Stone for music.”

iGuitarTeacher – With 66 interactive lessons and video tutorials, this is also another great app for learning the basics of guitar.

Online Courses

There are many teachers for each instrument that have decided they could reach more students online. They’ve set up instructional courses on their websites that you can pay to take. Even top music schools, like Berklee, have put courses and certifications online for anyone to enroll in.

Here are some of the most well-known:

Berklee – As previously mentioned, Berklee is one of the most well-known music schools in the world. With an incredible staff and legendary alumni, Berklee is for musician’s looking to seriously take their skills to a new level. While the courses can be expensive, they also are worth it. Not only can you learn, but you can also earn certifications from a top school. They have courses for all fields of music, but in regards to learning an instrument you can find great instruction for piano, guitar, bass, drums, and voice.

Next Level Guitar – This is a popular online course for all levels of guitar players. In addition to numerous video lessons, they have written lessons, jam tracks, and more. They really do have some excellent videos that will help to make you sound like a pro.

Online Tools

Web apps for instruments also can make learning a new song a breeze. There are some great sites that have very interactive apps that making learning new songs and techniques fun and exciting.

Ultimate Guitar’s Tab Pro – If you’re familiar with how to read tablature, Ultimate Guitar offers a great tool for guitarists. With this tool musicians can learn any of the songs in its catalog. In addition to providing tabs, the application has looping functions, playback, and tempo control. It’s an excellent tool for learning songs and only costs $2.99/month.

Piano World Chord & Scale Generator – This tool makes it easy to generate chords and scales on a virtual piano display so that you can see which keys you need to press.

Chordbook Guitar Chord Generator – This is also a chord generator, except for the guitar. With it you can easily look up how to play the chords you need to know. You can even find inversions, add a capo, and strum it virtually to hear how the chord should sound.


There are a ton of musicians out there dedicated to sharing their expertise with others, and many of them have sites or contribute to their favorite blogs. On these blogs they write columns and lessons on tips and techniques. Here are some top blogs for various instruments:

Ultimate Guitar – In addition to its large tablature database, this site offers a great blog with guitar tips, techniques, and lessons.

Audio Tuts – This site offers a wide variety of articles on recording, but if you look closer at two of their categories, Instrument Tutorials and Instrument Tips, you can find some more advanced articles on playing instruments.

Remember, there are a ton of great blogs out there for your specific instrument. All it takes is a quick Google search.

Digital Backing Tracks. No Band, No Problem.

Getting backing tracks to practice improvisation used to mean having to go to the music store, buy a book with a CD, and hope they had some decent jam tracks. Now you can go to digital stores like iTunes, search for something like “blues backing tracks,” and find a large selection of jam tracks to choose from. Pick and choose your favorites to download and you’re jamming in no time.

Good Ol’ Internet

Don’t forget just searching for things like “blues guitar licks,” can pull up thousands of pages with information you’re looking for. Sometimes just a quick search is all you need for a day’s lesson.

The Future of Music / January 24, 2013

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