“Can anyone recommend a decent guitar tuition site?” is an evergreen topic that pops up on guitar forums all the time (along with the many joyous NGDs). The enduring answer? JustinGuitar.com.
Back in 2003, it’s doubtful that Justin Sandercoe, a then twenty-something originally from Tasmania, had any idea that his fledgling website would go on to help millions of people learn to play the guitar online. But he was canny enough to sense an opportunity, smart enough to offer a solution and tenacious enough to keep running with it. Since then, Justin has become a guitar-wielding institution, possibly the most famous guitarist (that non-guitarists have never heard of) in the world. By 2011 his YouTube videos had received over 100 million views and his current subscriber base now boasts more than 1.5 million users.
Above all else, Justin is a phenomenal teacher, which is an entirely separate skillset from being a good musician. And, in the early days, when most of us would have just given up and gone down the pub, he worked tirelessly to feed his nascent audience a near constant stream of free content. A labour of love if ever there was one.
Tap JustinGuitar.com into your browser and you’ll discover a learning platform that easily rivals any of its paid-for competitors, such as Fender Play or Yousician. At its core is a tri-level learning path that’ll guide you from soft-handed beginner, through tough-skinned intermediate to proudly calloused advanced player.
Each level comprises three grades (1 – 9), and each grade is split into about half-a-dozen modules that, in turn, are generously packed with numerous lessons. These lessons typically last between eight and twenty minutes, which is a good length. Because Justin’s teaching style is thankfully devoid of fluff, this is all solid learning time.
As you’d expect, Grade One, Module One explores some basic open chords but by Grade Three (still beginner level) you’ll be picking out individual strings whilst strumming and learning how to perform simple duets.
By the time you reach Intermediate Grade Six you’ll have gained a very solid grounding in barre chords, rhythm fundamentals, lead playing, blues style guitar plus, if you choose, a good introduction to fingerstyle, folk, funk and jazz. In short, there’s a heck of a lot of content here, although not all is obligatory.
To date, the Advanced Levels concentrate mostly on Jazz Technique, but this section is only partly finished, so it’ll be interesting to discover what else Justin has up his sleeve.
JustinGuitar review: Skills and songs
If you’re returning to JustingGuitar.com after a break you’ll probably remember that the learning pathway used to take a slightly different route. Over the past couple of years Justin has endeavored to reorganize the entire pathway, which has meant reshooting pretty much every lesson. As a result, the courses section is now more logical to navigate, and the new video content, which is being progressively rolled out over time, is professionally lit and shot in crisp HD 1080p or better with multiple camera angles. You don’t get an animated fretboard but every lesson is supported with comprehensive notes and, where relevant, chord diagrams.
Need more? If that’s not enough, rest assured that Justin is constantly working on new course material – at the time of writing Advanced Grades 8 and 9 are on the horizon. If that’s still not enough check out Justin’s skills sections where you can take a deeper dive into Scales & Modes, Arpeggios, Ear Training, Guitar Kit… It goes on and on.
Most of us are seduced into learning the guitar because we want to play our favorite songs. JustinGuitar.com doesn’t disappoint here either. You’ll find more than 670 in the song library, catering for a broad spectrum of tastes and skill levels, with more being added all the time. Some of the song videos were shot a few years back, but don’t let that detract from the enjoyment of learning one of your favorites.
JustinGuitar review: Paid-for content
Everything I’ve mentioned so far is completely free to anyone with a connection to the internet, but there is a smidgen of paid content too. Currently, Justin offers four premium courses – Transcribing Blues Solos, Solo Blues Guitar, Strumming Techniques 1&2 and Practical, Fast and Fun Music Theory. The first three cost around $10 each for lifetime access, but the more involved Music Theory course is $9.99 for six month’s access or $99 for life, which seems good value.
Justin has been selling his excellent series of instructional ebooks and books for many years, but they’re now joined by a beginner’s app, jam tracks, tabs/notation and an expanded range of merch. The tabs/notation are not transcribed by Justin, instead he’s using the official versions direct from the publishers, hence the need to charge a fee.
JustinGuitar review: Style and substance
A couple of years ago Justin appeared to be drowning under the weight of his own creation, so I’m delighted to see that he’s recruited a team to help him behind the scenes. The refreshed site looks superb, and the new video content is leagues ahead of the early YouTube videos I remember seeing of a young Aussie guy teaching guitar from a cramped London flat. To be fair, the production quality has been good for a few years now, but the very latest course videos are simply outstanding.
The site’s main asset is, of course, Justin himself. His delivery is always knowledgeable, thoughtful, even humorous at times, but he’s no stand-up. So, if you’re looking for a zany, whacky guitar teacher then look elsewhere. Instead, I like to think of Justin as the David Attenborough of the guitar world, amiably guiding millions of us through the otherwise impenetrable jungle that is learning the guitar.
JustinGuitar review: Specifications
- Cost: Free with a small amount of paid-for premium content. It is possible to watch the free video content on YouTube but logging into the site gives you access to written material and will save your progress.
- App: The Lessons and Songs mobile app (Android and iOS) is a karaoke-style play along app for beginners, with in-app purchases
- Visit: JustinGuitar