If you want to learn to play an instrument, this could come as music to your ears—some impressive music-instruction resources are available on the Internet, many of them for free or low cost. That’s good news if you can’t find an appropriate music teacher in your area…if you’d like to avoid the expense of years of lessons…or if you’re still keeping yourself isolated to protect against COVID-19.
Here are some of the best online music-learning resources—choose the ones that sound most appealing, or sample a few to find out which work for you…
Online Music Courses
Online courses are the Internet equivalent of enrolling in college music classes but often at a fraction of the cost or even for free. Some online programs are actual college courses taught at highly regarded schools. Online courses typically have forums where students can ask questions. That’s not the same as having a teacher listen to you play live, but it’s better than having no feedback at all.
Coursera offers inexpensive or free online access to thousands of prerecorded courses, most of them taught at actual universities. Many of the music courses available on Coursera are courses taught at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Example: “How to Play Guitar,” a set of four courses taught by professors at Berklee, promises to teach everything needed to play songs on a guitar in about five months. Free to audit…or $49 per month to enroll if you wish to submit assignments and receive grades.
Udemy also has thousands of pre-recorded courses offered on a wide range of topics. Unlike on Coursera, the instructors for many of these courses are not affiliated with universities. There are no free classes on Udemy, but prices usually are below $200 per course—or even less if you wait for a sale, which are common. Udemy.com
Example: “Learn to Play Harmonica,” which features more than 23 hours of lessons by Ben Hewlett, chairman of a group called HarmonicaUK. List price is $114.99, but sale prices sometimes lower that to as little as $14.99.
Music Instruction Apps and Websites
Music apps and websites tend to be more interactive than videos or online courses, and so can help you identify and overcome your musical weaknesses and provide a sense of how much progress you’re really making.
MusicTheory.net is a free site that offers quality content for learning to read music, with exercises and interactive tools that enable you to practice the lessons you learn. It’s also available as an iOS app that costs $2.99.
Music Tutor is a simple app that provides exercises for sight-reading proficiency—developing your speed and accuracy while reading sheet music. It’s free for Android or iOS. MusicTutorApp.com
EarMaster is a versatile app that offers everything from lessons in music theory to exercises that improve rhythm, teach sheet music reading or provide “ear training”—that’s the ability to identify music elements such as pitch by listening. Some content is free, but most features require a subscription that costs $3.99 per month. It’s available for iOS or on Windows or Mac computers, but not for Android.
Uberchord is a clever interactive guitar-learning app. It leads you through exercises and songs on your guitar—and provides real-time feedback about your playing. The app monitors your guitar playing and lets you know whether you’re hitting the right notes. It is free, but a subscription is required to access most of the content—subscriptions cost $14.99 per month or $79.99 per year. It’s available only for iOS.
Yousician is a lot like Uberchord but it provides feedback for a variety of instruments—bass, guitar, piano, vocals or ukulele. Yousician also monitors your performance as you play songs and exercises and lets you know how you’re doing and where you can improve. It’s available for iOS, Android and even on PC. As with Uberchord, the basic app is free but you’ll have to pay for a subscription to access most of the content—with Yousician, “Premium+” costs $59.99 for three months…or $179.99 for 12 months.
Remote Music Teachers
Sometimes there’s no substitute for a music teacher—an experienced musician who can work with you one-on-one…help you work through challenges that you can’t seem to master…and provide personalized tips about how you could improve. If you can’t find a music teacher you like locally, there’s a world full of instructors who teach remotely over video chat. Among the websites where you can find instructors for a wide range of musical instruments and styles: Lessonface…Live Music Tutor.
Which site is best really comes down to which happens to have the instructor who is the best fit for you, so explore both. The main way to determine this is from the profiles on the sites. The teachers don’t need credentials to get on the site, but what they’ve done and reviews from their students are listed there, so you can choose super-vetted ones with a lot of experience, and pay more for their experience…or relative music-teaching beginners trying to make a name, and pay much less. Students sign up for classes one at a time, so one option is to continue trying different instructors until you find a favorite.
Lessonface lets instructors set their own rates—prices vary from about $15 to about $75 per 30-minute lesson. Established instructors with great reviews from other students typically charge the most, while bargains sometimes can be found by choosing instructors who have experience giving music lessons in the real world but who are new to these websites.
Live Music Tutor has fixed prices —$35 per 45-to-60-minute beginner lesson…$45 for intermediate…and $60 for advanced. Lessons for kids ages three to 12 cost $25 for 30 minutes.
YouTube Music Instruction Videos
Of course, if you just want to dip a toe in the water of an instrument, there are a vast number of free musical instruction videos on YouTube covering almost any instrument you can imagine, from the accordion to the zither. To find these, just enter the name of an instrument and the word “lesson” into YouTube’s search bar. Or enter music topics such as “music theory” or “reading music” along with the word “lesson.” The main downside to learning from videos is that there’s no feedback—the instructor can’t hear you play, evaluate how you’re doing or offer personalized suggestions about how you can improve.
With very popular instruments, there are so many instructors and lessons on YouTube that it can be challenging to choose. Among the best YouTube channels for learning three popular instruments…
Best for drums: Drumeo channel features hundreds of drumming instructional videos, from “Your Very First Drum Lesson” to lessons taught by successful recording musicians, such as Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, known for his work with Michael Jackson…and Kenny Aronoff, known for his work with John Mellencamp.
Best for guitar: GuitarJamz channel offers hundreds of excellent video lessons including both the basics—one video is titled “Absolute Super Beginner Guitar Lesson”—and more advanced topics, such as how to play blues licks. There also are videos about how to play many popular songs, including some within the abilities of virtual novices, such as Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
Best for piano/keyboard: PianoVideoLessons channel, established in 2011, provides an extensive and well-regarded series of free video classes. The videos are designed to be used in conjunction with an inexpensive eBook—the Unit 1 eBook containing the first 16 lessons costs $19 at Courses.PianoVideoLessons.com. No other online video tutors have the extensive material library and curated playlists offered here.
Alternative: Piano Keyboard Guide channel also offers a wide range of excellent free video lessons, no guidebook required. There are lessons for students who have never before sat at a piano up through lessons leading students through popular songs, with classics such as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and recent pop hits like Harry Styles’s “Adore You” and Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.”