Is Anyone Really Self Taught?

Here is a topic that is much discussed in the music circles. It is the idea of being a self-taught musician and also the possible pros and cons of it.

There is a certain level of pride that many musicians carry with them for being presumably self-taught and I can understand why. By considering themselves self-taught some take pride that by not taking “lessons” the ins and outs of playing an instrument were found on their own time, by their own skills. On the surface this seems to make sense, but I don’t buy it.

Now, to me, the topic in itself off the bat is fairly silly since I do not think that anyone is ever self-taught. Let me explain.

If you think about it for a second, a self-taught person would have their own way of tuning and holding the instrument, their own scales and a sense of meter. They would not even know what to use to pluck the strings or how to string a guitar so the chord patters or scales fall properly in place. Would they even know strings existed? This is just a beginning. In a nutshell, we all learned it from somewhere. It could be a video, a friend, a fable, a music school or a combination of several outlets. Even if you saw someone strum a few chords and learned a few … initially, you got them from somewhere. Even listening to music can surely be a way of learning about rhythm, melody or song construction. If you really were self-taught your guitar playing would make Jimi Hendrix sound like a Julliard professor.

Think about this. This is great news. By knowing this, you could open up the previously shut doors to the idea of studying your instrument with great teachers. The point is – if you are going to pick it up from somewhere, you might as well go to a great source. Allow the teacher (private or at school) to guide you, bring out your strengths and save you time with their invaluable input and accelerate your playing.

Will studying with a teacher or being formally trained stifle your creativity? Not from my experience. Think of it this way. Imagine you decide to brush up on the English language. You study it from a reputable source and become great at it. You learn many new words, ways to put together sentences that flow and many other amazing things. Can you still forget all about it and talk like a cave-man? You sure can. This is always your choice. No one is going to pull out words from your mouth. Would it make it easier to know several ways you can express a thought with variety of new words you learned? Of course.

You see, by learning more you now have choices and possibilities you did not know existed. And, this is what learning about music theory and how music works is all about. Heck, even if you refuse to learn music theory, just studying with a teacher or jamming with someone better will open up many doors for you. A new riff you picked-up from someone can inspire you to write the greatest song of your life. What you do with it is completely up to you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against a musician who decides to “teach” himself or herself how to play. As a matter of fact, most of my favorite guitarists were not formally schooled. I don’t care if you go to school for music. What I’m saying is that since we all learn from somewhere, sometimes we can accelerate our learning and playing ability by having a coach or a teacher. This is exactly what happens when a top golfer or a football teach needs to win championships. Even if you are a top athlete you still need someone to offer a different perspective and see if you are getting stuck in a rut somewhere, where you make mistakes. This can be applied to music. I just want you to entertain the option.

The idea is to take new information and suck out the juice that is important to the way you want to play the instrument. When you do that, the new information is super valuable. Don’t close your eyes to new info and ways to absorb it – embrace it. The rest is truly up to you.