As musicians, we have all taken a different route to learning an instrument - some of us are self taught, others have received musical education whether at school or with a private tutor. Having met people with different backgrounds and been on both sides of the story myself, I have decided to look at positives and negatives of both self directed and guided learning to see how each of us can benefit from having a teacher and developing our skills based on our own initiative. I hope you enjoy this article and please feel free to share your thoughts and experience below - I would love to hear from you!
Pros & Cons of Self Teaching and Guided Learning in Music
Self learning is an excellent way to find your own personal style and direction. To me, the fact that somebody has decided to develop their musicianship without any guidance, instruction or encouragement from their parents or guardians, shows a genuine interest and drive in playing an instrument. Being able to use only the resources at your disposal and continuing to grow on your initiative and talent alone is really impressive and I think this kind of drive and ambition should be at the foundation of everyone's craft. While there are many benefits of having guided lessons, self taught musicians also have their own advantages.
Self teaching promotes freedom of expression
This is a very important aspect of self learning - when you find your own path to playing an instrument, you will usually gain a better understanding of yourself as an artist. Also, not having to follow a curriculum means that you have all the time in the world to learn a range of different techniques and even start writing your own pieces and find your unique style which is vital if you are aiming to become an artist. Most teachers will also have their own vision on how you should learn to play or which style of music is best and, unintentionally, this may sometimes have an effect on finding your own direction. Therefore, the freedom of expression and finding your own musical inspiration can really benefit you as a musician and an artist.
Greater initiative is needed to achieve optimum results
When you are teaching yourself, you have nobody else to rely on to motivate and push you as opposed to having a tutor. Your success or failure rely solely on your own initiative and hard work to achieve results, which is why I think self learning is somewhat harder as you need to be able to discipline yourself and a structure in place to achieve your goals. Having the required work ethic, drive and ambition may not always come naturally for some people, so if you have decided to learn something yourself, you may also need to work on your organisation skills, perseverance and growing as a person.
Your resources may not be as easily accessible compared to guided learning
This can be both good and bad, depending on how you look at it - yes, you may not have the easy access to the vast knowledge a teacher can instantly provide you with. On the other hand, being forced to find all the resources available at your disposal can, again, develop your work ethic and provide you with a greater variety of different inspirations, musical styles and ways of learning. If you are naturally good at finding all the information you need, this shouldn't be a problem, however, it may sometimes be good to have some guidance to point you in the right direction and add a little bit of structure to your learning process. Luckily, today we have plenty of resources available online and in the form of books and videos for beginner and more experienced musicians to find exactly what interests them.
Some very important details may be missed when teaching yourself
More specifically, I've noticed that a lot of self taught musicians have skipped, sometimes overlooked but nevertheless, important parts of playing such as theory and technical side of things. If you haven't, congratulations, because I have also rarely met anyone who is particularly passionate about the subject! Regardless, music theory gives you a great foundation and can help in becoming more dexterous when performing a range of pieces - it is usually a big part of guided learning. Similarly, reading music is also sometimes missed out as it can be quite complex to understand yourself or from resources available online. Although you can get by just fine without these skills, they can become very important in a band setting, working with other musicians and higher education.
There are many ways that having a teacher can benefit your learning experience and even accelerate how quickly and thoroughly you learn. A teacher provides you with a great amount of their own personal knowledge and will also introduce tried and tested learning techniques that may help you gain more understanding of the subject and develop your technique quicker. Many of us certainly have their music teachers to thank for where we are today and having the guidance of a motivating, inspiring and experienced musician adds many benefits to your learning experience.
Being able to learn from knowledgeable, experienced musicians is priceless
Money may be one of the reasons many beginner musicians or their parents, however, having a tutor even if it isn't as often as you may wish can really benefit your learning experience. They can offer their knowledge and skill to help you become a better musician through different means of helpful techniques, structured learning and professional guidance. It is always easier to learn from somebody else and you can apply their advice to your training and practice sessions. Aside from that, if you are learning to play within a group environment such as music school/college, you could also get inspired by other musicians and different perspectives and that most certainly benefits your own development. Being surrounded by a musical environment can keep you inspired and motivated to become better and create even more!
You may have a better grasp of technicalities and intricate details of your instrument and musicianship
One of the key aspects at the foundation of guided learning is providing you with vital musical knowledge like music theory, which is not always easy or as enjoyable to study on your own. A teacher would ensure you do not miss those important lessons that can greatly benefit your performance and enrich your musicianship. Being able to read music and knowing basic theory makes it easier for you to learn and play different pieces and also communicate with other musicians in a professional setting.
Pre-determined curriculums may sometimes shadow your creativity
Guided learning will typically have an approved curriculum in place by which the students are taught and then assessed on their skill, similar to standard school education. While this type of learning is a great way to acquire useful qualifications that are recognised by higher education establishments and employers, it can inhibit your own self expression and creativity. Not only is it because everybody is different and learns differently, being graded and compared to a certain standard of learning can sometimes be a little daunting. Also, having to constantly focus on the program set by the curriculum can make it easy to lose sight of your preferred style of playing and developing your individuality. This is, of course, preventable by making sure you leave some time to play what you like and apply the things you've learned in education to chasing your ambition. Having an encouraging and motivating learning environment is also crucial so make sure that your teacher inspires you to pursue and develop your craft.
Personal initiative is no longer your only driving force
Your teacher will be there to push you at times when you might lose focus which can be extremely helpful in making sure you don't give up on learning an instrument. However, it is important to make sure you also take initiative in learning to play and do not leave it up to anyone else. Remember to keep your eyes on the goal even if you don't have to do it all by yourself, as having the opportunity of guided learning should be used as a way to fuel your drive to become a better musician.
Taking the best of both worlds...
There will always be people who will support one way of learning over another whether it is self teaching or having lessons and that is because everyone has a different way of studying and we also have different circumstances that prompt us to learn an instrument through certain means. My personal experience, being classically trained in piano and self taught in singing leads me to believe that it is great to have a good combination of both whichever instrument you are learning. It's important to retain that initial drive that prompted you to play music, to make sure it doesn't become a chore if you are doing exams and attending regular lessons. Taking initiative in developing your skill can open many doors for you. Choosing the right teacher is also incredibly important, so if you don't feel like you are making enough progress or don't feel motivated enough with your current tutor, it is always worth having a look around for other options. If you have decided to learn yourself, make sure to research many different aspects of playing an instrument and improve continuously to ensure you possess the best possible knowledge. It might also be useful to have lessons even if they happen every few weeks so that you have somebody more experienced offering you some essential guidance and support.
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