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Learning A New Instrument: Should I Teach Myself?

Photograph of the blog post author, Ella Clarke

Ella Clarke

6.6.2022

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Learning A New Instrument – Should I Teach Myself?

We all remember our first musical instrument. For some of you, that may have come with the promise of lessons. However, there are many of you who may be unable to afford to do this. Therefore, embarking on the path of self-teaching may be something you are considering. When taking on a second instrument, the choice is still there, and still very relevant. The choice between having lessons and being self-taught should be one you do not take lightly, and will always boil down to personal preference. Do you want a specific structure in which you are expected to fulfil certain tasks with someone watching you closely? Would you prefer to pick and choose the content of each lesson and move at your own pace? Here are some areas you should consider before making a decision.

Cost

One of the most important factors in these economic times is cost. How much do you want to spend on music lessons? Lessons for piano and guitar can range from £20p/h to £100p/h. If you’re having weekly lessons, this can add up to a substantial amount over a year. Lessons will also mean you have to move at the teacher’s pace. If you try the self taught methods, then the main costs come from buying text books. You can purchase ones used by music teachers for practice purposes, but without the extra weekly cost for meeting up with someone. There are many free online courses that can easily be found by searching on Google, and they can be adjusted for any learning style. Remember, you get what you pay for, the better the teacher, the more they are likely to cost.

Preference

Having spoken to many people about when and how they learnt to play their instruments, it would seem that those who have been classically trained learned at a much younger age. Many of them also benefitted from paid lessons. These helped them to not only learn how to play the instrument, but also to understand music theory. Depending on the instrument you wish to tackle, it would seem that those used heavily in Classical music forms would benefit from being taught by a professional. However, those used more in Pop have less of a need, as they are often deemed to be more simplistic. Many may disagree with that statement, but have you tried playing a violin without any instruction?

Improvisation

This is an area that is not often thought about when choosing whether or not to have lessons. However, it is something worth contemplating if you are looking to write your own music. Individuals who have been classically trained have complained to me about not being able to improvise as well as those who have not. This is due to when they were trained, they were taught to play what was in front of them, and not deviate from what was written. This is partly due to the culture of classical music, compared to something like jazz where improvisation is used heavily.

If you do want to be taught, but not in a classical style, then it is up to you to find a teacher that will help you progress in a way that suits you. After all, it will be your career, not theirs. 

Technique

One thing teachers of music regularly hark on about is good technique. This can range from the mouth shape required for brass instruments or the finger movements for the stringed ones. The question would be whether you want to have ‘perfect technique’ or feel comfortable playing from the outset. For enjoyment, there is nothing worse than feeling awkward when holding your instrument.

Resources

There are almost unlimited resources for being both taught and self-taught. The Internet brought about the age of information and the music industry has thrived on it. Not just for promotion and record sales, but also for the progression of young musicians.

It is easy to find blogs and videos of musicians who want to help others in various genres and for a wide variety of instruments, as well as online music bookstores where you can find sheet music for beginners with step-by-step guides. Some of these resources will also be used by teachers, but in a specific structure. If you are looking to be graded for your work, then having a teacher would be more useful as they are more likely to know what the exam board are looking for and be able to prepare you for these tests. As with any exam, it is all about the preparation.

Summary

When making your decision, it all boils down to you. What do you want when learning an instrument? As with all choices, there are many factors to consider, and there is always the option to mix and match. If you are in a position to afford lessons, but are not attracted to the structured learning, then have a few lessons to get used to the instrument and pick up some key tips on technique, but then hit the shops and go online in your own time to find your style. Learning a second instrument seems like it should be easier having already succeeded with one, but different instruments require varying skills and knowledge, so my advice would be to seek at least a few lessons first, especially if the new instrument is totally different to your first – like attempting to play the trumpet after years of playing guitar.

Thanks, The Мusic Gateway Team.

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