The Locus Of Control: Why You Should Wait To Start Lessons

An article discussing the merits of being self-taught and why taking lessons early on can be detrimental.

Ultimate Guitar

There appears to be two general methods of learning guitar: taking lessons or being self-taught. History has proven that both work very well, each with their own pros and cons. But, what if there was a way to combine the two methods?

A musician's success is dictated by his drive to succeed and the responsibility he takes for his own progress. As musicians, it is essential for us to know that only we can decide our musical success. This is where learning through lessons fails. Learning through a teacher early on in learning an instrument creates what is known as an "external locus of control." 

Locus of control describes the degree to which individuals perceive that outcomes result from their own behaviors, or from forces that are external to themselves. A person with an external locus of control believes that the forces around him dictate his success and that action can do little to change it. This phenomena leads to the individual placing his responsibly for success on others, rather than himself.

When learning an instrument exclusively through lessons, it is easy to develop an external locus of control, (in regards to music at least) transferring the responsibility from the student to the teacher. This is problematic, as a teacher cannot practice the instrument for someone else; all they can do is offer guidance and monitor progress.

A person with an internal locus of control takes full responsibility for his life and believes that his actions control personal success. This mindset is optimal for achieving not only in music but in all other areas as well. A musician who is self-taught has to develop this mentality in order to succeed: there is no other way. There will not be anyone watching over your shoulder. No one cares if you succeed. No one but yourself. I believe that being self-taught during the early years is necessary in order to establish an internal locus of control.

Only once the locus of control has been established should you start lessons in order to learn what you were unable to teach yourself. I believe that for a guitarist to be successful, he must be self-taught at heart. It is important to learn from others, but there is a certain beauty in learning yourself and creating your own style. You have more freedom to choose what you want to learn. This is, of course, a double-edged sword, as it is very easy to neglect the necessities and less exciting aspects of music. However, if you maintain the discipline to do these things, you will be unstoppable.

About the author:Ryan Loftus is a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist from Philadelphia, PA, specializing in metal, rock and exotic music. Check out his Facebook page for more info.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is a nice article, though it's a bit general. I think it's definitely something that's decided on an individual basis- the fact that some people live through an external locus of control means they might never even pick up a guitar unless someone shows them how to use it properly. Myself, I've been playing on and off for 5 years (college years put a restriction on my practice time), completely self-taught, and I've recently discovered that I've plateaued in terms of skill and technique. It might be time to seek lessons, as you suggest, to reach that next level.
    Good article. I taught myself piano for 1 year, then guitar for another 1 year and I have been taking lessons since last October from a jazz guitarist. Amazing musician and teacher, and a really cool guy, I really dig him. Couldn't be happier, I have improved by leaps and bounds technically, but I laid a solid foundation on my own. I think that in this day and age, lessons are basically there to bolster your technical proficiency and teach you things you can't learn very well on your own (I am currently learning sight reading, for example).