Self-Taught Musician: Pros and Cons

All the ups and downs of learning music on your own.

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Ultimate Guitar
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I've seen a fair bit of debate recently on the topic of whether self-taught musicians can ever reach the level of their professionally-educated brethren, how long it would take them comparatively, what they need to do to get their, et cetera. But this debate always seems to devolve into opinionated conflict. The self-taught crowd takes on an air of independence, spouting ill-conceived lines like "You're just following your teacher's instructions because you don't have the skills to actually choose your own learning path." From the professionally-schooled crowd, it usually takes on a monetary overtone, something like, "Why do you think lessons are so expensive? I pay as much as I do because there are things you can only learn from a teacher. You'll never master your instrument if you don't take lessons from someone who knows those secrets." What often gets lost in this all-too-quickly degenerating debate, is the actual answer to the question, "Can a musician legitimately become as professional without a teacher as one would with a teacher?" As a self-taught professional musician myself, my own personal experience says, "yes." HOWEVER, there are, again in my own personal experience, certain steps that the self-taught musician must follow of their own accord. These steps are the same steps that a teacher bases his or her lesson plan around, but does not often share with the student. In the following video lesson, I explain this four-step program in-depth, and it should enable an aspiring self-taught musician to improve just as much as any professionally-taught musician. Enjoy!
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93 comments sorted by best / new / date

    spiff-corgi
    As a self-taught musician, I have to say I would probably be a lot better if I had a professional teacher. The only thing that held me back from getting a tutor was that I wanted to learn at my own pace and not turn my hobby into work.
    manyscissors
    yes! I realised that everything I did at school/in lessons became immediately less enjoyable than i would otherwise find it because of deadlines and often doing things i don't like. I couldn't let that happen with guitar
    jebus44
    I'm in the same boat as you. I had Sax lessons in school, and while I liked playing it, I never learned all the awesome sax stuff like blues pieces. It was all classical music which just doesn't translate well to sax. I picked it up again after 2 years of not playing and teaching myself guitar and piano, and voila, I'm loving it. Playing what I want to and all that. However, the techniques I would have never been able to teach myself.
    K33nbl4d3
    Personally I need a teacher primarily because of my own faults: I can't commit to focused learning, so I need something that I essentially have to work on.
    Wininacan
    Everyone is a self taught musician, you cant put knowledge into someones head if they don't want to let it in. Teachers simply offer guidance and motivation.
    MaggaraMarine
    This. Teachers only tell you good ways to practice and give you feedback. You are the one that practices and learns things. People who say you lose your style if you get a teacher, no you don't. Everybody has their own style because they have different influences. A teacher doesn't learn stuff for you. You still learn it. But a teacher can see if you are doing something wrong or you actually sound terrible when you think you sound awesome. Teacher isn't going to change your style. Teacher only gives advice and can tell you if you are doing something wrong. That's not what books and youtube videos can do.
    Ishiga
    I noticed when I was taking lessons that learning was most definitely work; However, I've also noticed that while it's more relaxed and a bit more fun to learn on my own, learning from a teacher had a better payoff. It was work but it was well worth it and I wound up having much more fun in my free time playing on my own as a direct result of the work my teacher made me do. It's been years since then though. I think some are meant to learn on their own, others to be taught, but everyone could benefit from trying both. If you already know some stuff, learn a few tips and get some insight from an instructor and carry that wherever the hobbyist in you wants to take it.
    GodzillaRAWRRR
    To be honest I don't think there is a such thing as a "self taught" musician I mean if you're using the internet for lessons you're still getting lessons just not paid ones.
    philip.hausner
    You have any info on how to self teach guitar? like websites or books that may have helped you learn sheet music?
    NeilTheDruid
    You hit the nail on the head there mate. I took lessons for 10 years between the age of 6 and 16. By the end it nearly knocked my love for music (never mind the instrument) out of me. Although, I'm 26 now and looking back I'm glad I stuck with it for as long as I did. It gave my a grounding that would have taken a lot of figuring out otherwise.
    Sir_Taffey
    I am self taught and haven't stopped regretting not getting a teacher. I am one of those people that learns very quickly (not blowing my own horn) and have absorbed and taken in everything I have found. But it all lacked direction and guidance. A friend of mine was also self taught, now has a teacher for technique and playing and another for theory and application and is now miles ahead of me. His improv is so much better and it seems to me having a teacher would make you better by miles
    KevinGoetz
    It all varies from person to person. There are literally more factors involved in learning speed than I can list off, everything from life circumstances to genetics to even diet. It's good to compare yourself to other musicians as a reference point, e.g. "They're there, I'm here, let's start moving toward them." But when you start comparing progress rates like that, you're only setting yourself up for needless disappointment.
    Elintasokas
    You know, he might just be a more talented musician than you.
    KevinGoetz
    Meh, talent's actually a bit of a myth. But that could be a whole other video in and of itself.
    Elintasokas
    Maybe, but I am 99% sure talent exists. Some people just learn ridiculously fast, others never get particularly good even if they practice for 10 years. This applies for pretty much everything.
    mattjamesrenn
    i was like that for years and just stagnated, but it's all about practice the right way. When I started to do this both physically and mentally it really does wonders.
    shawnkenneth
    Many self taught musicians have picked up the instrument because they discovered that they have a passion for it.. While most (Most, not all) professional musicians are made to learn the instruments at an early age, usually by the parents.(Feel free to disagree). Self taught musicians are obviously the ones who would try to develop their skills experiment more, create new sounds etc. as compared to their counterparts.
    MaidenRules95
    I agree, most of the guitarists I've personally known in my area that took lessons don't progress at a noticable rate, as opposed to the self taught ones who are trying to progress as much as possible. I wish I could say as a self taught guitarist that I was progressing at a noticable rate, unfortunately I've slowed quite a bit on that front
    Mouloudo
    I think it's safe to say that most famous guitarists are self taught, and most session men are educated, so for me it's a no brainer lol
    Kueller917
    Age is probably a factor. Someone young would probably go with a teacher with some coercion from parents or school options, but someone going to study in high level education usually has to have a passion for that instrument to spend years solely learning it.
    Djaydjay
    most so called self-taught musicians don't deserve that name, they are actually taught by a cheap-ass teacher: the internetz. They didn't learn on their own. In that regard, most of the positive sides of self-teaching (creating your own techniques, being more creative, experimenting more, etc...) don't really apply to that kind of self-taught imo
    jacobm3412
    Guthrie Govan is self taught so I am sure that it can work (but then again not everyone is Guthrie Govan). I think being professionally trained makes it more likely that you will become an amazing guitarist.
    nargoth
    Pretty sure guthrie learned theory at school and A levels though, and studied heavily independently
    haifisch234
    Even the best teacher in the whole world couldn't help when a guitar player doesn't heave enough motivation to develop his/her playing. So after all it doesn't matter much whether you are self-taught or not. The most important thing is to develop an own style of playing, own characteristic sound etc., a teacher won't help you with it much.
    0ld H1pp1e
    It literally takes thousands of hours of practice to master the instrument. If you are unwilling to do that, it don't matter who your teacher is. Totally agree...
    Human371
    Totally, you just have to have the discipline. You can seek the same information out whether you have a formal teacher or not.
    fin ramage
    Jimi Hendrix, nuff said.
    seanjtysoe
    Why do people think this guy is such a great guitarist? He sucks. Just cause he played stairway to heaven which is one of those songs that everyone likes for whatever reason doesent make him a good guitarist.
    Elintasokas
    The thing is, you CAN have teachers without having a teacher. Just open youtube and search whatever topic and you will find lessons on it. And it covers almost every single topic. I've learned all the same theory from the internet/books you can learn from a teacher and I get to decide what to learn and when. The downside is I can't ask "is this how I should play this?" so it requires more common sense.
    HGF
    self-taught for 11 years now. for me it all comes down to reach a more personal style (I'm not saying you can't do that taking lessons, but it seems easier for me jamming on your own for hours to get that). Big con for me is the lack of techniques you forget to master, but everything is possible (I started soloing this year)
    Mouloudo
    man you needed 11 years to start soloing? lol, that's the first thing I tried to do when I picked up a guitar
    K33nbl4d3
    I think balance is important: a teacher is incredibly useful to have to start out, to avoid bad habits and to improve technique, but obviously they can't be expected to make you a good guitarist.
    seanjtysoe
    what the beep? 11 years to start soloing? I'm self taugh Ive been playing seriuosly for a couple of years and have no problem playing satch, yngwie, etc. My god if its taken that long to start soloing is it worth even playing an instrument.
    thechaostheory
    Now that you have mastered soloing perhaps you should master modesty. I here that gets even more girls (or guys) than soloing does.
    0ld H1pp1e
    I am mostly self-taught. But in my past I had a teacher who really helped me break the log-jam in my playing. He was a former studio musician who had fallen on hard times, living in the back of a truck camper and was willing to tutor me for the cost of a six-pack. I know I would not have progressed at the rate that I did without his teaching. With his teaching, I had a ton of "Aha!" moments. Rest in peace Mark Edward Harrington-Hauser III.
    i_am_metalhead
    Neither way is wrong or right. Some of the "best" guitarist out there are self-taught and have never had any kind of lessons or formal education. It's all about how dedicated a person is to learning. The only thing a teacher can do is give you material to practice that you would otherwise have to find on your own and give you advice on how THEY prefer to do certain things. It's all about whether or not you're willing to put in the extra effort required to teach yourself or not.
    av0n
    I dont like those kind of articles. Introduction, and there you go, a Youtube-Video. I want to read sometimes. Not watch a guy talking to me, regardless of whether the content is good or not.
    Shooterismydog
    been playing a long time and it doesn't matter if you get a teacher or not, it's really about what you're trying to accomplish with your guitar playing. Not everyone wants to be Satch or Yngwie. Some, (more than others) just wanna play a little diddy around the campfire and have sing alongs. The ones that want to be Satch and Yngwie (i wanna be paul gilbert when i grow up), it comes down to a matter of either you have it, or you don't. Teacher's can't give enough lessons or tips to overcome someone with low motivation, or lack of musical ability. We all know that some of us have "it" and some of us don't.
    Superstrat101
    For me its time. I'm completely self-taught, but would definitely be better if I had a structured practice regiment or habits passed on to me from a teacher. I just play when I want to, which ends up not being alot these days lol
    sikorad15
    I am self taught. Really didnt use the internet except for chords (from this site lol) I figured it all out without a teacher. I wouldnt say one is better than the other. I think there are people who need teachers and people who would be horrible with a teacher. I could have had a teacher, but i didnt want to go to or pay for lessons when i could figure it out myself. I (modestly speaking) am better than anyone i personally know. I am self taught but Im giving lessons to a few friends of mine. But in the end, like all things in music, its personal preference. If you want to figure it out yourself than thats whats best for you. If not than get some lessons.
    thebigredjj10
    The end result is all that matters really. It doesn't matter how you got there, whether it was through instruction from a teacher, experimental self teaching, lesson books, or group learning the end result is all that matters.
    OwenNinjah
    As a self taught Metal guitarist at the young age of 16, I can honestly say that while my progress doesn't quite match those who have been playing for similar amounts of time (4 years on the fretboard), I do find the instrument a lot more enjoyable to them. They run through their exercises and scales and their playing style isn't very expressive. Whereas my style is somewhat unique in comparison, despite playing the same instrument. I find that self taught musicians are more creative and more open minded to experimentation (for example, I put my 6 string LTD down to Drop E to experiment with some riffs in that tuning and utilising different keys, and my friends who have been professionally taught at the low cost of $1200 a semester thought that to be a terrible idea and stick with their standard tuning)
    brickman550
    you can create your own e language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons.
    derpdragon
    I personally think that if you are self taught you should learn by playing with other musicians, of all levels too, not ones just better than you. In my 10 years of experience I've learned just as much from playing with other people as I have from lesson from a teacher or read in a book/online.
    xgispert
    I also had a teacher for about six months and ever since then I have taught myself everything I know. I'm not very big on Theory. I have like 5% knowledge on it. Been playing for about 3 years and all I do is play harder and harder songs. I'm just barley getting into songwriting.
    brickman550
    you can create your own e language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons.
    brickman550
    you can create your own e language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons.
    brickman550
    you can create your own e language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons.
    brickman550
    you can create your own language too,but you,ll only be able to talk to yourself. The language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons. I have to say that in most cases you will absolutely benifit from having a compitent teacher.
    TreyTaylor
    I'm a self-taught musician, and through it I have learnt how to tell what notes are played through ear as well as scales etc. for free instead of paying. It's taken three years to do so and that is the set-back of being a self-taught musician. With a teacher you'll get their quicker, however you're most likely to mimic their style. my suggestion is to do both. Get taught all the theory and learn the practical for yourself.
    brickman550
    you can create your own e language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons.
    brickman550
    its the difference in being a guitar player and a musician that plays guitar,you can create your own language but you,ll only be able to talk to yourself.The language of music has already been invented [even if is theory]. You might pick up an instrument and stumble across some ways of making pleasant sounds,and even become good at mimicing the sounds of others,but to speak the language you have to learn the language.The only question is whether or not to take formal lessons. There are self taught guitar players,but there is no such thing as a self taught musician.
    brickman550
    i dunno why my post got broken up and posted half dozen times! I think it had something to do with the security gone haywire. I cant delete so if someone could remove most of them that would be good :] If I could I would keep only the one just before this one
    JESUSFREA343
    I have to side with the teachers group. I am extremely musically inclined (5+ years of lessons and teaching myself other instruments) yet I became a better guitarist in 1 year than my relative did in 14 years. Although this is pretty much a relative argument; it depends on your outlook on the whole debate. Rock on, UG World! BTW why a pokemon hat?
    British_Steal
    I like self taught students because they usually are able to go figure things out on their own rather than having to be spoon fed every little detail.
    dobrologist
    It comes down to the work ethic of the person learning. Some have no choice because of geography - there may not be a teacher handy. I had to self-instruct - I'm missing my right index finger and could not find a 3 fingered teacher. I can't hold a pick and do everything fingerstyle, a practical style for the self taught.
    Ruark
    There can be a BIG difference between teaching yourself, EVEN with the internet, and taking lessons or classes. The difference is structure and discipline. The teacher will provide you with specific, focused exercises and assignments that require you to practice specific things at least X number of minutes or hours per day, even if that's not what you want to play. Many, if not most, players don't have this kind of self-discipline. That's why you have so many people with guitars in their bedrooms for 25 years and still can't play.
    mbself73
    I'm largely self taught. But I don't know how "self-taught" any of us really are. We are all, however, self-motivated. I could go to Berklee, take what I already know, apply myself to the very edge of my ability to focus and would walk out a MUCH better guitarist than I could have on my own in a much shorter timeframe than is possible independently. On the other hand, I could go, screw off for a few years and come home no better or no worse. I wouldn't trade my "self" taught experience for anything, but I would literally dive at the chance to attend a place like Berklee or GIT.
    Clarkinator
    In regards to lessons/no lessons I feel like I got a bit of both worlds. I only took lessons for about six months, but it really got me started with the basics (learned all the chords, power chords, the pentatonic scale and how to restring a guitar). After that though, I went on my own which has its advantages. It is nice though to get some instruction from a pro when you first start out to learn the basics quicker. Plus my guitar teacher was really cool and that motivated me to learn quicker.
    INSULIN
    lessons cost too much -all you need is a guitar-tuner and learn chords .geez .lessons are wasting money .hell I teach people for free.
    Saverain
    I'm self taught and I can tell you right now, if you ever and I mean ever get the chance to be taught instead, atleast by a professional. Take it.
    cmvideo
    You can absolutely become proficient being self taught (and I am a guy who took years of lessons). HOWEVER, you need to be motivated and disciplined enough to still put in the time and effort to learn certain concepts on your own. If you don't learn any music theory, you will absolutely hit a wall with your playing. But how you learn that theory and your technique is up to you. In general though, you will get from point A to point B in your playing if you have someone to help show you the way.
    thebigredjj10
    I'm a bit of both. I've taken formal lessons for electric/ acoustic guitar in Rock/ Blues/ Metal/etc, fingerstyle acoustic, electric bass for jazz/ rock/ funk, double bass for jazz/ classical, some voice for jazz, and piano for classical/rock. Most of those I did for small periods in between periods I would teach myself. I found I made the most progress self motivating myself and doing my own practice routines and learning my own way. Where I found lessons extremely helpful was getting off the ground at the very beginning, tightening up sloppy/ lazy techniques, and getting me over humps in my playing. Still, to some it appears as if most of my learning to play music was through training, but in reality it was 85-90% me teaching myself and the last part just focusing on a few key areas.
    cmjohnson63
    I guess I would consider myself self-taught. There are many times I wish I had a teacher to help me more with music theory and avoid the bad habits I have gotten myself into over the last 17 years. So many people have come up to me and heard me play a little riff and start jumping up and down saying "oh teach me how to play .please please" and so I would show them something basic and they would just give up after 5 minutes. My point is what matters most is how much time and effort and devotion you put into the instrument. Self taught or teacher taught your not gonna learn it all in a day or month or even a year.
    AlexOfFeenix
    Self taught and never really wanted lessons because of how formally you learn... I like to jam with friends and find new sounds and techniques that work for us. Now I'm in a band and we're doing well whilst I learn theory and performance at college.
    AwesomeOne3
    I am a self taught musician, but i do need professional help. It will help me as a musician.
    Smokey McPot
    i can tell from peronal experience that in order for you to achieve certain techniques and learn how to apply them to a song you have to work by yourself in any case. the teacher shows you a technique and maybe shows a few tricks how to simplify a certain lick and learn faster. i studied guitar in music school when i was 7 to 14 years old and it gave me such a vast library of techniques that at the time i finished the school, i didn't know what to do with them. and it took me a few years (and still developing to this day) to know what those tings mean in practise. and this could only be done by yourself and playing with your friends, bands, listening to music etc. ...10 years after i finished the school, i can tell you, that one thing wouldn't work without the other.
    paul.j.monk.3
    I am technically classified as a "self taught" musician, but that's not necessarily true. While I've never had formal lessons, my experiences playing with other musicians, watching other bands, and having peers that were superior in some aspect or another have taught me a whole bunch. Good musicians, self taught or not, pick up tricks from the musicians they are around. Lessons are certainly useful, but if you are an observant person, every show you go to is a lesson.
    Satrianifan281
    I think there should be an equilibrium. You should teach yourself a lot and make discoveries through that, but you should also have someone as guidance for other important aspects such as theory and making the most of practicing.