Halford Guitarist Talks Pros and Cons of Being Self-Taught Musician: 'No One Is Actually Self-Taught'

"Will studying with a teacher or being formally trained stifle your creativity? Not from my experience."

logo
Ultimate Guitar
27

"Metal" Mike Chlasciak, prominent metal guitarist known for performing with the likes of Rob Halford, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Testament, Sebastian Bach, Axl Rose, Geoff Tate, and Bruce Dickinson, shared his thoughts on the everlasting guitar discussion - self-taught or guitar lessons.

In his Guitar World column, Mike focused on "the pros and cons of being a self-taught musician," sharing an interesting stance about nobody actually being self-taught. Check out what he had to say below.

"There's a certain level of pride many musicians feel when they claim they are self-taught, and I can understand why. They get a kick out of the fact that, by not taking 'lessons,' they discovered the ins and outs of playing an instrument on their own time, their own way, through their own skills.

"On the surface, this seems to make sense, but I don't buy it.

"Right off the bat, the topic is silly since I don't think anyone is self-taught. Let me explain.

"If you think about it, a self-taught musician would have his or her own way of tuning and holding the instrument. He or she would play unique scales and have their sense of meter. They wouldn't even know how to pluck the strings or how to string a guitar so that chord patters and scales can fall into place.

"In a nutshell, we all learned it from somewhere. It could be from a video, a friend, a music school or a combination of several outlets. Even if you saw someone strum a guitar and learned a few chords on the spot, you initially got them from somewhere. Even listening to music can help you learn about rhythm, melody and song construction. If you really were self-taught, your guitar playing would make Jimi Hendrix sound like a Juilliard 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're going to pick it up from somewhere, you might as well go to a great source. Allow the teacher (private or at a school) to guide you, bring out your strengths, save you time and accelerate your playing.

Answering another heavily-debated question, Mr Metal added, "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 your English. You study it from a reputable source and become great at it. You learn new words, new ways to put together sentences, etc. Can you still forget it all and talk like a caveman if you want to? You sure can. This is always your choice. No one is going to pull words out of your brain. Would it make it easier to know several ways to express a thought with the new words you've learned? Of course it would.

"By learning more, you have more choices, not to mention possibilities you didn't know existed. This is what learning about music theory (and how music works) is all about. Even if you refuse to learn music theory, merely studying with a teacher or jamming with someone better than you will open many doors. 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.

"The idea is to take new information and suck out the juice that is applicable 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 up to you," the article concludes.

So to all the guitarists out there - what are your thoughts on the matter?

Trending stories

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Joe310707
    Yeah I can see his point. Technically speaking all those who are "self taught" have had to gain information from other sources (artists, videos, books etc) However we aren't exactly spoon fed what to learn and how to learn like those who are "taught". I'm not saying it's a bad way and there's no right and wrong. I originally started as self taught but am taking lessons to help broaden my horizons, just a natural way to progress for me. Also I don't see how we have too much pride being self taught, if you can play it doesn't matter how you got to that level
    MegadethFan18
    People always bring up being self taught as if it's a really good thing. I've never had a guitar lesson but I didn't teach myself, I used YouTube lessons, this website/forum, Guitar Mags etc. If someone watches a Chris Zoupa video does that count as him "teaching" the solo since he breaks it down, plays it slow and puts it into tab or does it count as the viewer "self teaching" since they didn't pay him or directly interact with him? This guy is perhaps a little over the top though since most people have seen a person holding a guitar and that isn't really a lesson.
    austinm_95
    I think a lot of guitar players and musicians alike have different definitions of being "Self Taught". For the most part, I'd say people consider themselves self taught if they learned their instrument without the means of a teacher instructing them what to do. In my experience, I learned to play using chord/song books that came with my Squire Strat, does that make me self taught, or good at following an instruction manual?
    Dynamight
    "Self-taught" doesn't mean what this guy thinks it means. It just means you aren't taught by an instructor directly interacting with you.
    Downfall93
    Exactly. But even if you take his definition, saying NO ONE is self taught isn't true either. I mean, the way we hold the guitar and pick the strings is someone's way of doing it, and someone had to actually come up with it. And look at Marty Friedman, he is reportedly self taught, and he actually did come up with his own way of picking. And I remember him saying the way he learned the scales was that he chose certain notes over others searching for the right sound.
    hec_exe
    The article makes perfect sense to me, i learned on my own, no teacher. But i did learn from someone, call it videos or by just watching someone else play. It was harder because I have no guidance but I managed to pull it off. But since the moment you learn what tuning u r using, or what's the name of that chord u like a lot, or just how to use that only one scale you know n have mastered, all that is music theory like it or not, then why not to get knowledge from someone who actually knows, and who better than a teacher, it would be much easier and faster, it might be boring for some of us, yes, but isn't also boring practicing the same chord 'til we learn how to play it? Then if we can embrace that why not the other thing too? When i was younger I taught formal training was boring n i didnt wanna do it, now i wish I did because I find myself trying to learn something I could've already learned a long time ago. At least that's my opinion
    Dr.Cheese
    "self-taught" doesn't really make sense as a term, you can't give yourself new knowledge. Maybe self-educated or self-trained would make more sense.
    Joshua Garcia
    I have to disagree about how no one can ever be 100% self-taught. Like me, for example. I learned by playing one song at a time by ear. Just the song. No teachers, videos or anything to help learn that song. At first, I thought I was playing the song right using just one string. But then I learned to combine notes. And overtime, I begin to learn new techniques doing that (hammer-ons, pull-off's, slides, bends, etc.). Again, all by just using my ears. So would that not make me 100% self-taught? Or is there some hidden method of learning that I don't know about? Don't get me wrong though, a teacher would definitely be useful to me. Especially considering I have zero knowledge about chords, scales, theory, etc.
    Izzy-Sweet
    While he makes a good point, I think he's got the definition of "self-taught" a bit muddled up. I say that, but that definition will differ from person to person. For me, for example; it means reading a book. Despite that, I'd love to have someone create unique scales without ever learning anything properly, might lead to some musical genius. Or... you get what Lil' Wayne calls "guitar playing"... hmm, double edged sword.
    TheLiberation
    "Will studying with a teacher or being formally trained stifle your creativity? Not from my experience." And from my experience, for some people certainly yes. Unless you get a teacher who perfectly understands your needs which is pretty much impossible. Following his language parallel, people also have massively varying methods of learning languages, and while some are horrible at learning vocabulary but easily grasp grammatical structures (e.g. me), some are exactly the other way around and prefer to spend hours learning words which they might not even necessarily need but they need it for a feeling of order. If you force the former to learn the latter way, enjoy your spectacular disaster. Formal education doesn't work for everyone, and certainly not in case of music. Period. Poor choice of learning methods can murder one's interest in learning that thing early on. I like the guy and think he's a good guitarist, but this is just thinly veiled "formal education > all" preaching, sorry.
    HUNDuffman
    As a random jackoff on the internet, for practically no reason and with no counter arguments to back it up I hereby declare your most refined, well thought-out and nuanced opinion to be, by fiat, complete bullshit. Thank you.
    TheLiberation
    Congrats. What's it like to be a random jackoff on the internet wasting 30 seconds or so of your life to annoy people with your stupidity?
    Iommianity
    "I like the guy and think he's a good guitarist, but this is just thinly veiled "formal education > all" preaching, sorry." Even if you refuse to learn music theory, merely studying with a teacher or jamming with someone better than you will open many doors. 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. You don't have to be sorry, just right.
    TheLiberation
    Well, I'm certainly not wrong. And I have no idea what this quote has to do with anything I said, because it says something slightly different than the entirety of the article.
    murtoll
    Sounds like someone needs to justify an expensive musical education to me...
    Iommianity
    What justification do you need other than playing music you like? Learning theory just helps you better realize the music you hear in your head. You'd have to pretty cynical to have a problem with that, but eh, it's the internet.
    flameguitarcody
    This is kinda ridiculous, obviously no one just "Poof" I now know guitar, they learned it from somewhere. The Idea behind being self taught, is that they actually stuck with it dedicated time etc. into researching the ins and outs rather than having someone who has already been there and done that to hold their hand. It is far easier to lose your way when self taught rather than taught by a person because they are able to see your problems and help you correct them/find ways around them. Where a self taught person does not have this luxury. I believe Self taught in it's real meaning [as stated above] is much more difficult and thus would take more for lack of a better word "Skill" Which when you do finally get something down [completion of understanding not just being able to do a particular technique] you will have a far more better understanding than someone who took lessons because you know all the possible mistakes etc. through your trial and error. Where someone who has been taught more then likely only knows "what works" rather then what doesn't and why. But because of the same reason someone who takes lessons would be more versatile and know more techniques because they didn't waste time having to figure out what is right and wrong. TL;DR : thread is dumb because it tries to change the true meaning of "self taught". Self taught should have a better understanding of what they know where a lesson taught player should have a wider array of abilities at their disposal.
    Iommianity
    " thread is dumb because it tries to change the true meaning of "self taught". Self taught should have a better understanding of what they know where a lesson taught player should have a wider array of abilities at their disposal." The article is dumb but this reasoning adds up? Your entire point is based on the assumption that a guitarist who took lessons didn't make those same mistakes, or only knows 'what works'. Seeing as how that's patently false, what's your point again? Oh right, that you don't like his definition. It's almost like he had an entire article trying to justify his position, whereas you have what again? Oh yeah, people who take lessons are less skilled than those who don't. Makes sense.
    MaggaraMarine
    Great guitarists are all kind of self taught. I mean, sure, many of them did take lessons. But they didn't only learn from the lessons they took. They started exploring their instrument and doing their own thing on it. I think good musicians can also figure out things on their own. Teahcers are there to help with efficient practicing and good technique and that kind of things. But everybody needs to do the work by themselves. I think the language analogy on the article was great. Also, I would say music is one kind of language.
    eatfresh1736
    When people ask me, I tell them that I was self taught because I had no one to hold my hand and tell me "do this exercise, learn this bit of music theory, etc". BUT, I always clarify that I DID use a beginner's book or two, or checked out a few websites about theory. My own accomplishment was being committed to learning a totally foreign skill (to me) without a compass. It took me longer than someone with a teacher to fully understand some basic concepts in theory, and to learn some technical skills, but I did it eventually.I feel that because I wasn't regimented by a teacher, I wasn't pressured to learn at someone else's pace; that means that when I practiced and learned something, it was truly because I understood it, and wasn't just going through the motions that a teacher might have given me. That being said, I would never look down on someone who had a teacher. But I am still going to be proud of myself for learning the whole gamut - technique, styles, theory. I believe that theory is very important. Otherwise, you're just gambling when trying to be creative, when instead you could be using that knowledge to twist the path of your music. Whenever someone asks me why theory is important, I tell them "The greatest poets are known for their dedication to language and grammar. Yet, their works become famous BECAUSE they break the rules and conventions of language, grammar, and syntax. The best musicians aren't just the ones who dick around on their instruments. It's the ones that say 'I know how this progression [i]should go, but I'm going to do something else.' You can't break the rules, if you haven't learned them first."
    southernsoulo
    ok,,so instead of saying"self taught"to play,I just say "self educated" to play.Seems more semantical to me, but alright.
    Manovvar
    someone's ego has been threatened? if ya want to put it that way and go all deep into it, then yeah, everyone learn from something/someone...no sh1t... but to simplify...anyone, who's taken the time to learn things, BY THEMSELVES, is someone who taught themselves how to play...you can play like whoever you want, and model yourself to an exact replica of your fave artist, but YOU are the one who taught himself to play like that...that is all...it's so black and white that it must be an oreo...
    notevenklaus
    Wow, everyone who chimed in on this has written an article longer than the original! The guy is a guitar instructor (among other things) selling his trade. Duh. He's twisting language to essentially state the obvious. People learn from people. Nothing groundbreaking there, he's just trying to be clever.
    djc707
    People always object to taking lessons, saying "Well Hendrix couldn't read music!" Well sorry, you're not Hendrix. Go take a lesson.
    Gator81540
    There aren't any good teachers in Phoenix, therefore I am self taught. You know one? Message me.
    Iommianity
    If there's a way to take the steam out of someone's point, then you're damned right someone's going to try. I don't get what there is to take issue with, but I do think it's ironic that people have no problem playing to his point about the 'kick' they get, i.e an ego boost. Another irony is railing against music theory because you don't want to play 'what someone told you'. You can play any note over any chord and it will sound fine depending on your phrasing and the context. If people find it limiting, why can't they at least admit that that has everything to do with their approach? There's nothing wrong with not knowing theory, but why knock something you've either never attempted learning because of stigma, or you've never approached in the right way? Music theory is nothing more or less than an extremely logical and pattern based relationship between notes. You don't need to know theory to be a good guitarist. But if you don't believe that theory will make a good guitarist better, you're flat out wrong. So far, no one has actually challenged Mike on that point, confusing their own perception with reality.
    RTurner2886
    Marty Friedman actually did an interesting instructional video on how to build your own scales and become a unique musician. Basically, if something sounds good to the ear, it works, whether its a "real" scale or not. You just have to find what sounds good and make a pattern out of it. And i personally already did this myself when i first started playing. And for a while, i really was what he would consider "self taught". I laid the guitar across my lap and played it almost like a mix between between a lap steel and a piano when i was really young, and before i had internet to look up how to do things or instructional videos. I tried to learn entirely on my own, and i do really feel thats influenced my own creative style as a player. I have my own sets of skills and styles that are completely unique to me and how i play, that i picked up from no where but my own mind, and have stayed with me as i have become better and better as a player. Yes, you can teach someone to be a good player with scales and modes and such, but the truly phenomenal players are the ones who can pick up an instrument and create something entirely unique without anyone telling them how to do it. Just look at eddy van halen for instance. The weird shit he did with feedback, effects, and whammy bars was just completely alien to everyone back then. It was something he created. So in a sense, its not really "Self-teaching" ones self, its about learning a new form of expression, and finding a way of playing that comes from you, and not what someone told you to play.
    BVSocialClub
    I think the guy has a point. You could save yourself a lot of time by learning from a 'good source'. The time you save can be used towards practicing and discovering new ways of expressing yourself through the instrument.
    bdonovan
    Don't listen to this polak. No one ever "taught" me which hole to stick it in. That chick had to find out the hard way.
    macca163
    whatever, I self taught then had lessons and I am still effing ashamed of how shit my playing is
    metaldalz
    This is dumb as F@#~k first of all, if you learn by watching somebody, or listening some songs, NO ONE is teaching you nothing, you ARE learning, but no one is there to guide you, and that's basically what "teacher" means, some one to guide you through, so you are learning by your self, and that means you are "self-taught". Being taught can make you a better guitar player?? you may know more things, a few techniques, but that doesn't makes you better, MANY of the great guitar players in History were "self-taught" John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Clapton, Hendrix" I think it's all in you, if you have what it takes, then you'll learn anything, if some one is there for you that only makes it "faster" but in NO WAY makes you better. You want to be better?? then PRACTICE, that's what makes you better, it's all in how much time you dedicate to your guitar playing. PRACTICE makes you better.
    Iommianity
    It's not a matter of practice, it's a matter of practicing the right things. I guarantee you I would make more progress than you with 30 minutes of structured practice a day than directionless jamming for hours. But then again, I'm not sure we're having the same conversation if you compare some of the guitar genius' of the 20th century to the average player. I mean, how dumb is it to ignore the guy's point about jamming with other people and learning from them? You don't think any of those guitarists you named picked something up from jamming with other guitarists and their heroes? It's naive as shit to think Jimi didn't learn anything from anyone, let alone from jamming from other musicians, and if the guy was still alive he'd probably laugh. Then again, you think a teacher is just someone who guides you.
    javi.batres.5
    I think is right, in some way. I consider myself self-taught, because I never got lessons or attended a music school. No one ever told me how to read a tab, yet I figured it out myself. No one told me about different tunings, and I figured it out myself. But, he is true in the fact that you learn the songs from other people who has tab them, people that made the original music, artist you see in a dvd and you pick some of their traits and make them your own... And in any case, I really want to have lessons. Been playing for almost 15 years, and I think there's a limit to what you can do for yourself. It's time for theory.
    Nero Galon
    I consider myself internet taught. Everything I have learnt has come from internet interactions, i've never actually jammed with another person IRL or had any tips etc.
    Dokkie
    Well he has some good points, but it is still a very black and white way of looking at it. Some musicians get some fundamental knowledge on how to do things (Tunings how to hold your fingers and other basics etc), and from there they develope their music/playing style. Of course everyone gets help and inspiration, but at the same time they find out their own way to do it. - and here they might miss some things they could learn with a teacher. The problem with a teacher can be, that they often learn you how to play an instrument they way THEY do it. You don't always go through the same journey of development in that progress. Personally I think it is a good thing to learn things yourself - I Believe there is a bigger chance to create something new and twisted that way. Something unique. - not that schooled musicians can't be unique though.. Cheers!
    Floyd Phoenix
    It's weird, all the guitarists that appear on greatest guitarists lists and the like always claim to be self-taught, so there might be something in not having a teacher, but having someone to teach you must help I would think...
    Smegal
    I beg to differ. Scales exist because musical theory. They work because they flow, the changes make sense. I learnt basic scales without resources because the progression of notes sounded good, I later learnt this was a penatonic scale. Someone had to be self taught to start the instrument, the same mechanisms can be discovered without training, but lets face it, training is VERY useful and can teach you all the things, self teaching, unless you are a musical genius with intuition of a god, you will liekyl get bad habits and only get a minor understanding of few things. However they can still be self taught.