Being Self Taught vs. Taking Lessons

It’s amazing how many brilliant, self taught guitarists there are out there.  From Andrés Segovia to Jimmy Page, it seems that consistently, the innovators are the ones who didn’t take guitar lessons.  The ones who did something new and different, and went on to great success.  They may have had a couple of months of lessons in the beginning when they learned some basic chords and the like.  Or they had friends and family show them a few things.  But you don’t go from that to playing the solo in Heartbreaker without spending a lot of time figuring stuff out on your own.

So with that being the case, it begs the question: why take guitar lessons?  Or put another way, if you’re just as likely to be a trailblazer whether or not you take lessons, what’s the use in studying with a teacher or going to a music school like Berklee College of Music?  Obviously I’m overstating the insignificance of lessons.  From where I stand, even though I had a strong musical background before taking guitar lessons, I really, really needed them.  There’s just no way I would have ever gotten to the level I did without teachers helping me out and showing the way. 

But on the flip side, having a teacher or going to college to study music can put you in an environment that limits you creatively.  When you’re at a music school, everyone gets the same education.  From a music schools point of view, it’s more fair that way, and everyone is on equal ground.  It’s one of the ironies of music education however.  In any creative field, whether it’s music or art or anything else, you’ll stand out more if you’re unique.  And that’s a good thing.  There already is a Dave Matthews; we don’t need another (nothing against Dave!).  Not that anyone forces you to sound a certain way, but when you all have the same teachers, the same courses, and the same graduation requirements, there’s more of a chance you’re all going to sound the same, or at least similar.  

Self taught guitarists make their own discoveries.   They don’t hold themselves to a set curriculum.  Sure, they’re listening to recordings of others and figuring out guitar licks, but it seems that they often go beyond their influences and forge their own style.

Teachers, however, can help speed things up for a student.  What might take you months to figure out on your own, may only take a few weeks to get down working with a teacher.  A teacher can point out mistakes you’re making, show you a better fingering for how to play something, and encourage you when the going gets tough.  They can give you material to learn that you may not have been aware of, broadening your horizons. 

Everyone works to find his or her own way when it comes to learning guitar.  In the end though,  it doesn’t matter how you learn, as long as you get to where you want to be.

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