The argument between staying true to oneself and getting an instructor has been heated since… well probably around the time of the Beatles. I’ve sat on both sides of this fight, and I think it stems from a couple different ideas.
1. We’re afraid – We are afraid of looking stupid in front of someone (even a teacher) – or that we can’t do it without a teacher. We’re afraid that we can’t afford to pay for a teacher. We’re afraid of a lot of things.
2. We don’t want to mess up “our sound” – In taking lessons, we are concerned we will start to sound like everyone else. We think we will develop habits and playing styles that are similar to other artists.
3. It costs too much to take lessons – Committing to a teacher can be expensive. It also will cost you a lot of time.
Each of these holds merit. Especially number 2 for me. I believe this has become an argument from a few examples each of us has found in our lives. The musician who has taken lessons is almost always… a little more painless to play with, the person who hasn’t taken lessons doesn’t know the rules. Therefore, breaks said rules and create something exciting (or at the very least interesting)
BUT BUT BUT!
But, this isn’t always true. In fact, most of the time, it’s not true. I know a lot of guitarists who have taken lessons, and they have a distinct style! This is true of singers and drummers and… we’ll I’m not going to list every instrument you can play – But of all of them.
Yes, the big question is… Will taking lessons curb your creativity? Most teachers will say, no. But they’re obviously biased.
I teach guitar, but I never took lessons growing up. Although I’m not saying that makes me overly-qualified to answer this question… this is my blog, so I’m going to give you my answer.
I have found that the answer is based on your personality. Which is a non-answer sure, but this is what I’ve determined, it’s entirely personal.
I know a lot of great musicians who are self-taught. Does this make them better than the person who took lessons since they were a child? No, hell no. I can tell you from my own personal experience that I wish I would have taken lessons when I was younger. I have had to unlearn some bad habits in singing and guitar playing. I know that having an instructor would have been a lot better for me. I can also tell you that I know I would have kept my own personal touch on playing.
I am pretty freaking stubborn.
If you have a good teacher, they’re going to help strengthen the thing that makes you who you are! They don’t want you to be a drone. But even the best teacher still sucks a little bit of that originality out of the student. Doing something the wrong way gives you a distinct sound! That’s just how it is!
BUT – Having that person to guide us is… well, I mean, I can’t deny that it isn’t pivotal for our growth.
I resist the urge to say – “well, but you can eventually get there.”
Is this a fact? Yes, but it really hurts us, and I think it’s kind of silly to stop a significant growth just because you want to stay true to your style, which probably isn’t very good in the first place. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
What should you do?
This is my advice. Take lessons, and be honest and upfront with what you like about your sound. I mean, that’s a pretty basic answer and a lot of us stop ourselves for some reason. If you’re still a relative beginner, this isn’t a big concern for you! But if you’ve been playing for five years and you are proficient at guitar, and your growth has significantly stunted. It’s never too late to start taking some lessons.
I want to break down some of the concerns that were listed at the beginning of the column.
“But I don’t want to lose my unique touch.”
This is a valid concern. Be honest with your instructor. If you like the way you sing, tell them what you like about your voice and ask them to help strengthen those aspects and improve the parts that you are struggling with.
“I want to have some natural grit in my voice. How can I keep this but have better technique.”
That is an entirely acceptable request from a vocal coach! Maybe they will tell you that’s not possible. Then you should change teachers!
I know this is a fundamental concept, but a lot of us don’t speak up, and it’s upsetting because you can tell them what you want to work on! I love it when my guitar students ask me to help them with a specific song, or even a fingerpicking style! Not every teacher is a good fit for you. It takes time to find the right teacher for you. Teaching styles don’t always match up with learning styles. We’re all growing. If you feel like it’s not a good fit for you, switch teachers!
“I can’t afford a teacher.”
I understand. I am a musician, we are ususally broke. But, we are also creative and can find other ways to pay for lessons.
insert prostitution meme
Okay, but seriously. This is worth the money that you’re putting into it! You’re paying to improve your craft. Watching youtube videos only gets you so far! You need someone to stop you and say, “you’re not doing it right. Here’s how you improve!” It is worth the money you’re investing in your future. I would even go as far as to say, if you’re not taking lessons… you’re not taking it seriously.
There are a lot of ways to make the little extra that you need to afford lessons. Tiny little 5 – 10 hours a week jobs we can take. I know that sounds crazy. But people do it all the time! Hell, if you’ve been playing for a while, you can teach beginner guitar!
“I’m too old to start now.”
Honestly, you’re not. It’s never too late to learn a new hobby! If you’re 30 years old and you’ve been playing since you were 13, it’s not too late to start taking lessons today. Even if you think you know everything, having a teacher significantly improves your technique.
I’ve never heard the sentence. I wish I didn’t take lessons. That probably has never been said out loud before.
Lastly, it’s okay to be nervous about performing in front of someone, even a teacher. It’s okay to be scared that maybe we just won’t get it. Almost everyone feels this fear and in the years that I’ve taught guitar. I’ve never once met a student who couldn’t learn. They always learn, and they always become comfortable enough to play in front of me. A good teacher just wants you to discover and improve! Sure, they have to judge you a little. But that anxious feeling you have when you’re playing, that comes from within you. That’s not to say it isn’t real. But a good teacher does not promote that kind of environment. Despite what you’ve seen on Whiplash.
Obviously, there is another way outside of taking lessons.
The DIY route – You are promoting learning in a raw format.
A teacher is very different than a mentor, for a quick (ish) post on mentoring, check out the link below.
I tried to take on everything by myself. There is real power in knowing that you can teach yourself to do anything! I mean it when I say that. I try not to be a proud person (I have a lot of faults), but I do feel a sense of pride when I say that I believe if I have time to learn, I can do anything. I wish I could look you in the eye when I tell you that I truly believe that you can teach yourself to do guitar, or sing, or… whatever the hell you want to do! You are incredible! I don’t mean that in the blanket statement… the overall warm fuzzy, positive mentality, Zig Ziglar bull shit that we post as a facebook status because we have nothing original to say.
Your ability to teach yourself is astounding. It is in the purest form of the word – awesome.
I would tell you this. Spend time learning from a teacher, then dedicate just as much time to learning how to be YOU as well. Start today on working both of these columns.
Having a teacher just makes everything so much easier! Not every teacher is a good fit for you. It is worth the time and money, I promise you! You will improve so much faster, you will fix bad habits. It will change you for the better.
So to answer your question – Yes, you should be taking lessons.
I will plug myself here.
As you may know, I teach guitar! I am always looking to help out new students. If you are interested, drop me a line in the comments. With the way technology works, we don’t even have to be in the same room! Crazy, huh? I keep my rates low and affordable, I’m even willing to work with pricing if you lack the $$$ (who isn’t?) I would love to work with you and share something that I can’t get enough of.