As an aspiring musician who’s planning to have a successful career, one the first things you need to do is outline your learning options. With the advancement of technology, there are more varied options from which you can choose. They are also more accessible than they were a few years ago. This means you can now choose what’s best for you without restrictions.

Taking a look at some of the successful musicians of our day, you will notice that they each have their stories of how they went up the ladder in their careers. Some started when they were young, others when they were older. Some went through formal training, and others did not.


We must first appreciate that there are many successful musicians who say that they are self-taught, as described below:

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Prince – three of the all-time greats – all claim to be self-taught guitarists. Even John Lennon and Paul McCartney were largely self-taught musicians. More recently, Californian R&B sensation Banks confesses to have learnt to play the piano by writing songs with the toy keyboard that was a gift from her mum when she was 14. These are only a few of many examples. Via The Conversation

man playing the violin
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Opinions vary on this subject – some people advocate for it, while others disagree. However, it would be good to understand the success of self-teaching through research findings. The following report gives us some insight:

Interestingly, a 2013 study by Peter MacIntyre and Gillian Potter of guitarists and pianists linked informal practice (self-teaching) with heightened motivation to play music, ranging from formal recitals to informal jam sessions.

Furthermore, those that learnt their skills via informal practice were more inclined to write and create music. Indeed, more guitarists than pianists came from informal practice backgrounds. Via The Conversation

So what really happens when someone is going through self-teaching? Why does it seemingly work better than formal training? The answer may lie here:

Research over the past few decades has demonstrated the advantages of learning a skill implicitly: that is, to learn a skill without conscious awareness of the underlying processes of what is being learnt. Via The Conversation

lady playing the piano
Image Courtesy of Flickr

There are several stories that support this ideology, both in the world of music and in other professions. You could probably think of it as “on-the-job training”. A person that acquires these skills will be just as good as the one who taught him or her without going through formal classes.

Looking into the matter through the eyes of research, we see that there are advantages associated with it as follows:

Importantly, the advantages of acquiring a skill implicitly (as opposed to explicitly) are clear. Research shows that complex motor skills acquired implicitly are more durable under pressure (performing in front of an audience for example), as the likelihood of consciously controlling movements is reduced. Via The Conversation

Formal Music Classes

Before you discard going for actual lessons and getting formal training in music, you might want to look at the advantages of taking music lessons. The first thing you will learn in a good formal setting is the “underlying processes” mentioned in the post above. This is called music theory.

Music theory is the foundation on which music is developed and although many musicians today may not know music theory, it is an added advantage when it comes to creativity. This is not only the case when playing an instrument, but also in other forms of music like rap, as explained below:

With even a basic knowledge of music theory, which can be done in only a few days at the minimum, you can learn effective musical skills that will benefit your compositions. Skills like counterpoint, harmony, how to read musical score, etc., will help improve your music. Of course, if you really want to improve and make an impact in hip-hop or rap, you will need to learn as much as you can and apply your skills efficiently. Via Boyz Record

lady playing the cello
Image Courtesy of Vimeo

The following research findings explain more about the impact of learning music theory among students enrolled in formal music education:

The research concludes that music theory is highly important to Level 3 music technology students, but that not all elements of music theory is as essential. Also, given the vast difference of theoretical knowledge between students, the risk is run of a classroom experiencing a split between those with music theory knowledge and those without. If all students have a basic understanding of music theory, a common language and framework is created that can encourage collaboration. Finally, a lack of music theory knowledge can inhibit a student’s future achievements. Via Sam-Bennett

A Better Deal

So what about combining these two ways of learning and gaining the advantages of both sides of the spectrum? If your aim is to become a polished and creative musician, you may want to consider being one with the freedoms and creativity associated with being self-taught, yet having the solid foundations of music theory. This is probably the future of music learning!

Featured Image: Image Credit

BAD HABITS Self-Taught Guitar Players Make | PLAYING VS PRACTICE Part 4 ~ Kelly Richey

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Bad Habits of Self-Taught Guitarists, Part Three: Faulty Fingering

self-taught-and-formal-learning-1In my 30+ years as a guitar instructor, I’ve seen it all. Some students come to me after having tried to teach themselves to play, using YouTube and other online sources, but no professional instruction. More often than not, they’ve picked up some bad habits along the way that will get in the way of their progress and goals. In my new mini-series, Bad Habits of Self-Taught Guitarists, I take a look at four of the most common and most harmful mistakes that self-taught students tend to make. Via Kelly Richey


This one song teaches you basically everything you need to know about music theory

self-taught-and-formal-learning-2A new way to learn those music theory fundamentals is being shared on social media, and all you have to do is sing.
A sequence of motifs and harmony (mostly explained in the lyrics) takes you through the countless music theory rudiments and compositional devices. Intervals, tonality, modality all explained – all in one song.
Here it is (click for the original size ). Go on, learn it, sing it, dance to it. Way to out-geek everyone in your glee club. Via Classic FM



The Pros and Cons of Being a Self-Taught Musician

self-taught-and-formal-learning-3“Metal” Mike Chlasciak, who’s played guitar for Rob Halford, Testament, Sebastian Bach and a number of other greats, has penned a thought-provoking column for Guitar World called “Dispelling the Myth of Being Self-Taught.” His basic argument: though there’s a certain amount of pride amongst musician in being self-taught and that approach can certainly work out well, having some formal training as well can only make you better.

It’s hard to disagree with Chlasciak’s point. His introductory argument that there’s no such thing as a true self-taught musician since we all take cues from existing music is ridiculous — that’s obviously not what people mean by “self-taught” — but he quickly turns it around and hones in: Via Metal Sucks