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Being a self-taught musician gives you serious bragging rights – that is not in question. However, there are a lot of misconceptions associated with being self-taught, because when most people hear that an instrumentalist is self-taught, they automatically assume the person took up an instrument and figured out how to play with no help from outside influences.

But that cannot be entirely true, as Mike Chlasciak aptly points out:

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. Via Guitar World

Similarly, Wade Christensen discusses how we automatically think of someone as having a certain level of genius when the person says he or she is self-taught. As a result, there is a misconception that one must be a genius in order to be successful at self-teaching.

The main problem with the idea of being self-taught in most cases has to do with our understanding of the concept. For instance, although many guitar idols were self-taught, which involved figuring out a lot of the techniques on their own, they at some point had someone show them one or two scales. This does not quite fit in with the general understanding of the concept, does it?

And then there’s the internet, which has become a vital source or learning material that one could use to learn how to play an instrument.

Another mental hurdle I can’t bound when it comes to the self-taught musician, programmer, painter, etc. is how the Internet fits in. We are now a Google away from so much information that it’s hard to imagine anyone figuring out anything without YouTube or Instructables guiding him or her. How has the idea of self-taught changed in the age of the Internet? Via Treehouse

Like Christensen, most people understand being self-taught as something like this:

Photo by Alan Levine via Flikr Creative Commons

When I was younger I really imagined my guitar heroes as super beings with limitless talent emitting from each fingertip. I had no idea what self-taught meant. I assumed self-taught equaled no guidance or materials at all. Via Treehouse

But like Christensen, we soon find out the inaccuracy of this understanding and can thus develop a more accurate one:

Once I was old enough to track down interviews, it turned out that many of my guitar gods learned from books, friends, videos, and other resources. Now, of course it makes sense that people don’t typically learn in a vacuum, but I was a kid, so what did I know.

Self-taught typically meant someone learning without a formal teacher or program, but access to teaching materials was fair game. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-taught as, “having knowledge or skills acquired by one’s own efforts without formal instruction.” Via Treehouse

This is indeed a more accurate view of being self-taught. It is also a lot more open-ended, taking away a lot of the intimidation one would be subjected to when attempting to become a self-taught musician. Since it only eliminates formal learning, you get to exploit all the educational resources available to you and still retain your self-taught bragging rights.

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There are a lot of benefits to being self-taught. For one, your self-drive is critical to your learning, and will often result in much better results than someone relying on a teacher with no self-drive. You also get to discover a lot of new things that may not be included in a formal learning environment.

By exploring ideas on your own you also find little helpful tidbits that might have been excluded from a formal program. Digging around for a piece of knowledge on your own helps you critically understand something beyond the way a teacher thinks you should comprehend that topic. Via Treehouse

In conclusion:

The desire to be self-taught is a good one, because it means that you are actively thinking and motivated to learn. I still hold people who are self-taught in high regard, because we often assign genius not to people who have an extraordinary ability to learn but to those who are incredibly tenacious in their desire to learn. Via Treehouse

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