Are music lessons/instruction vastly overrated? I’m thinking they are. I’ve read over the years how people “should” read music, know all the notes on the fretboard by name and all that stuff, but really? Does that really help you become a better musician with your own style? Or does it hurt….
I got thinking about this topic because of my young son, who is refusing drum lessons because his (current) heroes – John Bonham and Alex Van Halen – didn’t take lessons. Drummers that hear my son play think he’s a big-time candidate for lessons. But he keeps improving, and plays drums because he loves it, not because he has to like he does with piano.
So who didn’t take formal lessons on guitar? Just about everyone we to this day idolize: virtually all of the English pioneers, Jimi, SRV, EVH, Ace, Billy Gibbons, the Young brothers – pretty much all of the classic rockers on the categories list at right. All the blues musicians too, even “younger” guys like Joe Bonamassa. (I say younger because, unlike BB King, Muddy Waters, etc., Joe certainly had access to formal lessons if he’d wanted them.)
On the flip side you have schooled musicians like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and others (Rhoads somewhat) who do have their own styles – but when it comes to groundbreaking and pioneering playing, bands and tones, those hyper-schooled guys are in the minority.
Most of the axe-slingers we idolize to this day basically learned on their own.
Now, in saying that I’m well aware that they learned by copping licks aurally and/or visually; by jamming with people; and maybe by a neighbor or whoever showing them a bar chord. And some might have had a solid musical foundation elsewhere (e.g, piano). But when it came to making their mark on the guitar world, it was all ears and eyes – mostly ears. No formal teaching. No scales, modes, inversions, whatever.
These guys didn’t need no stinkin’ lessons – they had ears!
Those guys learned time, groove and feel before they learned their ‘over the top’ chops. The converse seems to be the norm nowadays.
– User “Tone Slinger” on the metroamp.com forum
This incidentally is why I find guitar tabs both humorous and completely unnecessary. Humorous because they are frequently wrong, and completely unnecessary because learning by ear is where it’s at – even if someone is tone deaf, the eyes can be a backup. I think tab also encourages younger players to rely less on their ears, which definitely is a bad thing.
Sure, learning on your own means you probably will get some things “wrong,” but therein lies unique style, doesn’t it? (Including right-hand technique – I’m thinking of Jeff Beck and EVH in particular.) Plus you might actually end up learning more that way because you’re self-motivated – you might even be motivated to learn some theory:
I was self-taught, so being in the studio, playing jazz one day, rock the next, then Top 20 tripe, I had to learn how to read music to do the job. But that was a huge step forward, because I realized that once you could read music, you could write it too. [He didn’t mean that in the notation sense.]
– Jimmy Page
I remember being convinced to take guitar lessons in high school by some guit-playing buddies. I was already in bands, but figured what the heck. At least the teacher wasn’t theory-centric. But he wanted me to learn the entire Zeppelin catalog. I said no way – I was all about EVH, Rhoads and Lifeson at that point. So that was that.
I guess part of me might wish I did learn the entire Zep catalog back then, but I eventually got there and really wouldn’t have traded the journey – which is why I’m backing my son not wanting to take lessons right now. He doesn’t want to learn what a friggin’ paradiddle is. He wants to play stuff that inspires him.
Who am I to say that’s bad? That’s what all the rock stars did!
And we’re not talking Beethoven here….
I’m basically self taught from listening to records. I was heavily influenced by Hendrix and Pete Townsend of the Who…Jimmy Page was a big influence as were Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, particularly the Cream era.
– Alex Lifeson
I pride myself on thinking outside the box, and I’m probably like that because I’m not a schooled musician. One of the reasons people may think I have a unique style is because I’m self-taught and make mistakes— or I do things in a way that, if I’d been taught by a teacher, they would’ve corrected. To me, there are no rules, and there never were.
– Ace Frehley
One last thing: A foundation does help, specifically 88 keys’ worth. Piano seems to be a common reference for all musicians. Here’s just one example:
I guess I am [self-taught]. My dad taught me the chords on a ukulele banjo, a George Formby style, so I had a little idea of what chords were, and I had piano lessons, which were really pretty crucial to me. I think five years piano lessons, so I got to understand what music…what is inside music, what makes it tick melodically, harmonically, rhythmically and whatever. But as far as guitar, yeah. I just listened to people that excited me and those people were…James Burton, Hank Marvin, Les Paul, and then Jimi Hendrix kind of blew my world apart.
– Brian May