Cross Currents: Do you prefer to be self-taught or learn by instruction?

The Channels Opinion Page | CROSS CURRENTS

Illustration+by+Alloy+Zarate%2C+2020

Alloy Zarate

Illustration by Alloy Zarate, 2020

August Lawrence and Jacob Frank

COVID-19 has left much of the world hunkered down for a long term, self-imposed isolation with no foreseeable end and an abundance of free time. It’s a perfect opportunity to learn a new skill or develop a passion. Teaching yourself can be rewarding, challenging and build character but some may prefer an experienced guide to show them the way to mastery. The quarantine has us wondering: is teaching yourself and learning through experience better than having a teacher and learning from other’s knowledge? 

 

August Lawrence

The question of “what is the best way to learn?” is unique to every person but for me, I’ve found that it’s always easiest to learn with a teacher by my side guiding me along the way.

Having a proper music teacher astronomically launched my skill and competence as a guitarist. There was no substitute to having an experienced mentor to show me the way.

For my seventh birthday, my mom passed her guitar on to me.

I remember her digging out the old Aria from the back of the closet while explaining basic techniques and care, finally christening the event by showing me the melody to The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”.

I was instantly hooked playing that riff all day, everyday.

From that day on I was captivated, addicted to figuring out the different sounds I could make on this instrument.

When it came to skill or technique, I was hopeless on my own. Figuring out slow, simple melodies was possible, just difficult and time consuming.

Because my skills were somewhat lacking, my mom and I agreed lessons would be the best thing.

The results were astounding. After one lesson I could play three new chords and an entirely new song, “Hotel Yorba” by The White Stripes. I’d made more progress with a teacher in one day than I did on my own in one month, all because someone was there to show me.

Sure, anyone can teach themselves from YouTube videos or through music notation and tabs, but in my experience those resources can sometimes lead to bad fundamentals, or a lack of understanding. Learning from and copying an incorrect technique from some less-than-adequate musician is bound to do more harm than good in the end.  

I might have slowly improved on the guitar if I had remained strictly self taught, but I fear I would have most likely grown spiteful towards the difficulty of figuring out how to play the thing.

Before I started lessons I never knew if I was actually playing correctly. I was basically flying blind in the dark with nobody to show me the way.

I’m sure I would have quit a long time ago if I didn’t have a teacher. My proficiency and confidence as a guitarist grew because someone taught me.

Since then, I’ve stopped going to lessons but never stopped seeking opportunities to learn new ideas in my life, and not just on guitar.

I am always looking out for my next teacher.

Jacob Frank

When I was eleven or twelve-years-old I went to my first guitar lesson. It was also my last guitar lesson.

I was too stubborn to play three chords for an hour and I couldn’t see how it was going to make me better. 

It felt mindless.

Four years later I picked it back up and I’ve been teaching myself from Youtube videos and Guitar Tabs. Instead of having someone lead the way, I find my way, stopping here and there to learn as I need to. 

Today, there is hardly such a thing as being completely self taught. You’d have an awful time trying to figure out modern music theory even if you were Pythagoras.

The people who make online videos and answer questions are still teachers, but you’re arriving at the knowledge yourself. I want to play by running into challenges and gaining experience by overcoming those challenges.

This is how things really stick in our brains.  The same is true for all education.

I miss the City College campus, but having Google answer your questions as instantaneously as they pop up is a benefit of distance learning.

I get restless in a classroom that is just stuffing me with information. At home, I let my curiosity guide me to knowledge and I both enjoy and remember it. 

If you have the right teacher, you can get the best of both worlds yourself. 

I’ve thought about finding a guitar teacher to help launch me to the next level, to tell me where I’m at and why I need to learn these new things. But it carries much more weight to come to that conclusion yourself.

Your brain isn’t working as hard when being fed answers from a teacher. 

This way, the information is tangible and applicable.
Teachers are more than useful for explaining and guiding us when we are stuck, but the information is already out there. We just have to find it, and that’s what learning is all about.