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Self Learning vs. Instructed Learning

mtmartin71

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,105
I taught myself guitar through magazines, by ear, by learning songs, and just by playing. I've had all of one lesson in my life and that was a couple of years back and at a time of volatility because I was going through a breakup and trying to sell my home. Basically it never got started. Now I think I'm ready to look at ways to take myself from decent to good. I've been playing since I was 17 (43 now) and really didn't start playing with others till around the late 90s so about 15 years in bands. I think I've reached the a plateau as I've mostly done cover work and I want to do something to improve. For those who faced a similar choice, did you go buy books and immerse in that or did you find a like-minded teacher? What should I look for in either?

For reference, my main influences or guitarists who I've admired have been Page, Slash, Gary Moore, John Frusciante...blues based guys. I find myself now more interested in constructing songs and melodies that are simpler but memorable and interesting. I'm playing in a 80s on up cover band though mostly doing rock related stuff.

Any tips, guidance, direction are truly appreciated.
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,165
As a former teacher, I can say that a lot of my students came to me from the same position as you - though in most cases they had tried "self-learning" through books and videos and either couldn't learn, or couldn't go any further.

Based on my experience teaching, and the experiences I had with teachers, I think the most valuable thing a teacher brings to the situation (or should bring) is an ability to figure out what it is you know, and what you don't know, and fill in those holes.

Obviously, if you don't know something, you don't know you need to know it, and you may not ever bother to expose yourself to it until you happen upon it.

And that to me is the real benefit of having a good teacher: You're actually being exposed not so much to their knowledge, but their experience. In other words, they've been through it all before. They know how to approach various topics, when to bring up various topics, when to address certain issues, etc. etc. You basically get a "short cut" because they've already done all the trial and error work, and they can help you avoid all the trials and errors and associated pitfalls.

"self-learning" is "self-paced" - which might seem like a good thing but in reality it's much harder to be motivated. That weekly lesson, that new material that you want to get down to prove to both you and your teacher you can do it, that excitement of the light bulb going on when things come together, etc. Those things can be achieved by yourself (though IMHO you have to be of a certain personality type, and you will know if you're that dedicated or not) but there's no substitute for a good teacher.

And of course, a good teacher will ENHANCE the lessons with those other things - books, videos, etc. - but work them into a lesson plan that will help you continue to move forward.

All that said, there are some people who just don't do well in the lesson environment, and again, that's something where you know your personality best.

However, go take a few lessons. If you like it, keep doing it. If you don't, stop. No one's going to post on "unschooled guitarists.com" that you "sold out" and took a couple lessons :)

Steve
 

mtmartin71

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,105
As a former teacher, I can say that a lot of my students came to me from the same position as you - though in most cases they had tried "self-learning" through books and videos and either couldn't learn, or couldn't go any further.

Based on my experience teaching, and the experiences I had with teachers, I think the most valuable thing a teacher brings to the situation (or should bring) is an ability to figure out what it is you know, and what you don't know, and fill in those holes.

Obviously, if you don't know something, you don't know you need to know it, and you may not ever bother to expose yourself to it until you happen upon it.

And that to me is the real benefit of having a good teacher: You're actually being exposed not so much to their knowledge, but their experience. In other words, they've been through it all before. They know how to approach various topics, when to bring up various topics, when to address certain issues, etc. etc. You basically get a "short cut" because they've already done all the trial and error work, and they can help you avoid all the trials and errors and associated pitfalls.

"self-learning" is "self-paced" - which might seem like a good thing but in reality it's much harder to be motivated. That weekly lesson, that new material that you want to get down to prove to both you and your teacher you can do it, that excitement of the light bulb going on when things come together, etc. Those things can be achieved by yourself (though IMHO you have to be of a certain personality type, and you will know if you're that dedicated or not) but there's no substitute for a good teacher.

And of course, a good teacher will ENHANCE the lessons with those other things - books, videos, etc. - but work them into a lesson plan that will help you continue to move forward.

All that said, there are some people who just don't do well in the lesson environment, and again, that's something where you know your personality best.

However, go take a few lessons. If you like it, keep doing it. If you don't, stop. No one's going to post on "unschooled guitarists.com" that you "sold out" and took a couple lessons :)

Steve
Thanks Steve. Makes sense and part of the reason I looked at it before. Question is, how do you find the right teacher? What should I be looking for to help increase my odds on a good fit?
 

stevel

Member
Messages
15,165
Firstly, ask around.

Once you identify an instructor, get references - good teachers would not be offended by this.

Look for instructors who have a full roster and/or waiting list and are in demand as an instructor. Ones that have been doing it consistently for a long period of time, and don't have high student turnover, etc. are all good signs. It's also good if they have a wide range of ages they teach - that usually indicates they're successful at communicating ideas on different levels (skill and age).

Often, ones that are affiliated with reputable institutions (universities, music schools) or music stores are typically more stable (i.e. not just some guy trying to make a few extra bucks between gigs).

Call local universities, music stores, and even if you have a local musician's union, call them to get suggestions.

Usually, the more knowledgeable/trained (degreed, or better, performance degree/certificate) and/or the more experienced they are (older, gig with many bands, solid career of teaching, plays many styles, etc.) the better off you'll be.

One thing to consider is the type of style(s) you want to explore. If you find a guy who only does blues-rock, you'll probably like the material but you may find the instructor's well runs dry sooner than someone that also knows jazz, or country, etc. On the flip side, you also have to watch out for those guys where you walk in and they say "OK we're going to start on Stella by Starlight". You don't want to feel like you're being forced to learn music you don't like (or don't yet like but maybe will one day). IMHO, a good teacher should be able to teach you things in any style - I mean, A Major is A Major whether you like Pop/Rock, Country, Classical, Folk, Punk, Jazz, etc. And playing rhythms (accompaniment patterns) is also the same across styles (though of course some focus on certain types). Additionally, they should be able to take what you like and expose you to new things you might also like and want to learn (good ones do this in a way you don't even realize your horizons are being broadened!). So find a Blues-Rock guy that is Classically trained (etc.), and you've got somewhere to go in the future.

And remember, again this is something you can "try out". Mot instructors do lessons by the month. This is IMHO enough time to get a feel for how it's going to work. Some do weekly, but that's sometimes a red flag meaning they've got a lot of other commitments and may not be able to give you consistent weekly lessons. Some places want you to sign up for a semester, or larger group of lessons (3 months) at a time, or do group lessons. While some of these are OK again there's a red flag that they have trouble keeping students involved, are in it for the profit, or move at a really slow pace, etc.

Find someone, do a month. You should get a feel for it by then, and by the end of the month actually see SOME progress (at least in terms of lesson plan, direction, filling in of knowledge, if not direct technical improvement). If you like it, do another month, if not, try someone else.

Watch out for the "great player" thing though - some very great players can't teach worth crap - they're not able to simplify things, don't have the background knowledge, can't communicate effectively, etc. A "great teacher" is often better than a great player as a teacher, but obviously, if you can find someone who's both, that'd be a good place to start.

Good Luck,
Steve
 

rob2001

Member
Messages
16,927
I find myself now more interested in constructing songs and melodies that are simpler but memorable and interesting.
I think thats a different skill set compared to something a guitar instructor might teach you. I'm not saying that taking guitar lessons will hurt your songwriting endeavors but I do think they are different things.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,529
I taught myself guitar through magazines, by ear, by learning songs, and just by playing. I've had all of one lesson in my life and that was a couple of years back and at a time of volatility because I was going through a breakup and trying to sell my home. Basically it never got started. Now I think I'm ready to look at ways to take myself from decent to good. I've been playing since I was 17 (43 now) and really didn't start playing with others till around the late 90s so about 15 years in bands. I think I've reached the a plateau as I've mostly done cover work and I want to do something to improve. For those who faced a similar choice, did you go buy books and immerse in that or did you find a like-minded teacher? What should I look for in either?

For reference, my main influences or guitarists who I've admired have been Page, Slash, Gary Moore, John Frusciante...blues based guys. I find myself now more interested in constructing songs and melodies that are simpler but memorable and interesting. I'm playing in a 80s on up cover band though mostly doing rock related stuff.

Any tips, guidance, direction are truly appreciated.
Your experience is not unlike mine: playing since I was 16, taught myself from books and by ear from records (I'm 62 now, so there were a lot fewer resources when I was young than even when you were!). Played in bands, mostly blues, and covers bands.
Never had a one-on-one lesson on guitar, ever. (Had a few one-on-ones on bass). Had a few group lessons on guitar at jazz summer schools, but only after I'd been playing for over 20 years.

Big differences:

1. I've never felt I hit a plateau or wall. At least, not one where I wasn't happy to be, or I felt I couldn't get past if I wanted to.

2. I could read notation before I started on guitar. That meant I could learn a hell of a lot from published music books, songbooks, anything written for any instrument.

3. I began playing in bands at age 17. So I learned a lot from my fellow musicians (always, in those days, a little better than me, but not much). It meant I never struggled teaching myself things I didn't have a practical need for, or thought I "ought" to be learning. I was (most of the time) having too much fun in the bands to want to "progress" beyond what they were doing. (In private I'd develop my fingerstyle, because that's what I enjoyed.)

4 (and this is where it may be relevant to you!) I was always interested in songwriting and composition. It wasn't guitar in particular that turned me on, it was everything about music. Guitar just happened to be the easiest/cheapest/coolest instrument to start on. ("Coolest" probably being the main reason ;))
You can teach yourself skills in composition/songwriting as easily as you can teach yourself guitar skills. Of course that means (likewise) that it can be slow and haphazard, and you may develop holes or unwelcome biases in your knowledge. The vast majority of (perhaps all) pop/rock songwriters taught themselves, and they did it by listening to (and copying) anything they heard that they liked. The best of them just listened to a much broader range of music than the others; they had "bigger ears", if you like.
Some theory knowledge will help you, but you already know quite a lot just from playing cover songs for so long; you've been handling the machinery for years ;). (You might just need a different attitude to the material: take it apart and start asking questions. Like someone who's an experienced driver, starting to wonder how the engine works...)

5. I'm now a guitar teacher myself! (for the last 10 years)

I fully support everything stevel says. (And I'm about to say it all again in a slightly different way... :rolleyes:)
If you have trouble finding a teacher using his strategies - eg if you find someone but can't be sure about his credentials - see if they'll give you a short free trial lesson. Or even just a one-off that you pay for. That should give you a good feel for whether they're the right person. Don't sign up for a bunch of lessons (pre-paid) with someone you're not sure about. (People offering free trial lessons may just be more desperate and less experienced than those who insist on payment; but at least you lose nothing.)
IOW, I slightly disagree with steve here. IMO one lesson is usually enough to get a feel for whether they're right or wrong. If it feels bad in a first lesson, it's unlikely to improve. However (here I agree), if it feels good in a first lesson, it can go downhill quickly if the guy has put all his best into that first one, to sell himself to you! (You may need to be a good judge of character here...)

In a first lesson - or ideally when you talk to them beforehand - make sure they know your experience, and your current goals. (Tell them at least what you're telling us.) At first lesson, they should ask you to play a fair amount, so they can spot any weaknesses, identify your style, etc.
A first lesson with no obligation gives both of you a chance to decide if you are right for each other. Can you understand what they're saying? Do you feel that lights are switching on? Do they make you excited about the next lesson?
Good teachers, likewise, will be able to assess whether they can give you what you need. Of course any good teacher should be able to plan for your personal goals, whatever they are; but plenty of less experienced teachers may have just the right style and knowledge for you, and those that don't should be honest about it.

The idea of group lessons (if available in your area) could be a good idea. They will be cheaper, of course. Disadvantages are that you will likely be locked in to a course, some of which may not interest you, or may go slower or faster than you like. An advantage (big one!) is the social side: you meet other guitarists, and can form new outlooks and new alliances. And if the teacher turns out to be someone you like, maybe you can ask him for private lessons on the side - or once the course is over - for faster progress.

Remember rob2001 is quite right that songwriting/composition is a totally different skillset to guitar playing. Decide which direction you really want to go in. A course in theory, harmony, or songwriting itself, may be what you need, more than a guitar course. If you can afford it, naturally, go for both! Or even something like piano lessons, to open out your musical thinking!
 

rob2001

Member
Messages
16,927
To expand on my take, immersing myself in song construction led me to learning how to play bass (properly!), studying drums and percussion, exploring poetry and lyrics, examining the impact of tempo and the concept of floating time within a song (being ahead, on, or behind the beat) and I spend a lot of time trying to understand melody etc..........all sorts of things beyond the guitar. These are things I'm still learning and working on.

I'm no musical genius by any means, So my guitar skills have actually tapered off a bit and keeping my chops is something I have to work on when in the past those skills were always pretty sharp. I've also a LOT on recording techniques which also detracts from my playing skills. But musically I feel in a much better place compared to being in a cover band (which I did for 20+ years). I get way more satisfaction out of writing a simple 3 chord song vs. playing someone else' 3 chord song to a crowd. That isn't a slam on cover bands at all. If the right situation came up I'd do it again. And everything I learned in those years is helping me now. I'm just pointing out a few reasons why I think guitar skill and songwriting skill are two very different things. I wish I had the time and devotion to work on everything as much as I love it all. But alas, I'm just a blue collar schmuck and I'm late for work so..........:D
 

gennation

Member
Messages
7,912
I only teach intermediate to advanced student. When I reply to inquiring/potential students one of things I say to them is to bring in any material they may currently be working on or have had in their possession for a while that they'd like to pursue, or any material they've worked through that they don't quite understand, etc...

I have to say that 9 out of 10 show up with material.

It's common when learning on your own to buy books, DVD's, learn songs, etc, etc...but if you want it pieced together in a ground up manner so you not only learn the fundamentals but actually learn the application through the process, a great teacher will go a long way...and if you record the lessons, listen to them repeatedly, and work through the recording between lessons, you can go a long ways in a shorter amount of time.
 

mike walker

Member
Messages
4,153
I'm self taught.
It's helped me a great deal in my teaching.
I feel out what someone really needs in their playing and it often contradicts what they want to learn.
Like, one guy wanted to play like Mike Stern.
His time wasn't very good, his chops weren't very good and his theory wasn't very good.

Pointing out what Mike Stern went through to play like Mike Stern doesn't seem to drop the penny.

Tough old world.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,529
I'm self taught.
It's helped me a great deal in my teaching.
I agree, but it cuts both ways.
Being self-taught - if you manage to keep going for several years and reach a high standard - means you have sufficient commitment and enthusiasm. You're self-driven enough not to need any encouragement from anyone else.
People who seek out lessons - and have not tried teaching themselves much if at all (so this doesn't apply to the OP!) - sometimes seem to lack that inner drive. They expect the teacher to kick them along, or inspire them to keep going. I've had many students who can't seem to find the time to practise, and who get put off by how "hard" it is, or how long it seems to take. As a self-taught player I find this attitude hard to understand; what's more important than playing guitar?? :huh :rolleyes: Practice should be the first thing you make time for, not the last. You should enjoy playing so much you look forward to any opportunity to play, however bad you (think you) are.

IOW, people who take lessons sometimes retain (probably subconsciously) an attitude from high school, where lessons are something you don't like doing, but teacher tells you you must. Even when they really want to learn guitar, some inner hang-up of that kind prevents them taking responsibility for their own improvement. They think of practising as a chore.

Of course they're not all like that, but it's a significant proportion.
 

mtmartin71

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,105
More good stuff and good ideas to ponder. What do you guys think of the Fretboard Logic book if I wanted to try to do some self teaching but more formally?
 

gennation

Member
Messages
7,912
More good stuff and good ideas to ponder. What do you guys think of the Fretboard Logic book if I wanted to try to do some self teaching but more formally?

The book does a wonderful job teaching fretboard theory but doesn't really teach you music theory. The title is perfect, it teaches you the logic of the fretboard. So it's great for a specific reason, and it is an important reason, but for some might only be part of the big picture.
 

gtrbarbarian

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,021
Fretboard Logic teaches you how the guitar standard tuning works via 5 vertically connected major chord shapes (CAGED system) and how the 5 pentatonic positions map to those chord shapes.

It unlocks the ability to play ideas from your head (after training your ear of course) where your fretting hand is _right now_. If you don't know how to, for instance, play a C major chord at open position (C shape), 3rd fret (A shape), 8th fret (G shape), 8th fret (E shape) and 10th fret (D shape) and how the five pentatonic shapes fit over these... This might be a book for you. For me it was a turning point for me in understanding the entire fretboard without being stuck in one or two positions that you know well.

For $13, it seems like you'd want to grab a copy: on amazon

And as Mike pointed out, it's just a small picture of what you need to know musically, but it's foundational IMO.
 

mike walker

Member
Messages
4,153
I agree, but it cuts both ways.
Being self-taught - if you manage to keep going for several years and reach a high standard - means you have sufficient commitment and enthusiasm. You're self-driven enough not to need any encouragement from anyone else.
People who seek out lessons - and have not tried teaching themselves much if at all (so this doesn't apply to the OP!) - sometimes seem to lack that inner drive. They expect the teacher to kick them along, or inspire them to keep going. I've had many students who can't seem to find the time to practise, and who get put off by how "hard" it is, or how long it seems to take. As a self-taught player I find this attitude hard to understand; what's more important than playing guitar?? :huh :rolleyes: Practice should be the first thing you make time for, not the last. You should enjoy playing so much you look forward to any opportunity to play, however bad you (think you) are.

IOW, people who take lessons sometimes retain (probably subconsciously) an attitude from high school, where lessons are something you don't like doing, but teacher tells you you must. Even when they really want to learn guitar, some inner hang-up of that kind prevents them taking responsibility for their own improvement. They think of practising as a chore.

Of course they're not all like that, but it's a significant proportion.
I'm not quite sure exactly what it is that 'cuts both ways' here.
That all seems fairly self explanatory.

What I meant was that as a teacher I can draw on what I had to do to get better, plus remember the pitfalls of 'switching trains' midway through a journey and basically casting aside all the hard work I had put in on the first half of the ride. I can impart this experience to a student and they can see/hear the results right in front of them.
 
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17,931
I'm a weird horse.

I had different formal lessons starting out (began playing at 14), but wanted to learn songs. I found that many of my teachers really couldn't play the material I wanted to learn. So, over time I developed my ear and began teaching myself. One of the things that's really cool about developing your ear is when you not only know the correct notes - but you have an idea where on the fretboard to play them, because there are magic "spots" where some songs were just meant to be played. And you can decipher the "thin"-ness of plain strings, vs. wound strings...

I also believe that many of the drugs fuelling the 1970s addled the brains of many musicians who laid down great lead tracks in the studio, which were then cut onto albums - and then they forgot how they originally played them.

Maybe I'm wrong here, but I discovered that by learning a ton of songs from all of my favorite artists taught me more about playing than any formal lesson did. And even now when I see a songbook (which I'll argue is 50% correct, especially the old 70s ones) I'm floored at what the song's notation looks like, knowing I can competently play that very song.

It might be, in some way, like taking a roundabout(!) path to guitar enlightenment. You do learn a great deal, you just don't know the correct nomenclature.

I've heard many "trained" musicians who couldn't play a cover by ear if they tried, as well. They're TOO methodical to really hear what the song does, instead they pin it down to rough theory. Close, but no cigar. Didn't music come before theory, and theory was just a method to share it, with others?
 

smj

Member
Messages
1,954
You have to do both IMO.

Take what an instructor gives you, but supplement it with your own resources... Books, DVDs, etc.

In your lessons, come prepared with questions and listen for insight. Be prepared to do the legwork after.

Sean Meredith-Jones
www.seanmeredithjones.com
 






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