Before my college guitar studies, I was self taught for 8 years. It was me, my guitar, and my turntable (yes, vinyl record albums for you younger readers). I was proud to say “No, I don’t take lessons, just like Eddie Van Halen, I’m completely self taught (I never said the Van Halen part aloud, but my silent arrogance knew no bounds). Without the expense of guitar lessons, I could spend my money on guitars, amps, and assorted effects pedals. Not having a record deal like Mr. Van Halen (I worked at Baskin Robbins for 1.25 an hour…yikes), I was promptly in debt to the local music store to the tune of 400.00. How a 14 year old geek guitar player could convince a store to allow him an amp on payments is beyond me but I’ll save that for a blog entitled, obviously, “How to be a poor 14 year old guitar player with a really loud amp.” If I had to do it all again I would’ve reversed my thinking, got lesson religion, and found a competent, experienced teacher.
Why go to the trouble and expense of private lessons when everything one needs to learn is online and free? While I’m sure many people have gone this route with some success, for the vast majority I believe this would be a mistake.
My progress was extremely slow. I loved playing and did so up to 5 hours+ daily (we’re talking pre-internet, pre x-box, even pre cable-tv). Although I was enjoying myself, I was often doing things incorrectly. It would be weeks or months before I discovered I was playing a tune, chord, or riff wrong. A competent teacher would have pointed this out immediately.
I developed many bad habits. When I did my first college audition, I was told I played well but my technique was terrible, and it was indeed. While I agree that music is art and there are many great players lacking “proper” technique, I would argue that there are definitely more efficient technical approaches that, when learned in the beginning, will allow a student to master the instrument much easier, faster, and avoiding much frustration.
Having a weekly deadline encourages progress. If you are anything like myself, knowing I have a guitar lesson in just a few days definitely motivates me to practice! My 7 years of weekly guitar lessons (summers included) taught me not only how to play the guitar but the best way (for me) to practice: often and whether I feel like it or not.
The Mentorship Legacy. This may be the most important reason to find a competent, qualified teacher. Throughout history, a mentor has been a crucial prerequisite to mastering any skill. Acknowledged geniuses like Mozart, Beethoven, and De Vinci all studied under the tutelage of a teacher. In the guitar realm, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening studied with the great Andres Segovia. Rock guitar phenom Steve Vai studied with Joe Satriani. Talk about being in good company! All these artists relied on the experience, guidance, and feedback that only a mentor could provide.
I would encourage any beginning guitarist to learn from any and all available sources, including the internet. I can’t imagine what my playing would be without Guitar Player Magazine and all the lesson columns I followed religiously growing up. Studying with a professional, qualified teacher, however, would’ve helped me make more sense of the massive, overwhelming amount of information available to us. I would’ve avoided bad habits. Weekly guitar lessons would’ve made my practice time much more productive. And I’m positive I would’ve progressed much faster.
…I did eventually pay off my amp, though.