On Music Lessons, and Learning How to Learn

steve howe clap video

Steve Howe’s song Clap, from Yessongs, 1973 (youtube.com)

I always wanted to be one of those self-taught musicians who picked up an instrument and experienced that magic moment of understanding, immediately knowing what to do, totally naturally, like you were always meant to do it. And in a way it was a lot like that for me, but not quite so ideal. I started playing the guitar when I was little, and I always knew that being a musician was the only thing I ever wanted to do. It’s just that playing an instrument not only very well, but also originally and creatively is extremely difficult. It doesn’t just take practice but also a process of digging deep into yourself. It was something I could never quite grasp.

One of the first lessons I learned was that incessant practice is not enough. So I tried other things, like branching out and learning all different types of styles, different scales, different tunings, and anything that sounded interesting. Ultimately I forgot most of it. I thought playing with other people would help, but that turned into a huge failure too. When I played with people who were better than me I got discouraged and when I played with people who were not as good I got bored. I found that people are hard to work with when it comes to writing songs. All I learned from that experience is that if I ever get to be a professional musician, I’ll have to be solo.

I never, ever wanted to take music lessons or any kind of music classes. I never liked art classes or writing classes. I don’t like being told what to do or how to do things. I like to things my way, regardless of whether or not it’s the right way or the best way. Clearly I have some problems. Regardless, it seemed to me like having someone teach you music would steal your originality, which I’ve always valued even more than skill in any creative effort. But I reached a point where I was so frustrated with my music, and I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t getting any better. I was sick of not being able to adequately convey the music I was writing in my head because I didn’t know how. So a couple of months ago I broke down and decided to take lessons.

Right away I knew it was going to be a good idea, even though I initially picked this guy who I’m sure must be like the worst guitar teacher ever. He was not very good himself, and he was extremely creepy. After only one lesson with this weirdo, I started looking for a different teacher, because I realized that actually learning about music really interested me and would probably really improve my playing. I recently found a very good teacher too. He’s taught me a lot about fingerpicking in only a couple of weeks, and it’s amazing to me that even though I’ve always played this way, actually learning to do it the right way instead of my way makes it way easier. It’s even easier to play my own songs.

Some people are naturals. They pick things up right away. And there are some things that I’m pretty good at that no one had to show me how to do, but music is not one of those things. Taking music lessons is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it totally caught me off guard. I’ve become a much better musician in a very short time. There’s no stealing of originality, only gaining new tools to create with, like finding new colors to use in a painting. I should never have balked at it. Music is difficult. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you’ve been playing for a long time. It’s always new and always challenging, and it never hurts to listen to somebody else’s advice or learn something new. Maybe I should have figured that out a long time ago.

“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” – Johannes Brahms (musiced.about.com)

All original content copyright S.D. de la Rosa, 2013.

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~ by Sara on January 16, 2013.

10 Responses to “On Music Lessons, and Learning How to Learn”

  1. What a great post. Good for you, making these decisions. I’m a self-taught player but I wish I’d taken lessons earlier and I might have progressed faster!

    • I know a lot people who are completely self taught and are insanely good. I just got to a point where I was stuck and I couldn’t seem to learn anymore. Taking lessons kind of hurt my pride at first because it was like admitting that I couldn’t figure it out on my own. And I felt like I was too old for it too. But it really is helping me progress. I still think figuring it out on your own is probably the best way to do it if you’re good enough to do that.

      • I guess you have to just do what works for you. I’ve been at that “stuck” stage so many times! I would always just get a book, or magazine and try and bust the rut! It’s not different from having a teacher give you those lessons. I certainly don’t think it took more talent to be self-taught… just more time maybe! Haha

        And the worst/best of it is… you’re never as good as you want to be and you can always learn more!

      • That’s true! You’re never good enough. I used to want to buy a new instrument every time I got stuck. Mostly new guitars. But that gets rather expensive.

      • I don’t spend enough on instruments. I’ve made do with the same guitars for so long now. I kind of wish I’d splashed out a bit more!

      • It’s never too late to buy a new one! It’s amazing how much nicer the more expensive ones sound. I have a long guitar wish list. But I’m not rich.

  2. That’s wonderful that you decided to take lessons despite your initial hesitation (and that you persisted in finding a good teacher!). It really shows your love of music and playing 🙂

    • Aw thanks! Music is probably the thing that I’m most passionate about and the thing that I’m worst at at the same time. So it takes a lot of work. But it’s worth it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  3. Great post. I always wanted to be a musician, but I just didn’t have it in me after 7 years with the cello. I always was lazy when it comes to practice. It’s good to see you have the motivation to succeed.

    • Yeah, practicing is tough! Even if you love what you’re doing. I’m really bad about it too. That’s another good thing about lessons. They force me to practice when I don’t feel like it.

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