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Lessons vs. Self-Taught

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ishmael_the_god, Jul 15, 2002.

  1. There might be a former thread dealing with this, but I was curious as to how everyone learned the bass.

    Some friends of mine are interested in learning how to play, and they always ask my opinion as to whether lessons are worth the money. I am self-taught, so I really don't have any comparison. There are certain things I know I lack because I never had a teacher motivate me to learn a specific aspect of playing. Conversely, I know I have formed my own style of playing because I never had anyone tell me I was doing it wrong (but again, is there a right way??)

    What does everyone think? Of course, a good teacher makes this a moot point, but if you don't have someone who is extrordinarily good at teaching, is it worth it to get a semi-decent instructor?

    Pros and cons please....
  2. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    There is absolutely no contest. Getting a teacher will cause you to learn more, learn better, and learn faster. The RIGHT way. If you're willing to put in the practice time, that is. ;)

    The cons of being self-taught:
    • You can develop bad habits you don't even know are wrong, leading to problems in the future. (Improper right/left hand technique, etc.)
    • Books and videos don't talk back, giving you the feedback you need to become a better player. A teacher can evaluate you and tell you what you need to work on.
    • Teachers have real world experience and lessons that can apply to you in ways no book can.

    The cons of getting a teacher:

  3. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I'm self taught, but I think it's a wise idea to go with a teacher. I think it's important though that the teacher is really good and cares. Bad teachers can turn someone off big time to an instrument.

    I see lots of kids going to "school" to learn instruments and they play out of the lame books learning exercises on each string that are unbelivably tedious and boring. If someone's not having fun playing, practice becomes a chore and than it seems useless. It's easy to get bored and turned off to an instrument like that. I think a good teacher will teach about creating music, creating art, having fun, being a part of a band, being a musician - not just learning notes and rythems.

    My 2 cents.
  4. stroggnoy

    stroggnoy Guest

    Jul 11, 2002
    What I'm about to say will go for any instrument, really. It all depends on what your goals are. If it is just a hobby, then no, lessons probably are not worth it, and everything you need to learn can be picked up from videos and books. Also, if it is not your first instrument and you've had a teacher on another one, lessons are not nearly as important (maybe only a few lessons to get technique down; it also depends on what instrument). On the other hand, if you plan to make a living out of recording/touring/etc or want to be "the best", then lessons are absolutely necessary, IMO. It's hard to discipline yourself and teach yourself the right material, especially when you don't necessarily know what all there is out there. I hope that helps.
  5. stroggnoy

    stroggnoy Guest

    Jul 11, 2002
    Well, for people not aiming at going pro or being the best, here are a couple:

    1. $20 a week (or more) for lessons that you could be spending on something else (keep in mind you must purchase books, also)

    2. Homework that you may not feel like doing, but feel pressured to because of your teacher and you begin dreading practice.

    If you go to a school, that's basically the same as lessons from a local teacher - except better - you get a well-rounded musical education. Even with local teachers you have to play out of "lame" books that help you.
  6. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Homework you don't FEEL like doing? Dreading practice? No offense, but maybe a musical instrument isn't for you. Seriously, if it's not something you enjoy doing, and something that you don't look forward to doing, why are you playing at all? Please don't take this too personally, but if a hobby is something that is forced, why would one keep doing it?
  7. One of the major benifits of having a teacher is learing things like reading, theory, etc... things you can avoid learning without a teacher. Also, without a teacher you loose out on having questions answered. I found myself second guessing everything I tried to teach myself.

    To learn on your own is very do-able. But you must be really motivated, and really and a good self-studier(if there is such a word.)

    If the goal is to just learn songs and play in the garage or some bar band, then that takes very little 'teaching.' - buy the cd's, get the tab, and go for it! But beyond that it can be very hard going it alone at times ...

    I think people who avoid teachers are avoiding the work involved in really 'learing' the instrument.

    Good luck -
  8. stroggnoy

    stroggnoy Guest

    Jul 11, 2002
    I'm not saying this is how I think, but some people feel this way about instruments. Some people just wanna spend the $500 and be done with money except maintenance. They play for fun in their spare time and simply want to "jam" with friends every so often. If that's your goal, then it wouldn't be half-assed. Also, some people that aren't *real* into music/instruments can be turned off by the amount of scales/"boring" exercises it takes to become good. I was speaking on behalf of those that just wanna fool around and never really go anywhere. Like I said, though, if pro is your goal (or just being really damned good), then lessons all they way.
  9. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I know, I shouldn't have used the word "you" so much. It wasn't an attack on you, I was just making a point. :)
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I agree entirely with the last point - if you just want to mess about in your bedroom - then of course why bother with a teacher. If you wnat to play music then requires dedication and concentration!

    I think the main "con" of self-taught, is that everything takes longer. You could be hitting a block which your teacher could show you round, but never know it. You could be trying to plya something one way when a teacher could show you how much easier it is another way - you could be wasting huge amounts of time on something that is not worth bothering with anyway.

    Let's face it - you're not going to come up with a new way of doing it - hundreds or thousands of people have done it before and determined which is the most efficient method(s) - why not take the shortcut and have somebody show you it?

    OK you might save a few dollars, but it might cost you several years in time to progress!
  11. Well, I think it is pretty much unanimous. However, I want to put in my two cents for the other side:

    I started playing because it seemed like the thing to do. I played in my bedroom, learned songs to impress people (i.e. get chicks), generally just to fit in. However, I quickly fell in love with playing, and now pursue it with a passion that most *learn-ed* people lack.

    Being self-taught is without-a-doubt harder. There are no shortcuts, no one to help you over hurdles, no constant motivating person to help you onward, no outside influence to help you *hear* better, etc. But I will say that being self-taught means alot. I am a better-than-decent bass player. I learned almost everything I know on my own. Some from books, some from friends, but mostly from simply listening to the music that I love.

    I guess I am saying that taking lessons is invaluable. It helps you grow in ways you might not have thought of. But I would like to recognize that being self-taught has some merit, and that learning on your own does not mean you are below the curve.

    In a way, I wish I had taken lessons. A lack of funds and decent instructors directed my course. But I am satisfied with my playing, my style, and my drive.

    ......Oh, and to answer the "how could you not justify a little more money to pay for lessons?" argument - I worked my @ss off for nine months to raise four hundred dollars for my first bass and amp. $20 a week was an impossibility.
  12. in my case, the way to go was self-taught. that way you can go at your own pace. it might take a little longer, but i'd rather grow into things than rush in. when i felt ready, i learned theory from books. it's really not as hard as it sounds.
  13. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...the key is to get the right teacher.
    IMO, the wrong guy can do a lotta damage.
    If the "teacher" is the sorta guy who's into licks, tricks, yaddayadda...I dunno.

    I like "Call me Ishmael's" post.
    Then again, I'm someone who learned mostly on my own & from books, records, friends(thank God I have met & played with some decent players. I would even corner Oteil Burbridge in the men's room on a break & get a "lesson" as he slapped & popped on the cigarette machine). ;)

    To me, the right teacher is invaluable at the beginning...eventually, it's up to the individual, something has got to come from within.
    It took me about 2 1/2 years before I could even play a song beginning to end. I really sucked...eventually, I sacrificed big time(spent the entire Summer locked away upstairs in a room with no AC shedding the Led Zeppelin Complete songbook...that was for Bruce!).

    Can a teacher really teach improvisation?
    ...and I'm not talking about what Bebop patterns to play over a set of changes, either. ;)
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Well, yes and no. All good teachers do is to share what they've learned about a given subject with their students. Some of the more important lessons are those in which the teacher attempts to help the student avoid making some of the same mistakes the teacher did. So a good teacher would start by saying that playing bebop patterns over a set of changes is NOT improvisation.

    With my own students, what I tell them is some version of the following:

    * Learning anything - including improvisation - is much easier if you can turn the labor invloved from the Breaking rocks at Alcatraz variety into the Labor of Love kind. To this end, no matter what style of music you play, the student should choose his or her own "Masters", and learn to learn from them on their own...the job of the teacher at this point is to help with the details, theory, and logistics of transcription.

    * If you want to improvise, what you are really trying to do is to develop your own voice with which you hope to find interesting things to say. A teacher can again assist in this by providing nuts and bolts advice about get closer to the sound the student is going after. I do this by having each student pick three players whose playing and voice inspires them, and then dissecting the sound/approach of each of the players they chose in terms of tone, rhythm, note choices, phrasing, motivic analysis, etc. Students usually love this because they are getting closer to their heroes by doing it....it's also good for the teacher because not only are the students inspired, but the teacher gets to learn some new stuff along the way as well.

    * Each "style" of music has its own set of RULES - some written, and some unwritten. The job of the teacher in this regard is twofold: first, the student must be made aware of the "Rules", and learn to work within them...then the student must learn how to break them when they become binding; Second, the student must be taught that one's own voice often breaks one or more of the "Rules" while improvising, and that this is not a bad thing. Also related to this subject is the whole issue of "common knowledge gig etiquette", and educating the student in the ways of "how to keep a gig and still be yourself", A.K.A. compromise.

    * A good teacher will try to be both objective and kind at the same time, which is no mean feat at times. You don't want to tear down someone's confidence with excessive criticism, but at the same time, no one gains anything if students are allowed to bull**** themselves....part of a teacher's job is to keep each student honest.

    * Last, the teacher is there to provide the tools that the student will need to build their knowledge-base, both technical and philosophical. The technical side includes both physical instrumental technique and theory/ear-training knowledge. And the aural aspect is paramount. Nothing will get a student to dread coming to a lesson more than making them sing when they sightread or improvise, and yet nothing makes students improve faster than this. So a good teacher has to learn how far a student can be pushed before they start to lose it and get frustrated with the whole process.

    In the final analysis, can a good teacher teach a student to improvise? No. But a good teacher can show them many examples and ways regarding HOW they can do it, as well as (hopefully) being a living example of someone who does it well. Beyond that, it's up to the student.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yeah I learnt bass from that Led Zep book as well - no tabs then, no internet and no idea that BG teachers even existed!

    I have seen teachers teaching improvisation and starting on the beginners course at "Getting into Jazz" at my local University I have seen people learning it from a teacher over a long period.

    I think there is something about taking chances - I'm prepared to "go for it" - even if I make loads of mistakes and end up embarassed, while I know some people won't do this - they have to be "in control".

    I don't think that can be taught - but that's really risk-taking, not improvisation.
  16. I'm "self-taught" I guess.. except that I learn from everyone and everywhere, so I don't know if that's really "self-taught"... and it always bugs me when people use that as some kind of bragging point.

    I think lessons can be vital for some people, but not all. In whatever I do, I personally have never been one to do things improperly and/or develop bad habits, for the most part. For me, the only real benefit I could see in lessons was having someone giving me a direction each week, and something specific to work on in a given time, rather than having it all depend on me. I'm sure this would have helped me, since i've never had great practice habits, but i've always figured that if I needed to pay somebody to tell me to practice, then I don't deserve to get better. I didn't need to pay someone $20 a week to tell me to go practice my major scale. I guess it depends on the type of person you are, but I don't think that "lessons hands down are the only way to go" and it's impossible to be as good as possible without them. Unless you have a really bad teacher, they can't really hurt, but that doesn't mean they always justify the money and/or time.

  17. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Good stuff...you're definitely one of "the few".
    Your students should feel lucky.

    BTW, have you read Derek Bailey's Improvisation? Interesting & an easy read...though I would characterize most of the musicians in Bailey's book as "uncompromising". ;)
  18. Good stuff, Chris.

    Do warp this thread slightly then, how much do you guys think a teacher can help with improvisational skill?

    In my experience, improv consists of two main ingredients - 1. "Keeping with the Tune", meaning staying in rhythm, staying in key, playing to fit (i.e. no massive distortion on a jazz melody), etc. - and 2. "Expressing your Voice" - meaning personal touches, style, speaking without speaking (this would be the portion that divides the competent from the inspired).

    The first can be taught. The second is inside you.

    How does everyone else feel?
  19. stroggnoy

    stroggnoy Guest

    Jul 11, 2002
    That's basically it. You can be taught how to stay in key and what COULD work, but only you can decide what you feel should go there. Improvising takes practice for some and comes naturally for others. All you can do to improve your creativity is to continue to do it, even if you're not good at it - eventually you'll become better.
  20. Having a teacher in the beginnig is very important for learning technique and theory. That being said once you have that, only "You" can teach "You" the exact way to play the music inside of "You" !

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