Take Music Lessons or Teach Yourself

So you’ve decided to learn a musical instrument and don’t know if you should take music lessons or teach yourself. Perhaps you’ve obtained or inherited a musical instrument, started playing it and realised that you have no idea what you’re doing. Sound familiar?

This article covers the pros and cons of taking music lessons versus teaching yourself.

Teaching yourself Music

Teaching yourself to play music is totally possible, with so much material readily available anyone can learn to play just about anything, however it takes a certain type of personality to succeed.

You’ll need to be someone who is dedicated, patient and resourceful as teaching yourself will be a trial and error process and in some cases you’ll need to re-learn techniques/methods as the video you were following was completely wrong. If you’re easily frustrated, someone that needs structure or impatient then teaching yourself might not be the best option.

Teaching yourself music will take you longer to get to where you want to be as opposed to taking music lessons hence the need for plenty of patience however if you like a challenge then you may find this method rewarding

Benefits of teaching yourself music and what you’ll need

  • Cost effective

A great benefit about teaching yourself music is that it’s free or costs very little. You can also choose when and where to study and what to study, maybe you only want to learn a quick riff or a song
Excluding songs and melodies if you want to learn an instrument properly you’ll need to find some suitable resources before you can start. Two of the best resources for learning an instrument are music method books and online video lessons.

  • Method Books

As a starting point get a method book to suit your level of ability. If you’re a beginner, find a book aimed at complete beginners. For example If you want to learn jazz guitar, find a jazz style book for your ability level. Staff at your local music shop will be able to help with this or if you’re buying online look at reviews, just be aware some books focus on certain styles of the instrument so you’re better off getting a generic book in the first instance if you want a broader perspective

After you’ve bought the book there will be still a lot to figure out for yourself, but a book is a good starting point especially if it comes highly recommended
The downside of books is that they come with limited support so unless you understand the written instruction and/or diagrams you may find yourself stuck. Some books come with a CD or download link containing examples sound of the exercises in the book, but that’s usually all you get and no further information on technique or the exercise. Also with so many books out there have you got the right one?

As mentioned, a major downside to learning from a book is that you won’t actually see how anything is done (technique). There are no video demonstrations and no access to a music teacher to help you. The closest you’ll get to see how it’s done is through photographs and diagrams. For this reason Method books are best used as a resource in real life music lessons

  • Online video lessons easily accessible

An easy way to teach yourself music is to find online lessons on YouTube or sign up to an online music course. YouTube videos are free and available to everyone. Online music courses generally charge a relatively small subscription fee per month and sometimes offer feedback on the lessons

There are thousands of music teachers on YouTube who have uploaded tutorials. You will be able to find a lesson on anything related to any musical instrument and probably multiple lessons from multiple people on the same thing. But is this a good thing?

How do you know if any of these online music teachers are any good? How do you know what they are teaching you is correct? What if they’re missing something really important? As a beginner musician you simply won’t know.

You can do a bit of research and discover more about the teacher’s history and training. This will give you some peace of mind. A music college graduate or experienced performer is more likely to be a trustworthy source of information rather than someone who’s posted a random video If you can’t find any background information on the teacher, there’s a risk you may be learning the wrong thing entirely. It does happen, and not just online.

Always find out more about the teacher giving the lesson. It might just save you a lot of frustration in the future. This also applies to finding a music teacher in real life

Say you’ve found a trustworthy source of online music lessons. So far everything is going great but now you’ve come to another music lesson, and something doesn’t sound right. You’re doing everything the music teacher in the video is showing you, but it still doesn’t sound right. You’ve replayed the video a hundred times, repeated everything but it still doesn’t sound right.

What do you do? When you’re teaching yourself using online videos, it’s up to you to find the solution. You could post a comment below the video and hope the online teacher provides some killer insight. You could seek out another video lesson on the same topic. Maybe another video will shed some light on why things aren’t working. You could seek out an alternative source of information, such as a relevant article on the Internet. You could also ask your uncle joe who has some knowledge of music.

If you’re going to teach yourself, it’s likely that you’ll need to do all of the above and much more. But even when you’ve digested all of that information, you still need to put it into practice and make it work.

Teaching yourself will be time consuming and trial and error is the name of the game. If you manage to succeed in teaching yourself, you can bask in the knowledge that it has been thoroughly earned.


• Free (or costs very little)

• Study whenever, wherever you want

• Study the same lesson as often as you like

• Lots of choice – input from different teachers

• Information readily available


• No feedback on your playing

• No help when you get stuck

• Your only source of motivation comes from within

• Higher risk of learning incorrect information

• No structure

• Time consuming

• Can be frustrating

Taking Music Lessons

Taking music lessons is the traditional method of learning to play music

If your’ re going to go down this path you’ll need to do a bit of research to find a good music teacher. The standard of teachers can really vary so make sure you do your research well and try and find someone that is qualified, experienced, you get along with and will be with you the entire journey

Benefits of taking music lessons

  • Motivation

Motivation is the key to success. People often only think about music lessons in terms of ‘learning the instrument’ and over look the motivation component

Frequent music lessons will keep you motivated. This is one of the key factors for success. It also ensures that you’ll play your instrument frequently even if you’ve had a bad week at least you’ll get some music practice in at your lesson

Taking lessons keeps you motivated because your teacher will be constantly encouraging you and driving you to improve. Having a weekly appointment with your music teacher will also spur you on to pick up your musical instrument more often. I see motivation being equally as important as learning the instrument

The more motivated you are, the more likely you’ll pick up your instrument and play. More playing equals more improvement.

  • Feedback on your Playing

A key difference between music lessons and teaching yourself is that you’ll get constant feedback from your tutor and it takes out the guess work when things go wrong. Let’s take the example of buzzing sounds on notes. Say you’ve been practicing how to play a note, but it keeps buzzing and just doesn’t sound right. This is a pretty common problem and something pretty much all fretted instruments go through at some stage.

Whilst a video lesson can only show you how to do something, a music teacher can show you where you’ve gone wrong. Your music teacher will be able to notice the subtle difference between what you are doing, and what you need to do to make it work.

They will be able to inform you about all of the variables, which affect your ability to produce the right sound and the various options to produce the same sound using different methods. They will also be able to tell you if the issue is with your technique or musical instrument

If you have a really good music teacher, they will be able to give you a set of exercises and study pieces specifically designed to help you make the right movements overcoming this issue for future pieces

Taking music lessons is like being able to search the Internet for the solution to your exact problem with a key differences of knowing that you have the right trusted source to answer your query immediately and have an expert music teacher to explain and demonstrate the solution in many different ways, Who can then give you a set of exercises to overcome the problem along with exercises to progress

Music lessons offer a tailor made method of learning to play music; this will cover the different methods of playing music from contemporary to classical and all the different styles that exist. This is something that video lessons, books and other resources simply can’t match. I don’t think any tool, application or online resources will ever replace this core benefit of taking music lessons.

  • Lesson Structure

At what point do you go from being a beginner to being an advanced musician? How do you find suitable pieces of music to learn based on your current ability level?

If you’re going to teach yourself to play the music, you need to know the answers to these questions. It’s no good searching for intermediate video lessons if you’re still a beginner and how do you know what level the actual video lessons are. You might end up struggling with the content of a lesson, which is above your current ability level. This can lead to frustration and ultimately giving up with the instrument.

If you take music lessons, your teacher will know exactly the steps of progression to get you to advanced and which relevant material to apply.

Music teachers will also be able to play alternative exercises at the same level should you need. They will have accumulated a wealth of suitable repertoire and be able to pick the most appropriate songs or pieces of music for your ability level. This will keep you engaged and motivated, whilst still making improvements to your playing.

A music teacher will be able to put together a structured practice plan containing various musical exercises and knowledge that will help you to make improvements without being overwhelmed


• Motivation

• Analysis of your playing and constructive feedback to help you improve

• Personalised practice plans to work on your specific issues

• Immediate response to questions and problems

• Customisation of your classes to achieve your goals

• Progression plan to get you to an advanced stage

• An put you in touch with other musicians at the same level

• If the teacher is also a performer they can get you paid work once you get to a certain level


• Cost

• Finding a good music teacher


So which is the best method of learning to play music? Should you take music lessons or teach yourself?

I would highly recommend finding a good music teacher. I’ve experienced the benefit of this approach first hand and as a result it has helped me master my instrument. I’ve also taught self-taught students who’ve all said that they wish they had come to me from the start rather than go through the process of teaching themselves. There’s no harm in seeking out relevant YouTube videos, method books, textbooks etc. The more you expose yourself to, the better informed you will be. This will ultimately help you to become a better musician. If you’re taking music lessons you can always discuss whatever you’ve learned on your own or seen in your weekly lesson and build on it. If you happen to choose a bad music teacher, don’t be afraid to stop lessons and find a better teacher.
Although my recommendation is to get music lessons from a good teacher it’s not all doom and gloom for self taught musicians, If you’re taking the self taught approach and get stuck and don’t have the patience to work it out for yourself you can still take music lessons on a causal basis when the going gets tough, lots of music schools offer this option, it may cost more than a frequent lesson but it’s well worth knowing what you’re doing is correct and will help you quickly overcome any issues

I understand there are many brilliant self taught guitarists who’ve never had a lesson and they are testament that self-learning can be done however these masters are in the minority

I hope you’ve found this article useful. I have been teaching guitar and piano for over 20 years and am a frequent performer