Formal Lessons vs. Self-Taught – (Part 1)

The beginning phases of learning to play the guitar can, without a doubt, be the most overwhelming.  Not knowing what to do or how to do it can be a pretty big roadblock to getting anywhere.  That’s why taking formal guitar lessons can be one of the best things you can do at this formative stage.

That being said, you may wonder if lessons are really worth it.  I mean…all you have to do is search for online articles and watch some videos online, right?  Why pay for something that you can get for free?

In my opinion, guitar lessons are great tools in the right situations.  But, as with most things, they aren’t for everybody. 

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that you can get from taking lessons as compared to trying to take things on all by yourself.

Structured Chaos

Part of what makes a beginning guitar player successful is the desire to learn.  It’s common to be very excited about becoming the next Hendrix, Clapton, or Van Halen…and it’s also just as common to get frustrated and lose interest when you come across topics and techniques that are…well…hard.

This can be particularly true with younger players.  How many of you have heard of a kid getting a guitar as a gift and then…nothing?  It ends up sitting and gathering dust.

Having a guitar teacher brings a level of structure and accountability to your learning plans – and that can be a big factor in whether or not you are successful.

I experienced this first hand.  I was a snot-nosed 14-year old that was taking private lessons once a week.  I wanted to rock out, and in my infinite wisdom, I thought that what the guy was teaching me was boring and not all that important.

So what did I do? 

It’s not what I did do, it’s what I didn’t do.

I didn’t take any time to practice the majority of what tried to teach.  It didn’t take long for him to realize that I wasn’t exactly highly motivated. 

He ended up taking some time one week to lay it on the line.  He basically said that my parents were spending their hard earned money to try to get me to better myself and that I was wasting his time, my time, and their cash if I wasn’t going to put in the work.

He was holding me accountable.  He was demanding that I bring some structure and discipline to myself.

As a kid, hearing that from an adult was a bit eye-opening.  And it taught me a lesson that has stayed with me for more years than I want to admit (I’m NOT telling you how old I am…that’s classified information).

Sometimes it takes someone to push you along to keep you focused and on the right track.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Part of having a sense of structure with your playing is having a plan.  Any guitar teacher worth a broken string will have a decent experience.  They will have a plan to teach you what you need to know, and they’ll do it in a measured way. 

That’s very important for several reasons:

  • You’ll get the background you need to build on as your skills and knowledge grow.
  • You’ll be able to easier handle more advanced topics as time moves along.
  • It’s easy to skip topics if you’re self-taught without any sort of road map. What is important to learn, and when are you supposed to learn it?  When you don’t know what you don’t know, it can be the same thing as driving into a brick wall at 100 MPH.
  • A good teacher will spoon-feed. With all of the foreign and confusing concepts that come with learning to understand music and how to play the guitar, taking it a few bites at a time is much better than having you drink from a firehose.

How Much Is That Puppy In The Window?

Yeah…time is money.  A guitar teacher will not give up his time to lead you along unless something is in it for him.  It’s a fact that private lessons from qualified individuals aren’t cheap.

The price depends on where you live, of course, but it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of $25 for a half hour.  That can add up over the course of several months.

You have to look at it this way:  if the wheel bearings went out on your car, how would you handle it?  Would you spend hours reading articles online and watching a bunch of YouTube videos to figure out how to do all of the work yourself?

Some people would, for sure.  But I’m betting that most people wouldn’t.  So what do you do?  You take your car to a mechanic where they charge a ton of money.  Why?  Because they can.  They have the knowledge that you don’t, and that knowledge comes with a dollar value attached to it.

Do I have time for another story?

A manufacturing company had a machine break down.  They had to get it back up and running quickly so they called in a repairman to get the job done.

After the repairman took a look, it was only a very short time until the machine was fixed and running, better than it had been before.  Before he left, the repairman went to the owner of the company and gave him a bill for $100.

When the owner asked what the problem was, the repairman said all he did was replace a nut.

The owner was livid. “What??  You’re charging me $100 for a single nut?!?  That’s ridiculous!!”

The repairman said “OK.  I’ll take another look at it”.  After a few minutes, he gave the owner a revised bill.

There were two items on it

  • New nut for a machine: $1.00
  • Knowledge of knowing how to change the nut and fix your machine (since you don’t know how): $99.00

The owner paid the bill without questioning it any further.

The moral of the story?

Knowledge is power.  Guitar lessons can be expensive.  It can be worth it for a good teacher!


Formal guitar lessons are a great way to keep your motivation levels up.  They also help you to move along and progress faster in your playing.

But we’re not done yet.  There are some other points to think about, and we’ll get to those next week. 

Until then – rock on and peace out!

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