Formal Lessons vs. Self-Taught – (Part 2)

The last time we spent some time together, we were in the middle of discussing the pros and cons of taking traditional, formal guitar lessons as compared to taking everything on your own and going the self-taught route.

We took a look at having structure, having a lesson plan, and cost.  But we aren’t done yet.  There are several other factors that you should take into account when deciding on which way to go.

Go The Distance

Formal lessons have benefits, for sure…but you should consider how far you’ll have to travel to get where you need to go, be it the teacher’s house, a local guitar shop, or some other school/retail space.

You’ve got to admit, there’s something to be said about taking your guitar, parking your rear end in a chair in front of your computer in your bedroom, and getting your lesson for the week (or whichever frequency that you feel comfortable with).  Heck, you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas or worry what your hair looks like!

Take that in comparison to traveling to get to your lessons.  How far away does your teacher live?  It may sound silly, but the price of gas to get you there should be added to your lesson cost.  For younger students, you may not even have your driver’s license yet – time to ask Mom or Dad for a ride.

Facing Reality

Some online lessons are what I’ll call “program based”.  By that I mean that they are static – you are simply reading information off a page or watching a video.  There is no actual, live interaction with someone on the other end of the internet.

The next level is having a live web chat with your teacher.  Having real-time levels of communication are great, and can almost be as effective as sitting in the same room.  

All of that being said, there is a level of interfacing that you just can’t get unless you and your teacher are sitting in face to face in two chairs, guitars in hand, right across from each other in the same room.

Sure, you can ask questions and get immediate answers over your computer, but will that work when you are a beginner and need help with learning how to properly hold your guitar?  What if you need help learning how to place your fingers so the notes in your chords ring out exactly like they are supposed to?

I say this from personal experience.  In the beginning, my teacher would actually put his hands on my fingers and show me exactly how to place them.  You can’t get that level of detail through your computer screen.

Wrong Way At The Right Time

One thing that is true of just about all guitar teachers – they know more than you do (well, about guitar anyway).  That’s kind of the whole point of taking guitar lessons, right?

The value of the experience that they have can’t be underestimated.  Going the self-taught route may lead you to learn things in the wrong way.  Now, granted…anyone can debate if right vs. wrong really matters at all as long as the end result is good.  I mean, the blues great Albert King played a right-handed guitar upside down, with the high E string at the top!

The point is that there are theory topics and techniques that can be learned in the “wrong way”, and having a teacher to guide you properly can keep that from happening.  

For me, my vibrato (bending the string rapidly across the neck) wasn’t the greatest.  Once I started taking lessons my teacher showed me what I was doing wrong – I was holding my hand in the wrong position and not pivoting my wrist in the right way.  I wouldn’t have even realized that without his guidance.  Once he showed me the right way it was like a lightbulb went off.

Outgrowing Things…

Yes – your teacher knows more than you do.

The question is – how much more?

When you are a beginner it’s a given that most teachers will be able to keep you going for quite a long time, maybe even a few years depending on your progress and how hard you practice.  Not all teachers are graduates of the Berklee School of Music, though.

Many times, they are average Joes that are teaching guitar as a side gig.  There certainly isn’t anything wrong with that at all!  But there is a possibility that the track will run out eventually, and that your teacher may not have much else left in his gas tank to show you.  

At that point, you’ll need to make the decision again – go with another teacher for formal lessons or strike out on your own?  In my case, I took things upon myself once I had a solid understanding of the basics.  I had the hunger to learn so I went the self-taught route for the rest of my playing career.  And I didn’t turn out all that bad…

To each his own at that point, though.  Before his tragic death, Randy Rhoads was thinking about taking a break from Ozzy’s band to continue with formal studies for classical guitar.

I’d say that he was a better player than I am, so if he was going to keep taking lessons then there must be something to it, right?


So, here’s your choice – formal guitar lessons or being self-taught.

Which is better?

And the answer is…

…wait for it…

It depends.

Without a doubt, whether formal guitar lessons or being self-taught is a choice that you will have to make based off of your personal preference.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each way.

Ultimately it is all about which way you will learn the fastest and also have a better understanding.  Learning to play the guitar can seem like a big mystery at first, but taking the right path for you personally can make all the difference in the world.

Until next time – peace out!

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