Invest in your skills on your instrument
Ah, the internet. A beautiful wasteland of Pepe memes, cat videos, and information about the guitar. Wether you're trying to determine the difference between a '65 and '66 strat (headstock size!), or just want to learn 'Three Little Birds', there are innumerable sources where that can all be found.
When I was a kid learning how to play there was NO INTERNET (gasp, record scratch). I had to learn from my teacher, my friends who also played, or a songbook. My first guitar teacher by and large refused to teach me songs (though in hindsight learning to read, music theory, and how to play by ear turned out to be invaluable), and my allowance of $20 for mowing the lawn required 2 weeks of consciously saving for a $25 songbook. That left my handful of friends who also played as my main source of learning songs.
Nowadays, not only does the guitar you buy come with a tuner (they were still new and prohibitively expensive when I was a kid), but you can jump onto tab sites or YouTube and find all the instruction you need to be able to win friends and influence people.
Or can you? Nothing compares, in the digital world, to one-on-one human interaction, and here are a few reasons why investing in private lessons is well worth every penny spent.
1.) Sure, the internet is free. But you get what you pay for. Or, as a good friend of mine says: 'cheap is more expensive'.
I can't tell you how many people have come to me for lessons having hit a wall. They've learned a bunch of songs from YouTube and tab sites, but they just aren't getting any better. From my point of view, I typically see technique issues. It's imperative to arch the knuckles and play with the fingertips, which is not something stressed in online instruction (to my knowledge). Playing with the pads of the fingers results in notes ringing that shouldn't be there. These are things that people have told me changed their playing, which took me maybe 30 seconds to observe and say 'ok, but if you try it this way, you can probably play it much more easily...'. So many times, I get people coming to me asking for help on 'Stairway to Heaven', where they try to play each note with the same finger. In reality, you're holding chords down with several fingers to let all the notes ring.
If you're enjoying yourself, and your hands are wrapped around your guitar, it's certainly not time wasted. Although, who wouldn't want to approach something that they're passionate about in an effective manner to maximize productivity during practice sessions?
In this context, 'cheap is more expensive', means one could easily have spent their time practicing more effectively and becoming a well rounded musician; rather than a year into the process coming for help and realizing that they could have found even more enjoyment from their playing had they invested in the best tools they could find.
2.) More progress, faster.
As I mentioned earlier, working with a teacher can put your progress on your instrument into high gear. A good teacher can take 5 minutes to point out something helpful that might have taken you six months to realize on your own. Miles Davis once said that you should always be the worst musician in your band. Meaning that if you always surround yourself with musicians who are better than you at your instrument, that will help make you into a better musician as well. Beyond studying with a teacher, befriend people who are better than you at your instrument. Ask them for tips, ask them what were songs that they learned that helped them progress.
One does not exist in a vacuum when taking lessons, there are always more people and places to seek out more knowledge about your instrument. But a great teacher can find your problem areas quickly, and with hard work and dedication on your part, turn them into your strengths, all the while helping you become a more well rounded musician.
3.) Good teachers help you learn
A common fear of a novice player is going into this one on one setting with a stranger who is much more accomplished at a skill set that is very personal and very near and dear to the heart. 'Is this guy going to tell me I'm terrible?', 'Is this guy going to tell me I have no hope?', 'Is this guy going to make me learn all these jazz guitar chords when I want to learn Jimi Hendrix solos?'.
The answer to all of those questions should be 'no'.
A good teacher wants to help their students progress with their craft. Granted, if you want to learn Hendrix solos, going to a Bossa Nova player for lessons might not be the best match for you. But a jazz player could point you in the direction of Miles Davis, who had planned to do an album with Hendrix were it not for his untimely death. And maybe towards John McLaughlin, who played with Miles and had the knowledge to conjure up traditional jazz playing just as well as blues licks through a Marshall stack cranked to 11. Music is something you can devote your entire life to learning, so there does need to be some open mindedness on the end of the student as well.
What it boils down to is this, something my teacher, Bruce Bartlett(link?), told me: Every teacher knows that the student learns from themselves, you're merely giving them the tools.
4.) Hendrix never had a lesson.
'Well, Hendrix never needed to take lessons and he did just fine.'
Neither of us are Jimi Hendrix, and if either of us were, we wouldn't be here reading or writing this blog.
Hendrix was playing professionally from a young age, and was by all means picking up on ideas from the other musicians he played with. He also hung out with Albert King a few times, who showed him some stuff as well. He did not exist in a vacuum, nor should anyone who wants to learn. Any subject.
If you're investing the time and money into learning how to play the guitar, an investment in some professional instruction is well worth the money spent. Hypothetically, a year's worth of lessons could get you a pretty sweet new guitar. But what about investing that money into making the guitar that you do have sound great? You wouldn't be alone. I took a private lesson once a week with Bruce Bartlett for over ten years. He studied with a guy named Charlie Banacos for about ten years. Charlie also taught Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, and many other well known players of not just the guitar (Charlie was a pianist). A bit of a corruption of the Socratic paradox, 'all I know is that I know nothing', my personal philosophy for learning my instrument has been 'I suck at guitar, I just try to suck a little bit less every day'.
Adam Douglass has been playing guitar for 25 years and teaching for a good 20. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York where he is an instructor; and plays with his band doing his original music, jazz standards, or whatever other gigs might come his way. His guitar of choice is the Fender Stratocaster, though if money were no object he'd have 3 or 4 of everything. He prefers tube screamer-like overdrives and clean boosts, with touch of analog delay. Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org, as he is always happy to discuss interesting topics.