Why you think you need music lessons, when you actually don’t

I, like many other kids growing up, was not extremely talented at sport, which left me with the only hope of going into the arts to find some sort of hidden skill or talent. The drum lessons I attended in Primary School lasted 4 weeks at most, followed by a short stint of guitar lessons in high school and finally 2 months of keyboard lessons as an adult. To most this would seem like I was just another impatient child who didn’t have the dedication to see things through or that I actually in fact had no talent at all. This was something I began to believe to be true for a long time until one day something clicked and I realised that maybe there was another way for me to learn.

The reason I believe I never saw these through was that I am not the kind of person who likes to be told “this is how it should be done”, but instead I like to reverse engineer it and figure it out for myself. Now I do believe there needs to be some sort of theory and understanding backing you to be able to do this, but sitting for an hour every week being told by someone that there was something wrong with me that I was unable to play ‘Mary had a little lamb’ to click, is not my idea of constructive learning for any adult or a child. (I should predicate this argument before you read further that my opinion is based on the misconception that ‘music lessons’ are perceived as a necessity to learn and that there are in fact more efficient ways to learn, but that it depends on what you wish to get out of music.)

Malcolm Gladwell is widely quoted across the web and in publications for his “10,000 hours” theory, as well as what he spoke about in The Talent Code as “Deep Practice”. If you’re not familiar with these, his theory is that to truly master something you need to spend 10,000 hours on it. These 10,000 hours should not be spent aimlessly fumbling around but rather spent in “Deep Practice” whereby you step out of your comfort zone and push yourself to learn beyond your perceived limit. Now, if you set out to achieve only half of this ‘mastery’ and you solely relied on your 1 hour a week music lesson to get you there (which many of you do), it would take you roughly 96 years to get there. I don’t know about you, but not even I am that patient.

I spent 2 years of my life and a stupid amount of money on a Sound Engineering qualification that I believed would teach me everything I would need to know to come out of the other end and get a great job. Do you want to know what the most valuable thing I learned in those 2 years was ? It was that I could get all the answers to the questions I had FOR FREE on YouTube or Google and in turn, become much better at my craft by simply doing things myself. This is exactly how people perceive music lessons, but the truth is that the real learning is done by learning whilst doing, which can be done at no cost at all.

The point I am getting to is simple – true mastery and learning does not come from the effort of others, but more importantly, the effort you put in yourself. Too often we use qualifications, degrees, courses or lessons as a crutch to avoid putting in real work, i.e. the practical education you attain when you actually do it yourself.

My suggestion?

  • Find a mentor with real world experience and spend time with them soaking up their knowledge. Don’t underestimate the power of real world education. This may be easier said than done as many people may object to some stranger asking them to spend the entire day with them but if you make an effort to add value to them in return (making coffee, cleaning up after them, taking their dog for a walk etc.) it can be all you need to persuade them otherwise.
  • Go lock yourself in a room with your instrument, an internet connection and some strong coffee for a few months (or years). You can learn almost anything on YouTube or find an answer to a question you may have on Google, you just have to spend the time looking for it. Alternatively, there are great online resources such as Coursera, Khan Academy & Udemy that offer free and paid for courses that are taught by real world practitioners and some of the best minds in the world.
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