Learning a New Instrument

Happy 2010 everybody! What are your goals and aspirations for this year? One of mine is to learn piano, using “traditional methods” like lessons and classes.

Piano[img courtesy of mysterytrax]

Learning a musical instrument is always a scary and daunting task for any person – musician or not. There are so many ways to start learning how to play an instrument, that just the thought of learning can be overwhelming. For the sake of this blog post, I’d like to lump them all into two categories – traditional methods and DIY methods. I’ve had experience with both of these methods, and I have a love/hate relationship with each of them.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and i’ll list a few later on.

The first instrument I ever learned how to play was the trumpet, back in 3rd grade. I was in the school band and was taught by school music teachers using very traditional methods. Memorizing scales, notes on the staff, sheet music, sight reading, mezzo forte, the works. I would go home and re-practice the things that were taught to me during school, and then take proficiency tests and receive grades for my progress. I was pretty damn good, and kept at it until my junior year in high school. I gained tons of musical experience from these years of traditional learning, a lot of which I still can remember.

Here are some pros and cons that I have experienced while learning the trumpet traditionally:

Good Stuff  –

  • Starting with easy concepts and working your way up from there.
  • Structure and discipline enforced by a third party (teacher, school, whatever).
  • Tests, auditions and other tools to track your progress.
  • The “correct” way, as regarded by many industry professionals, with degrees and other certifications available to prove your proficiency.

Bad Stuff –

  • Lack of freedom/experimentation/creativity during lessons.
  • Mistakes are frowned upon.
  • “Making progress” is determined by something/someone other than the player.
  • “This is the ONLY way to learn” mentality.

At the end of my junior year in high school, I left the school band. Really, I just got bored of playing crappy school concerts for people that didn’t want to be there. It was no longer new and exciting for me.

After retiring the trumpet, I was given a guitar and just started plucking, strumming, and playing my favorite songs by ear. It was pretty liberating to just start hammering away on my acoustic guitar and not having to worry about someone telling me I was doing it all wrong. I learned how to read tabs, and found online lessons about how to pick and strum, or how to play a certain scale. I then found simple exercises to work on these techniques. While practicing, I would go off on many tangents and just improvise and play shit that I thought was cool. I would record myself with my small home recording setup to hear what I sounded like, and develop my technique until I started liking what I heard. The exploring and ambiguity of trying to do things way above my head excited me, and motivated me to get better and try new things with my instrument. Amanda Palmer clearly likes this way.

I still create and experiment everyday. It’s tons of fun. However, I spend less and less time on music theory and correct practice, and can tell that my previous knowledge of music theory is declining and become fuzzier with each passing day.

The good and bad of going at it DIY style (from my experience):

Good Stuff –

  • Total freedom while practicing.
  • Craft your own lessons and learn what you want to learn.
  • More time to experiment and be creative.
  • Build confidence in yourself and your actions.

Bad Stuff –

  • Less discipline, direction and guidance.
  • No way to measure/prove your musical knowledge.
  • You can totally suck and not even know it unless you get an outside opinion or record yourself.

Either method can work well, in my opinion. Going at it yourself definitely requires a lot more work and self-discipline, which is why it is much less popular than traditional learning. It really just depends on what kind of person you are. You can even mix the two together to allow for discipline and direction during lessons, and experimentation/creativity during your personal practice time.

This semester, I took an interest in piano and decided to give the traditional teaching methods another shot. I enrolled in a beginner’s piano course at Penn State (MUSIC 050). This morning, the professor was talking about things like pitch, the grand staff, meter, and other crazy simple musical elements. Back to square one for me, but I think it will be beneficial to go back to my musical roots.

How have you guys learned your instruments? Lets talk about your methods and experiences.

_chris

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4 Responses to “Learning a New Instrument”

  1. You’ve got some great stuff here folks, I”ve signed up for your RSS feed so I’ll know when you update the site…Thanks…

  2. A. Person Says:

    What a coincidence…I’ve just signed up for an adult-ed class in my area to get back into lessons. The nice thing about this one is that it’s more “customized”–what’s prevented me from group classes is that I know too much theory for beginning, but don’t have the chops to be with the advanced people.
    Great blog; I hope to be able to visit more often–maybe getting a feed is the answer…

    • classicrocker415 Says:

      Thanks for the kind words! I agree, it’s hard to get a “customized” learning experience when being taught with a group of people. This is why I chose to take the self-taught route for learning guitar, and I’m happy that I did.

      Also, I do have an RSS feed located at the top right of the page…here is the URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/tightmix

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Seriously, This is great Stuff for music I like this very much!

    Thanks!

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