Find the Best Approach for Learning a Musical Instrument

Updated on August 8, 2017

If you want to learn to play a musical instrument, or you want your kids to learn, there are different ways to go about it. You have to find what works best for you. These are six approaches and the pros and cons of each.

Self-Learning

Pros: It's a pretty cheap way to learn. You invest in an instrument, some books, YouTube videos, or a software tutorial and that's it. Or you may be able to find find free step-by-step tutorials like justinguitar.com. There are also YouTube channels dedicated to step-by-step learning. You don't have any monthly cost to learn.

Cons: One big disadvantage of self-learning is that it can be difficult to learn proper technique. And if you learn improperly it can be hard to break bad habits. Bad technique can even be dangerous. It could lead to injuries.

It can be very hard to know when you are or aren't ready to move onto the next step. You may feel you've mastered something when you really haven't or conversely you may feel you aren't good enough to move on when you should.

Another big con is that you may have less incentive to practice regularly. Knowing that you have to prepare for lessons each week can provide a strong motivation to practice and prepare.

Online Learning

Yousician is an online learning program where you can pay $19.99 a month or $119 a year per instrument. The app provides interactive tutorials that offer feedback on how well you've played.

Pros: It's cheap. A big advantage over self-learning is that it's step-by-step and the program can determine when you're ready to move on.

Cons: Like with self-learning you may unknowingly be using improper technique if you don't have an expert there to correct you. And like with self-learning, you may not have enough incentive to practice regularly.

Music Studios

Music studios are locations that offer lessons in multiple instruments to hundreds of students.

Pros: Studios often have multiple teachers per instrument, so you can find the one who's the best fit for you or your child. They offer yearly recitals, which are especially good for children. A recital gives them an incentive to completely perfect a song and gives them a chance to perform in front of an audience.

A teacher is physically present, so it can be easy to learn proper posture and technique.

Studios often offer group lessons. This is a great way for kids to learn ensemble playing or playing with a group.

Studios will do background checks and ensure that the teachers have proper qualifications to teach.

Cons: Travel can be an issue unless you're lucky enough to live within a couple of miles of a studio. Kids will usually take lessons in the late afternoon or early evening, which is usually a busy traffic time. So, you spend a lot of time driving, and waiting around.

Studios are expensive because they have a lot of overhead. They will often take 40-50% of monthly payments while the rest goes to the teacher. As a result, studio teachers are often more expensive than independent teachers.

You pay a fixed monthly fee regardless of how many lessons you do each month. You have to schedule make-up lessons if you miss any. With an independent teacher, you only pay for the lessons you take. As an example, let's say you're paying $30 per lesson. In a studio, you would pay $120 at the beginning of the month. If you miss two lessons that month, you need to do two make-ups to make up for it. Your $120 cost is fixed. If you have an independent teacher, you would only pay $60 for the month, so you're overall cost for the year would be lower.

A lot of studios have mostly child learners. This may make some adult learners feel uncomfortable.

Distance Learning

This method uses a real teacher but you learn from them using a webcam over Skype, Facetime or similar type services.

Pros: The teacher has less expenses because they can teach out of their home. Which means they can charge a lot less. You can also shop around for the best price because it doesn't matter where your teacher is located. You'll have far more choices available to you than you would trying to find a teacher locally. The teacher can check your posture and technique and provide help and feedback.

You probably won't have to do make-up lessons. You'll likely only have to pay for the lessons you take that month.

Cons: While your teacher can help with technique, having someone there to show you hands-on can be a big help. This may be especially true for younger kids who may have trouble following directions. You have to have a proper camera set up, so the teacher can see your instrument. This can be easy with a guitar or violin but a little more complicated with a piano. Your video chat may disconnect from time-to-time.

At-Home Teachers

These are teachers who teach in their own home.

Pros: They can be affordable because their expenses are low. If you find someone in your neighborhood or a near-by neighborhood, you won't have to travel far. You'll actually have a teacher who's there in-person, which is the best kind of guidance. Having someone physically there can be the best way for kids to learn. At-home teachers will usually allow you to pay for lessons as you take them and not require you to pay a fixed monthly fee. If you miss a lesson, your cost for that month will be less. Find out the teacher's payment policy before you start taking lessons.

Cons: As long as the teacher's home is quiet and doesn't have distractions, there are no real disadvantages.

In-Home Teachers

These are teachers who will come to your home. This is the most convenient method of learning.

Pros: This has all the advantages of having a teacher physically present but without you having to go anywhere. If you have a child who has lots of homework in the evening, this can be the least time-consuming way for them to learn an instrument. And if you have more than one child who is taking lessons they don't have to wait around while their sibling takes lessons like they would in a teacher's home or at a studio if they have the same teacher. Prices vary a lot and you may be able to get a good deal. Some teachers will travel within a limited area, which means they can keep their fees low. If you live close to a university, you may be able to find a music student who will teach in your home for a lower rate. Many universities will allow you to submit a job posting.

Cons: Like with a studio, this can be expensive if it's an experienced teacher who travels a lot. Those travel costs get passed onto you. Teachers will often schedule kids in the same area on the same day. If too many kids cancel that day, the teacher may cancel everyone. You should find out their policy before starting lessons. Even though you'll have a scheduled time slot, teachers may show up too early or too late, since traffic can be unpredictable. Our piano teacher will show up anywhere from 15 minutes early to 20 minutes late.

You'll need to ensure you can provide a quiet environment. Young kids, TVs running, or barking dogs can be distracting for the teacher and student.

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