Music Dorkery

The Pros and Cons of Being a Self-Taught Musician

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“Metal” Mike Chlasciak, who’s played guitar for Rob Halford, Testament, Sebastian Bach and a number of other greats, has penned a thought-provoking column for Guitar World called “Dispelling the Myth of Being Self-Taught.” His basic argument: though there’s a certain amount of pride amongst musician in being self-taught and that approach can certainly work out well, having some formal training as well can only make you better.

It’s hard to disagree with Chlasciak’s point. His introductory argument that there’s no such thing as a true self-taught musician since we all take cues from existing music is ridiculous — that’s obviously not what people mean by “self-taught” — but he quickly turns it around and hones in:

By learning more, you have more choices, not to mention possibilities you didn’t know existed. This is what learning about music theory (and how music works) is all about. Even if you refuse to learn music theory, merely studying with a teacher or jamming with someone better than you will open many doors. A new riff you picked up from someone can inspire you to write the greatest song of your life. What you do with it is completely up to you.

The idea is to take new information and suck out the juice that is applicable to the way you want to play the instrument. When you do that, the new information is super valuable. Don’t close your eyes to new info and ways to absorb it. Embrace it. The rest is up to you.

So true. Sure, some of the best riffs and songs of all time have been written by people who can’t read a lick of printed music, but being able to do so — and understanding the theory behind it — expands your palette of possibilities a thousand full. For a visual analogy, why paint with only 8 colors when you can paint with 100?

On the other hand, I can see someone making the argument that knowledge of formal music theory might be counterproductive, since the untrained mind might be more free to think and construct music in non-traditional ways. And that’s hard to disagree with as well.

Are you self-taught or are you a theory buff? Sound off below.

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