I don’t think this discussion is specific to learning Jazz, a few weeks ago, I had a guy in the comments talking about how Jazz teachers were making things more complicated and trying to keep students from learning, which I thought was both incredibly funny and a little weird conspiracy and tinfoil hat sounding. But then I remembered that I once had a student who in the lesson told me that I was not teaching him the right things because when I played it sounded way better than when he played, so I had to be keeping something from him.
Needless to say, the difference was probably just that I had practiced a bit more than him, but he was convinced that couldn’t be it, so I suggested that he might be better off finding a teacher that he trusted and stop having lessons with me if I thought I was holding back information. Sadly I couldn’t talk him into going to another teacher at that time.
All of this doesn’t fit at all with my experience. I have had a LOT of guitar lessons from a lot of different teachers, in fact, I started having lessons when I was 12 years old, and mostly I have had friendly, encouraging, skilled, talented, and motivated teachers who were incredibly patient with me and all the stuff I couldn’t do and had to learn, and that is a massive part of why I can play today and make a living playing guitar, and it is also why I love teaching. So I thought it would be helpful to talk a bit about what the benefits of having lessons are, and especially why it is probably better to have real in-person lessons compared to watching a YouTube video or reading a blog post like you are now. I think this is a critical discussion both for teachers and students, but I am also very curious about what you think about it.
Of course, I’ll add some stories about less fantastic teachers in there as well, but we’ll get to that. Let’s start with one big misunderstanding, with teaching, probably for learning anything, but especially with learning an instrument.
Information Is Everywhere
If we return to the angry student then he felt that he was not given the information he needed to play well, and before the internet then I guess that was possible. At that time you had to have a book, or a teacher maybe access to a library so that you could get information.
But with the internet that is no longer the case.
By now you can find information about anything just by searching on the internet, or even asking ChatGPT what to practice or how to solo over There will never be another you, but ok, maybe AI isn’t really there yet. But there are articles and YouTube lessons on pretty much anything you want to work on.
The challenge is how to figure out what is actually useable or relevant information, and even if you know that then you still have to get that internalized in a step-wise manner which is very difficult. An example of having information but not being able to use it even before the internet is when I started out trying to learn Jazz. The only books I could get at the library were the David Baker Bebop books,
and they were completely useless to me, and Ironically, they might have been great if I had worked with a teacher, but I’ll get to that later.
On the internet, everything is probably there for free, and if you want an ordered approach of online lessons then you can get access to that for the price of two or three guitar lessons, by enrolling in an online course similar to my Jazz Guitar Roadmap.
In a course, you pay to get access to a longer connected learning path and don’t get stuck having to waste time by putting it all together like a puzzle where you need to Google every piece in there.
So why would anyone take guitar lessons? There are actually quite a few really good reasons for that.
#1 A Teacher is A Guide
This first one may maybe obvious and follows the problem I just pointed out with unconnected lessons on the internet. Information is not ordered in a way that is tailor-made for you as a student, even if you get a course that is also made to fit a lot of students and that may not be the most efficient way for you to learn. But that is exactly what a teacher can do: You get material based on how you play, what you need to develop, and what you want to learn, so instead of searching for hours on the internet you only spend that time practicing and learning. The mix of exercises and songs is also something that a teacher can adjust so that it fits the student, within reason at least, which means that the way you are taught fits you. Maybe you have an easy time picking up solos by ear, or maybe you are more comfortable reading etudes or composing your own licks, there is room for a lot more flexibility.
The best part is that you and the teacher can find a way of working that is, efficient, more fun and practical for you.
To return to my example with the David Baker books, the problem I ran into with them was that I did not have any help in putting them to use in solos, and when I played the examples
then they were played with bad phrasing and I did not have someone to demonstrate how it could sound which meant that it was just a bunch of notes with my horrible phrasing, uninspiring and useless, without that being David Bakers fault.
I certainly tried my best to make my course useful for most students and I have seen a lot of them really benefit, but that level of personalization is just not possible, even if I did come up with a way to fix it a bit with the Jazz guitar roadmap, but I’ll talk about that in the next section, and also discuss why in-person lessons are better than Zoom/Skype/facetime as well, but first, we need to talk about the biggest problem for beginner guitarists.
#2 Experienced Ears
The one thing that holds back any beginner in any genre is that they don’t know where to start or what they need to learn. Mainly because you need a lot of experience with the genre to understand what needs work, and that is the only thing you don’t have at that point. Think of it this way: If you don’t know how Blues is supposed to sound then learning the pentatonic scale will not really help you, and you can end up spending a lot of time wondering why you don’t sound right if you are just trying to invent your own blues vocabulary without checking out people like Stevie Ray Vaughn, BB King or Eric Clapton. I think this sounds pretty obvious for a lot of us, but then think about how often people try to learn Jazz by only studying theory and NEVER listening to Jazz. I think it is pretty clear how that is a recipe for disaster.
I think this is one of the biggest benefits of having a teacher: feedback from experienced ears, and this is true for any genre,
Let me give you some examples from Jazz: As a beginner, you probably can’t hear what is wrong with your phrasing, whether you are ahead or behind, or how your swing-feel is. And those things are what make the difference between sounding like a Jazz solo or sounding like something random being played back by GuitarPro. Playing the notes is easy, playing the right melodies in the right way is very very difficult, and a teacher can help steer your playing in the right direction with stuff like this, and most likely you can’t tell yourself, you can maybe hear that it doesn’t really sound right, but not what to fix. No blog post or YouTube video will listen to you playing and tell you what is going on, and it will be a while before we have an AI tool that can do that well enough, it at least first needs to learn the chords for There Will Never Be Another You.
Getting Feedback will help you learn faster. You can save tons of time by having someone listen to your playing and give you feedback so that you know what to improve and can train your ears to hear the right phrasing and the right types of melodies or notice if you are doing something wrong in a solo all the time. Figuring that out on your own takes at least 10 times as long if not 100 times, so it is a colossal advantage to get feedback on your progress. But you do have to trust the one giving feedback as I will tell you about in a bit. I was actually aware of this when I made my course, and that is the reason that there is a community built into the Roadmap so that the students can get feedback on how they are doing and sometimes I can even help with things that are not in the course, but really holding back a student, but don’t underestimate how big a difference this can make for you learning Jazz. It is definitely worth taking some lessons just with this in mind.
As I mentioned, you can also find yourself with a teacher whom you don’t trust they are really helping you, similar to my student from the beginning, but that is pretty rare, I think mainly because teachers who don’t enjoy seeing their students get better won’t enjoy teaching at all and find something else to do. One teacher that I did study with for a very short time was in the first lesson insisting that I bought his books and then in the next lesson tried to impress me by playing something on the piano, calling it “advanced theory” he just didn’t realize that I played much better piano than him, and what he was playing was simple enough so I knew exactly what he was doing. To me, that came across as if he was trying to fake it and show off, and the combination of those two things made me stop having lessons with him right away, But one bad experience in having lessons for more than 25 years, is a pretty good statistic for guitar lessons!
The last advantage I didn’t find a good solution for in my course and it might seem subtle but I really think it makes a big difference it certainly did for me, and then I want to mention some of the reasons why many don’t do in-person lessons, most of which are certainly valid.
#3 Up Close And Personal
One of the most common ways to have in-person lessons is still online using Zoom/Skype or Facetime. Similar to all the YT lessons and blog posts this is great for a lot of reasons, especially because you can study with great musicians on the other side of the world, but again this is maybe less effective than actually being in the room with another person. It can be that this is more typical for guitar, but I do think it holds for all instruments. Being in the room with a musician or a teacher is just so much more powerful. Think of the impact it has to listen to an album on Spotify versus going to a concert and being in the front row.
But there is more to it than that, especially when it comes to Guitar. You learn so much from playing with someone who is better than you, and even if this is something that is maybe forgotten sometimes, then it is actually a big part of learning to play Jazz. Jazz is not a solo art form, it is about playing together with others, locking in with their time, and reacting to what they play both when you are soloing and when you are comping, and you learn so much by that. In fact, I think that most of what I learned during my study at the conservatory was from making music with the other students, not my main subject lessons, and that doesn’t mean that my main subject lessons were not any good. That is just because you learn to play music by playing music.
If you look at the studies about how corona has slowed down kids learning because everything was remote then I think that fits with what I am saying. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have great lessons through Zoom, but it is missing something, and if possible you also want to get trained in interacting and making music with others while you have lessons. It will also prepare you for bands, jam sessions, and hanging out with other people who play, all important parts of playing guitar and learning Jazz, and I think in fact the most fun part!
You Never Have To Take Lessons!
I am really curious about what you think about this, so please leave a comment to share your experience and your opinion, but, of course, having lessons in person on a regular basis is not possible for everyone, and that is perfectly fine.
You need to work with what is possible for you, and committing to regular lessons is difficult, You risk them not being effective if you space them out too much. Besides time, then you also need to have a teacher near enough for lessons to be practical, and you need to be able to work with that teacher, which can also be an issue. Not everyone’s taste or style of learning fits with all teachers, and in those situations things like online courses and online lessons can be the best option, especially if it is that or nothing else.
But if you have not tried having lessons then I can only recommend you try, I guess I do that more as a student than as a teacher, but as I already mentioned then I feel that I got here because I had lots of lessons with a lot of good teachers, and there are a lot of good teachers out there.
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