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I took ballet and with ballet you gain something called muscle memory and if you learn incorrectly, it's almost impossible to ever be a great dancer (because of muscle memory.) Because of this, you can't learn ballet out of a book or from a video -- you need an instructor to say "You're doing a great job" or "You need to do this instead."

Is learning an instrument online a bad idea because of the above reason or any other reason? I would like to learn the flute, but I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I see that there are plenty of learn flute online courses, but I'm wondering if anyone has had any success with learning an instrument over the Internet, out of a book, from videos, etc? I'm not talking about people who see an instructor and then go home and practice out of a book, but rather those who never have the help of an instructor.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I think if one wanted to be a concert pianist or part of a symphony or something, there's no question that one should get a good teacher. Precision is necessary in these areas, and precision is exceptionally difficult to teach oneself. As well, you might never be exposed to some concepts through picking up things on your own that a teacher would deem absolutely necessary.

That said, it's not necessary to have a teacher in order to be a decent musician. While you might never go to a performance of amateur ballet dancers, people go see amateur(ish) musicians in concert all the time. Technique is rarely the focus, but rather creativity and artistry. These things can be enhanced by formal training but aren't really taught.

It's certainly easy to develop bad habits, but I think they can be corrected more easily in music than in ballet. My third piano teacher was much more competent than my first two, and managed to smack most of my bad habits out of me. It's also easy to ignore certain areas, such as theory and sight reading; but many people manage to ignore them even with a teacher. Memorizing a song can hide that you can't sightread quickly, and that sort of thing.

If you're focused enough, you can definitely achieve a high skill level without a teacher.

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Also, a good student will respond well to any teacher giving criticism. If he goes to a master class and the teacher comments on his posture, he will work on his own to correct it. (Of course this is true with the traditional teacher/student relationship as well, but it doubly important when studying independently.) –  Michael May 3 '11 at 13:04

During my time, there was no such thing as the internet. However, there were cassette tapes, books and watching friends and performers playing. Sometimes, I can consult them; sometimes I just watch and ask no questions.

That is the closest experience I have that would compare with the internet.

However, for me, the desire is very intense.

Eventually, I became a Play By Ear Coach and by today, after 25 years, I and my team have coached about 5000 students. With all the experiences combined, I have compiled our training into Video Ebooks detailing exactly what to do like how we teach on a personal basis. In fact, I think they are better because all the correct terms and methods are clearly expressed across. It is possible that sometimes, due to human elements, a human coach can miss out on important details. With Video Ebooks, you can't miss out unless you are careless.

As the others have mentioned, you DON'T need a coach ALL THE TIME - only at times when you want someone to assess what you have done and to give pointers where to move next. For that SKYPE is a very useful invention. And the technology has improved so much that the Video Conferencing part has become very advanced such that a coach and watch exactly what you are doing and then give corrections.

If the circumstances warrant it and you have no other choice; or because of money constraints, give ONLINE LEARNING A GO. If you do well, you save money. If it is not for you, you can always start looking for coach.

Personally, I think if your desire to get the music right is very strong, you don't have to worry about "Muscle Memory".

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I took 4-5 years of lessons starting at age 8 before dropping them, and here is my information.

You don't have to have a teacher every week for a year or more like some people do. You might do well to get started on your own and then have a teacher for about a month to check that you are on course. It is up to you and in this point of view you will probably know best.

The most likely bad habits I know of (that a teacher would probably point out early on) are.

  • Unnecessary stress / bad posture or hand position. Stay relaxed, don't use the ends of your joints. If you are falling from a second story, you want to land on your feet and not have straight knees, You want to make sure you are using your muscle and not the joint endings.
  • Allowing an out of tune piano to seem normal to your ear. You can tune your own piano, but you probably don't want to learn that until you can play it. You can ask someone else to see if it is in tune or you can practice on different pianos.

Also, keep in mind that learning to play by ear and by sight are two different things. Any one of these can be dropped entirely for you to play piano, but you may not want to. Memorizing is also a part of sight reading that can be dropped. Teachers I know push for even learning across all of these. Students I know (probably because of the books they use), easily drop the part of learning by ear and the teacher does not get much practice on the ear part of have a fun time handling a person who is the other way around.

Whatever you do, I would advise learning sheet music enough so you can learn a song (even if it is slow work). If you have a good ear, you may find you want to take a melody or a song you have heard and work it out on the piano, in which case you may look at adding accompaniment to a tune in a separate question.

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-1 Learning to read music solidly is a must. You are correct that too many students drop the ear part entirely, but it's too easy to go in the other direction too (read, Susuki) where the student is extremely advanced but can play sheet music only on the most basic level. –  Michael May 3 '11 at 13:11
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+1 Depends on your instrument/style - many of the most successful musicians in the world don't read sheet music, or learned after they became famous. I happened to learn violin when very young, so I can read music, but in my current performances I almost never use music so it can be irrelevant. –  Dr Mayhem May 3 '11 at 16:23
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@Michael: I tend to agree with @Dr Meyhem, but I know this is subjective. Here are some examples for those who are interested. music.stackexchange.com/questions/63/…. –  musicwithoutpaper May 3 '11 at 18:24

From learning the flute as a kid, I would say that you will probably benefit from an instructor. But I don't think you need to see the instructor very often. If you can get to an instructor once every couple of months to make sure you aren't making any mistakes in your basic technique, that is probably enough.

So maybe instead of an instructor, you can call it a "coach". :-)

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Is the quality of online lesson good?

With very detailed, in-depth instructions like Youtube:ProfessorV's Violin lessons, one can confidently start learning an instrument. (find something similar for your instrument)

Are you aware of your mistakes?

Would you know if your posture is wrong or stressing some of your muscles unnecessarily? Could you detect your intonation flaws? If you've already learnt an instrument, and/or quite aware of technique, you will probably avoid getting stuck with bad habits.

As you say you've learnt ballet, you probably know the proper learning process, rather than hacking and learning to play a few cool tunes. There are very useful learning resources online. I don't see why you should hesitate, especially when there's no teacher around.

tip: record yourself

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+1 for "record yourself." Both audio and video recording can help you identify problems. –  Michael May 3 '11 at 13:07

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