I took ballet and with ballet you gain something called muscle memory and if you learn incorrectly, it's almost impossible to become a great dancer. 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.

Edit: By "online", I mean courses in which I'm not interacting with an instructor.

9 Answers 9


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
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 13:04

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
    Commented May 3, 2011 at 13:07

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". :-)


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
    Commented May 3, 2011 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.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 3, 2011 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/…. Commented May 3, 2011 at 18:24

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".


Internet video lessons are an amazing resource - whether free or paid - and good ones will show you great technique plus you can watch over and over rather than get confused and have to wait until your next lesson to check with the tutor.

The main thing you miss is someone watching you and noticing the things you are doing wrong.

But "online" doesn't have to mean online videos only. Lots of people do traditional lessons online over tools like Skype, in fact I think many sites with video lessons offer this kind of personal tuition as well.


I guess there are instruments, where the online approach is more difficult. For sure the double reed instruments fall into this category, where every so often my teacher says: 'Let my try that reed', and after short diagnosis resorts to the tools.

In the initial phase I would strongly advise against it - I tried learning bassoon on myself (i.e. even without online teacher) and it took a quite long time to iron out the bad habits, wrong approaches or unnecessary clumsiness.


You are not actually talking about online lessons here but offline lessons: the teacher has recorded a lesson which you play back without interaction. Also it is not an individual lesson but applies to everybody equally.

As such, it will not address any problems or mistakes particular to you. Your "in the middle of nowhere" situation does not apply to actual online lessons (via videoconferencing) so you should not restrict your options to working without a teacher altogether.

  • I'm talking about courses where there is no instructor in which I interact. Let me clarify my question. Commented Oct 29, 2016 at 17:09
  • If correcting bad practices before they become bad habits is a significant concern, recorded lessons supplemented by occasional videoconference instruction would be advisable.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 23:26

Not a good idea. You wouldn't learn how to fly a plane or operate on someone via online course. Studies say that playing a musical instrument involves more brain cells than flying a plane or performing surgery.

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    While you have a point, it would be best to include some additional thoughts for the answer to hold any weight. One can certainly learn in a multitude of ways and there are drawbacks for some of them. I would suggest adding specific things that would be a concern of learning online for this answer to be more potent. Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 23:17
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    Certainly there are disadvantages to learning anything on line compared to having a live instructor to critique your application of the lesson material. However, your examples are so extreme they discredit your position. Obviously if you are do it wrong as a surgeon or pilot, people might die. I don't think anyone has ever died trying to play the flute. You might consider some more credible analogies. I like your mentions of the brain cells involved. Can you explain in more detail why that fact makes on line learning more difficult? That would be an interesting angle. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 0:16
  • One can learn most of what is necessary to get a pilot's license from Microsoft Flight Simulator with decent input peripherals, so that's definitely not a good example for the assertion that learning through an on-line course isn't practical.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 23:23

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