Can music lessons ruin your originality?

Contrary to what some people believe, music instruction does not have to blunt one’s creativity. “Good” music instruction will enable one to expand and be MORE original, whereas “bad” music instruction can most definitely ruin your originality.

If what you study promotes understanding, practical skill, creativity, thinking on one’s own and expressing oneself, taking lessons can increase your ability to be original. Anything that promotes and nurtures these things can be considered to be “good.” Anything that inhibits these things can be considered to be “bad.”

From my experience, musicians who have had “bad” music lessons were taught one or more of the following: (1) things they didn’t need to know, (2) things they didn’t want to know, (3) were given bits and pieces of things instead of tying all the pieces of the puzzle together into a clear picture, (4) were showed instrument techniques that were either too hard, too easy or seemingly not relevant, (5) given lessons that didn’t seem to relate to their goals, (6) weren’t given the skills, information or guidance that the student really wanted and needed, (7) were given too many silly songs to play, (8) was taught to read when they didn’t want or need to, (9) was given false information that didn’t seem to relate to anything, (10) had mechanical things to do without any musical application (i.e., learn scales but not how to use them or lean song form but never write a song), and (11) wasn’t taught want they really wanted to know: had their personal goals neglected due to the teacher forcing upon them the teacher’s personal interests.

I am fortunate enough to have had a rather diverse background to pull information from and relate things to. I started piano at age three, drums at five, clarinet at eight, guitar at twelve, electric bass at thirteen and upright bass at eighteen. I’ve studied at universities and played gigs in ghettos, have played Mozart, Bach and Beethoven with 150 piece symphony orchestras, as well as playing rock and blues in garage-bands. Along the way I’ve studied with great teachers (and a few lousy ones), learned from books, copied licks from records and attended classes with wise old professors.

Music lessons should be fun and effective. Delivering quality music lessons is actually quite easy. After 25,000 hours in the teacher chair I have experienced the simplicity of it all: (1) discover what the student wants to do, (2) determine what the student needs to do to accomplish what he wants, (3) create a program that directly guides the student to his or her goals, (4) deliver the instruction in an efficient yet interesting manner, (5) give lessons that are neither too easy or too difficult, (6) set attainable short- and long-term targets (goals) for the student to reach (i.e., a performance, writing a first song, etc.), and (7) communicate freely about how things are going.

The key points in a student’s goal attainment, whether professionally, just for fun, or for the development of personal style and originality are: (1) the willingness and ability of the teacher to personally work with the student before him without being rote, (2) the willingness and ability of the student/musician to “be a student” and honestly strive to get the most out of what he is being instructed in without having the attitude of “already knowing it all,” (3) the workability of the teaching method itself, and (4) the instructor’s ability to instruct. When these points occur, abilities expand, professional skills are developed and originality blooms. If these four points aren’t there you might not get better with lessons, and your ability to create your own style or original music could be diminished.

Can music lessons ruin your originality? Not when they are right on the mark! Good music lessons should let you take your originality into a screaming affluence of creative ability and production.

Marty Buttwinick

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