The pitfalls of learning music from YouTube

written by by Metro Music Makers instructor J.T. Lee

Time and time again I get this statement from people: “Instead of lessons, can’t I teach myself on YouTube?”

The answer is yes you can, if you want to learn music halfway. Now you may be saying, “Hey, I’m pretty smart. I can teach myself,” and you’re not wrong. The problem is a teacher can only take you as far as they’ve gone, so you’re stuck at your own limits. Because of these constraints in knowledge, there are some serious pitfalls that one can land in when it comes to self-teaching. Here are a few:

1. Wrong information:
Most YouTubers in the music world have a basic knowledge of music. For many, their education stops there. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some great online lessons from credible players, but those are few and far between. Many great players can play well, but communicate poorly; this lands you as a student trying to fill in the gaps between what they’re trying to say and what they’re playing on camera. It is important to cross-reference anything you hear online with knowledge from a credible source. This isn’t only true for Facebook articles, but for anything online. When ever a YouTube music teacher tells you anything, fact-check it with a real life teacher to make sure it checks out! Please don’t walk into a gig referring to a Bb note as a B minor (true story: there’s a pro keyboard player online who talks like this, and it drives me crazy!). Please take what you hear online with a grain of salt, and make sure you’re learning correct information.

Also on this, double-check what you play. People online often teach you to play things the way they learned them, but there may be an easier way of doing it. And at the end of the day, what’s most important is how a song sounds, not how it’s made, so always aim to play in the most stylistically appropriate, easy-to-play way.

2. They can show you their technique, but they can’t fix yours:
Yes, many players online can play really hard stuff really fast. They may even be able to show you how. The thing they can’t do is correct your bad habits. What really stinks is that when you learn something wrong, it becomes even harder to unlearn it. You often have to start over completely. Perhaps the worst thing is that playing or singing over extended periods of time with bad technique can physically damage your body. Many times we are not aware of our bad habits. It takes another person who is more knowledgeable of our art to look at us and tell us where we are hurting ourselves. Don’t be afraid to jump in a lesson purely for the sake of preserving your abilities for a longer time. Real life lessons will prolong your abilities and keep you playing better for most of your life!

3. There’s no real network online:
If you are interested in playing anywhere besides your bedroom, you’re going to need a network in your town. You need someone to help get your name out there. Gaining the respect of a respected teacher/player is one of the easiest ways of doing this. There’s nothing like having a respected player’s approval on your resume to get you in the door with certain gigs. Great players help other great players out. It’s just a truth of the industry. Look at all the giants who Miles Davis built careers for—all because they were willing to tour with him and learn from him. So if you are serious about playing, go out there and learn from someone who is doing what you want to do. Who knows, they may even throw a few bones your way!

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good info on YouTube for playing, but please, please don’t take what you’re told as gospel. While there are many great online teachers, don’t be afraid to double-check what they say with a real person. Take some time, log-off the Internet, put down the smartphone, and book some time with a real player to take your playing to the next level!

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