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  • Writer's pictureVen Ram

9 THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN YOU WANT TO LEARN AN INSTRUMENT WITHOUT A TEACHER

It seems like only yesterday when I picked up a guitar and started fiddling around with it. I realised that it has been almost 13 years now. In my first ever attempt with writing a blog I would like to share the crucial milestones I crossed while learning to play the guitar, without a teacher, and in the process tell you how you can do it. For many it's no biggie and for many it means everything. I feel I should share this for the sake of reference and knowledge.


We were younger back then, my brother Rangarajan and I. Fighting over small little things and laughing for no reason. We have a strange bond, something we could not and do not care to explain. Everyone knew I was the culprit for all the chaos we created as kids but no one knew, he was pulling the trigger. Ranga, as he is called by everybody, was always the one to lead me into trouble by exciting me and letting me be the mouth for his bargains. He always knew, if he could entice and coerce me enough, I wouldn't stop till I got what I wanted and being the younger sibling his gain would eventually follow. So it was always me, who got into trouble between the three siblings.The third, being my eldest sister who'd be least of my parents' worries.


Suddenly out of the blue Ranga one afternoon, returns from school with a strange request. At that moment it felt as if the world started spinning the opposite way. He said, "my friends and I are joining Guitar Class in the academy" (which we were blessed with in our society). He fought for it, but finances were an impediment at the time. Eventually he persuaded my folks and he joined the classes but had to borrow his friend's guitar to practice his chords.


I, on the other hand, had no clue what was happening and would simply try to distract him or make fun of him. But, secretly, when he wasn't around, I always used to crave to open that worn out guitar bag, pull this slinky little thing out and start fiddling around with it. After being caught once, Ranga, with no way out , had to teach me some basic chords and the Chromatic Scale. At first, I didn't get it but then some sense struck in my empty head and I figured a couple of things out, from whatever he taught me. I would ask Ranga to check with Sir (Late Gautam Lahiri, A brilliant man and Extraordinary Musician) and let me know if I was on the right track. This to and fro continued for a while.

Eventually, the pace in which Ranga and I started experimenting became exciting and the race to figure out new things increased drastically. It didn't take us much time, to be able to play all the chords, including bar chords, understanding 'added 9th' and 'diminished 6th' etc. The journey began and even now, the idea is to learn more and try to figure out as many new things as we can, undeniably with a childish competitiveness as the primary driving force.


It is a challenge to discuss this topic in today's time through words , as it seems so simple, with the numerous obvious solutions available to us. It is , you are right , thanks to the internet. There are still many things that can be learnt faster if you have a guide.


The art of self learning is actually pretty intense and difficult as the motivation level could go down at any given point of time. One might even want to quit after the first few attempts. Having faced that turmoil myself , My heart goes out to everyone who is involved in this process and continuing , without giving up.


Here are some tips that I think can help you learn how to play an instrument by yourself. From the many things I tried here are some important pointers that are sure to work.


  • Knowledge about the instrument : One needs to know about the instrument selected in detail. Which includes, everything ranging from the physical parts to the mechanism, straight up to how best can it be played.


  • Authenticity of information : Before concluding that everything learnt from the Internet, is perfect for you, it is a must that you authenticate that information with a known person of that field of interest. Reading more and digging deep into the subject always helps in better learning. Detailed research in any subject has the same result.


  • The technique : One of the most important aspect of picking up an instrument is the technique that is used. Learning the accurate technique is recommended highly before looking at fancy ways of playing an instrument or achieving proficiency in speed for that matter. The downside of being self taught is that you might practice incorrect or less efficient techniques. Eventually it may take many years before you realize your mistake. Then you have to begin the process of "unlearning " which can be frustrating. Exchange notes, discuss and watch others to keep yourself on the right track.


  • Start Slow : It is a given that if you start slow, you will eventually end up having immense clarity in your playing. In this fast paced, restless world, where everyone is trying to rush, if you are impatient with the learning process, you will eventually hit a dead end. So, start slow and make sure you know exactly what you are doing.


  • Know the meaning of every step : The greatest, hardest, most time consuming, yet exciting part of the entire process is to know the meaning and value of every step before going to the next. For example, if you know a Chord (let's say 'D Major'), you should know everything about it, what notes it's made of , what makes it sound like a D and not anything else, how can you change from another chord to D or vis a versa, instead of just memorising the finger formation.


  • Consistency in practice and acquiring knowledge : Consistency in practice is crucial and ensuring application of theory, even more. Consistency is the key and can drive you straight to bliss. Take this advice seriously;


"Practising for 15 minutes straight Without a single-second break is infinitely more effective than three hours of broken practice".


  • Age matters : Age doesn't really matter when it comes to choosing an instrument, but age matters with respect to how dedicated you will be to continue and pursue what you have started. It's a misconception that old people can't learn a new art form and extremely young kids need more time to develop motor skills etc. Leave all of these ideas behind and just go ahead with the motivation in your mind and remind yourself of the Love for the instrument.


  • Vision : I believe this to be the most important step and my driving force for doing anything to learn any instrument.

As one of my greatest inspirations, Steve Vai once said: "Vision, you need to visualise yourself to be the best in what you want to do. If you are a Rock musician, you need to visualise yourself playing the best guitars/bass/drums/synthesizers in the world for millions of people". Everyone's vision can be different, whatever they choose it to be. This will become your goal and this will be the vision that you need to walk towards.


  • Belief : The final step is to always believe in the vision and never let yourself down at any point. The moment you stop believing in what you are doing, the purpose and everything that is attached with it, is lost. So believe in it, even if the world is against it.

These are some things that have worked for me in the past and still do at present. Learning an instrument is something that everyone can do. It's made out to be a herculean task. That is not true. Learning an instrument is much easier, thanks to YouTube and the great Youtubers who dedicate so much time to put together so much content for everyone to learn.


If you have taken anything back from here today, what is it? Do let me know. If you have decided to pick up an instrument today, no matter how old you are, do let me know. I, Ven Ram, will be there to share that great moment with the small little world of mine.


Love and Peace,

Ven Ram


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