What’s the Right Way to Learn Music?

October 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in music education | 2 Comments
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The right way to learn music really depends on what you want to learn what your interests and goals are and to what level of skill you want to develop.

I think when a person says “I want to learn the right way” they may be thinking they have to suffer through a long drawn out tedious frustrating process learning how to read music and practicing scales and arpeggios for hours a day in order to be able to play the guitar. Nah, this is not necessarily so.

Now I’m not anti-music reading or anti-scales and arpeggios but if your interest is to learn a very basic skill like strumming and being able to play and sing your favorite songs or being able to jam in rock and blues you don’t necessarily have to learn how to read music. If chords are to difficult to jump into right away you could take some preliminary steps to build up your finger strength or try smaller chord formations and just get started learning how to strum.

Sometimes for beginners that are in that direction I do recommend learning to read music in a good method book only for the development of the basic technique and it’s an easy step to take when getting your fingers use to the strings and the frets. I also let them know that it’s not absolutely necessary to finish the method completely and we’ll get out of the method as soon as they gain a little more control over the fingers and can handle chords. This way the learning process can be less frustrating because if you do start with chords and the chords are too difficult then you could struggle for months rather than developing the skill you need by taking small systematic steps.

Most songs in the blues, rock and country genre are really not that difficult and only require a minimum of skill. Really, I’m not kidding, I’ve had many students who only after a few weeks or months were able to either begin playing or were enjoying the experience of playing along with their favorite songs on a CD or even getting together with friends and jamming.

If you want to learn classical or jazz than that would require more serious study and practice and I would definitely learn how to read music because it will increase your ability to learn at a faster pace. Classical requires good technique, without it there are pieces that would be impossible to play while jazz requires a good working knowledge of music theory in order to develop the ability to spontaneously improvise.

If your desire is to be a more skillful or professional musician the more you know the better off you are. Let me digress and make some further distinctions, a professional musician is a musician who gets paid for what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are skillful.

On the other hand, I know some musicians who are not professional but they are very skillful. Another popular myth is that if someone is famous they must be good or skillful and that is not necessarily true, many times it’s just a matter of someone’s opinion or they look cute or whatever and there’s nothing wrong with that. So there are different levels of skill and if you want to increase your skill than there are some very specific things that you can and should learn that will do just that which I will save for another article.

I’ve had many students who started by learning how to read music and then they gradually moved into the area of their interest and I’ve also had many students who started without learning to read music and after learning how to play the style of music they liked decided to learn how to read music and they increased their skill even further. So there are many ways that you can learn how to play the guitar what’s important is to find the way that works best for you.

About the Author

Ed Kihm is a guitarist, teacher, arranger and composer with a Masters in Music Degree from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia and a Conservatory Diploma for graduate level studies from Neupauers Conservatory of Music. He began learning the guitar at the age of six, has been teaching guitar since 1987 and it’s his full time occupation with private students locally and around the world via web cam lessons as well as subscribers to his online video courses. He occasionally performs classical and jazz in fine dinning restaurants on weekends as well as contracting a variety of work in music production at his home studio.



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  1. Ed, thanks for this. I learned how to play first and am now filling in my skill set with more theory. I appreciate your view, given your background and training.

  2. Thank you In Tune Studios, I’m glad to hear that!

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