Get Inspired by These Self-Taught Musicians



If you think you aren’t talented musically, get inspired by these musicians who are self-taught. Teaching yourself a trade or a musical instrument makes no difference as long as there is interest, effort and perseverance. Here are some of the most famous musicians who taught themselves how to play and become successful thanks to their tenacity and passion for what they love to do.


Kurt Cobain


Kurt Cobain was an icon for Generation X, widely seen to be the spokesperson and musician of this generation. On his 14th birthday, he was offered a bike or a guitar as a gift from his uncle and he chose the latter. Cobain took just one month of guitar lessons and he was able to learn the riff to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to playing “My Best Friend’s Girl” later on. Just as we have depended on Youtube tutorials today, Cobain probably depended on magazines to improve his own learning and playing on the guitar. He formed Nirvana and wrote his own songs. The band’s second album “Nevermind” exploded in 1991 to much acclaim.


Cobain invented ways to play the guitar by moving an incredibly simple power chord shape up and down the fretboard. His rudimentary guitar playing could be heard on MTV’s “Unplugged in New York” where he flubs the guitar solo to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” It didn’t matter that he wasn’t into the Eddie Van Halen speed scales or complicated jazz chords. He was a great player in his own class who could write great rhythmic music with addictive hooks and riffy chord patterns. Unfortunately, Cobain died of suicide at the age of 27 in 1994.


Noel Gallagher


Noel Gallagher is most well-known as co-lead vocalist of the British band Oasis with his brother Liam. He is one of the most successful songwriters in British music history and the sole primary writer of 10 UK number 1 studio albums. Credited as one of the musicians for reviving Britpop in the 1990s, Noel actually taught himself how to play the guitar.


It was thanks to boredom during his six months of probation for stealing from a corner shop that Noel learnt the guitar at the age of 12. He began to teach himself to play his favourite songs on the radio. He was inspired by the debut of The Smiths in 1983 and performed their single “This Charming Man”. He soon declared he wanted to be Johnny Marr.


Noel agreed to join his brother’s band The Rain, which became Oasis with the condition that he would be the sole songwriter and take over creative control. Oasis’ debut album “Definitely Maybe” released in August 1994 earned critical acclaim and enormous commercial success.


Elton John


Elton John is the Mozart of pop music. He is a music prodigy who taught himself how to play the piano at the age of 3. He played “The Skater’s Waltz” after learning it by ear. His innate talent for music earned him a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 11. Unable to stop composing music instead of focusing on his studies, John opted to drop out of college when he was 17 to pursue a music career.


He formed the band Bluesology and released four albums in one year. His rise to stardom was in part due to his outlandish outfits and stage performance. In the 1970s, most rock music was built around guitars except for John’s piano. He recorded 15 hits between 1973 and 1976 which included “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.


Dave Grohl


Dave Grohl was a drummer with Nirvana from 1990 to 1994 until Kurt Cobain’s death. He then formed a one-man band as the Foo Fighters where he played all the instruments. After the first album, Foo Fighters was fully assembled as a band.


Grohl does not know how to read music. Instead, he plays by ear. His primary recording guitar is an original cherry red Gibson Trini Lopez Standard he bought in the early 1990s because he liked the look of the diamond-shaped sound holes. Grohl has insisted it is possible to teach oneself how to play musical instruments if only we can put our mind to it.


In fact, Grohl learnt to drum on his bed by listening to Rush records and punk rock. He bolted out of his first drumming lesson after his teacher told him that he was holding his drum sticks wrongly. The same went for playing the guitar. He has no idea what any of the chords are. He looks at the lower strings like they are kicks and snares and the upper strings like they are cymbals.


We hope these self-taught and self-made musicians inspired you to learn your favourite music instrument on your own. But if you still feel a lack of confidence, perhaps a few months of music lessons might help. Find out more about our music programmes at Ritmo Music Studio, located near Chinatown MRT station.


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