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What Are the Secret of Self-Taught Musicians?



In the hobbies that pique our interest, we seek out a teacher who is an expert at the craft to teach us. If you are interested in music, you might already be learning musical instruments at a music studio. Besides learning the skills from a teacher, it is also necessary to devote time and effort to playing music in order to be skilled at it. But there is also a group of musicians, who excelled at making music and becoming famous from their own learning and efforts. What are the secrets of these self-taught successful musicians?


What is the key emotion for learning?


It may come as a surprise that the world’s most illustrious musicians are self-taught. They include Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Prince. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were also largely self-taught. What is the key emotion that led to their self-teaching?


A 2013 study found that guitarists and pianists linked self-learning to a heightened sense of motivation to play music ranging from informal jam sessions to formal recitals. It was also found that those who learnt music through informal music were more inclined to write and create music. There are also more guitarists than pianists who are self-taught.


How do self-taught musicians achieve a level of expertise without guidance?


While the Asian education system champions rote learning, it is not strict memorisation of chords and notes that helped these self-taught musicians. Rather, research has found that learning a skill implicitly - without conscious awareness of the underlying process is an advantage of these self-taught musicians.


John Frusciante, the guitarist for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers had taught himself to play a number of songs by The Germs by the age of 10. But in the midst of learning, he had no idea what he was doing. The inability to describe the step-by-step learning process is a characteristic of an implicitly learned skill.


Similarly, the frontman of Aussie rock group Daddy Cool, Ross Wilson, said that his mother asked him to join the choir when he was 10. He was taught to sing harmonies without knowing what was happening.


The advantages of implicit learning


The advantages of implicit learning are clear. Research has shown that motor skills acquired implicitly are able to withstand mental and emotional pressures. Performing in front of a large audience for one who has learnt implicitly reduces the likelihood of consciously wanting to control movements.


Pressure often causes people to think step-by-step about what they are doing and this may cause musicians to slip up in a performance. When learning takes place without a step-by-step process, the performer’s automatic mechanisms take over.


What implicit learning tells us about coaching


The advantages of implicit learning are clear. Does this mean music teachers should skip the formal process of teaching? Rote learning still has its place and isn’t totally unnecessary. However, music teachers can allow their students to have more freedom in movement and create a less restrictive environment in their learning journey.


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