Online vs In Person Music Lessons: The Pros & Cons

Sep 10, 2014

In today’s busy world life can get pretty complicated, with all manner of different things being thrown our way seemingly by the hour. Life can get convoluted incredibly quickly, with busy schedules and hectic commitments. Unfortunately this can often lead to those hobbies that keep us sane taking a back seat to the “more important” aspects of day to day life. It also can make it extremely difficult to pick up new interests to keep that sanity in check. With that in mind, and the wonderful resource that is the internet at our finger tips, many people have taken to video sites like YouTube in an attempt to learn music. There are a near infinite number of pre-recorded music lessons to be found out there on the web; everything from voice to guitar to dijurido lessons. But can you learn a new skill as complicated and as fulfilling as music from the internet? This week we’re going to tackle online lessons versus in person lessons; is it worth it to try to take it on essentially by yourself, with nothing but the warm glow of your computer monitor to instruct you, or should you stick to the flesh and blood of a real life music instructor? Let’s begin with the new style of learning from pre-recorded videos.

The biggest draw for online lessons for many people is the utter convenience. Not only are many of these lessons completely free, but you can have the opportunity to access a huge variety of different ideas, techniques, and teaching styles, all from the comfort of your computer chair. But it isn’t just the multiple teaching options in your own home, there are also many well-known musicians who produce music lessons online on a regular basis. It can be like having a professional musician make a special house call just for you, without all the pesky details, like arranging the meeting, or figuring out their tour schedule for their lesson availability, or dealing with what could only be described as a massive bill. You can learn from the best, in your own living room, without ever actually meeting them.

The advantages to this method continue beyond simple convenience as well. Pre-packaged online music lessons often follow a structured format based on a particular lesson topics. These topics change from post to post, from week to week, allowing students to progress at their own pace, and on their own schedule. Since these lessons are just videos playing on a screen, they can be reviewed over and over, allowing for mastery of each before proceeding on to the next. And as an added bonus, many online lessons feature slowed down examples so you can really understand what is being done and how something is being played. This is certainly a more difficult task for an actual person to do in real time.

But, of course, there are a few cons to go with all this convenience. One such issue is motivation. Take it from the voice of experience; it is extremely easy to say to yourself, “ah, I’m too tired, or too busy, or would rather watch Netflix, etc., than watch a lesson today. I’ll do it tomorrow.” That little voice in the back of your head telling you that there is something else you would rather be doing is a lot more difficult to resist in your own home. Going to a music teacher is more of a commitment, and inherently gives a student more motivation to actually progress. Online lessons can also suffer from technological deficiencies. Many sites offer “live” lessons, but these are subject to delays, dropped signals, and slow response times. Even pre-recorded videos on sites like YouTube can have connectivity and buffering issues. Lastly, and possibly the biggest problem with online lessons, is the fact that pre-packaged lessons are simply not designed for your specific needs as a student. They are, by definition, generic and made for the masses.

In-person lessons have their own set of benefits and detractions. Possibly the strongest argument in favour of person to person lessons is the simple fact that being in the same room with your teacher allows for immediate feedback and interactions between you and your instructor. If there is something you don’t understand all you have to do to gain clarity is ask a question or two. Sure, a video can slow down the action to help you see and understand what is actually happening, but if you don’t understand what is being said all that slow-mo action is worthless. An actual in-person instructor can change the way they phrase things, physically show you different things on your instrument, and stay on a specific topic, discussing it from every angle until you fully understand. Teachers can tailor their techniques to your specific learning style, eliminating the need to spend time hunting through videos to find one that explains an issue in a way that you can understand.

As mentioned above, motivation plays a huge role in learning to make music. Having a standing weekly lesson helps to keep you on track, maintain a regular practice schedule, and set and achieve specific goals based on your own learning path. Setting this time aside and allowing it to become a part of your routine is a lot easier when you are meeting with another living person. And there are other sources of motivation associated with working with an instructor; performing and meeting new people. Whether your lessons are with a teacher working alone or through a school or program, there will most likely be performance opportunities available to you that you would not get by yourself. With these performance opportunities there also comes the chance to meet and mingle (and maybe even perform with) other students of varying skill levels. You can not only see where you might progress to, but there is the social aspect of making new friends with a guaranteed shared interest.

Now, of course, in-person lessons may not be the most convenient. Travelling for lessons can be a big problem. Conflicting schedules, school, work, kids, friends, and other hobbies all have to compete with finding a good time that can be set aside on a weekly basis for music lessons. And that’s not even touching the cost. In-person lessons have a tendency to cost significantly more than even paid online lessons, and certainly more than YouTube, not to mention the ever increasing price of gas and public transportation.

In the end making this decision should be based solely on your own needs, be they learning needs, scheduling needs, or financial needs. Please carefully consider all your options before choosing a path for your musical education, because the wrong choice could lead to stagnation, or worse, giving up completely. If music lessons are something you want to seriously pursue you need to be honest with yourself about these needs and make your choice accordingly. Good luck.