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How To Learn an Instrument Without a Teacher

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If you ask people something they would like to do before they die, two of the most common answers are to learn a foreign language, or learn to play a musical instrument.  Something about these two skills interest a lot of people.

Unfortunately, lots of people never transfer this ambition into action.  And that's a real shame, because it is easier than ever to learn a musical instrument without a teacher.  In fact, it's to the point where almost anyone can learn most of what they need to know from free information available on the internet.

Whether you are a complete beginner that has never played a note before, or someone with moderate experience looking to learn more, these tips will help you learn how to play an instrument without a teacher.

Pick Your Instrument and Purchase It

The first thing that you have to do is decide what you are going to play.  This is going to have a huge impact on what resources are out there to help.  If you are interested in something such as piano or guitar, there are tons of resources that will help you out with learning every step of the way.  

If you are choosing something that is not as popular, there is still a lot of information on the web, but you are just going to have to work harder at it.  Also keep in mind that when it comes down to basics that span across all instruments, such as the ability to read music, much of what you need to take in is universal.


Now you are also going to need to purchase your instrument.  Obviously you can buy it online, or go to a local store.  While it is probably cheaper to buy it online (unless it is something big like a piano) I would personally recommend you go to a store first.  This way you can get a feel for the different instruments and how they each feel to you. Even if you don't end up buying it from a local place, you can get a feel and some recommendations from a professional, and then just buy that particular model online anyway.  

Also, remember that it's okay to save some money and buy the instrument used.  You don't know if you are going to like this hobby or stick with it, so there's no reason to dump a lot of money into it at first.  If you are interested in learning the piano, you should absolutely buy used, as it will save you hundreds of dollars, and there's always someone local moving out that can't take theirs with them.

Other instruments can be found used on sites like Craigslist, and you can always pick up another mouthpiece or anything like that, so don't feel bad about buying second hand.  Plus, if you buy it used, most of the value has already depreciated.  This way when you go to upgrade to something better, you can sell it back and get almost exactly what you paid.

Learn How To Read Music

Regardless of what you decide to play, one of your first steps should be learning how to read music.  If you are on the piano, then this is going to coincide with your first lessons anyway.

Luckily, reading music is actually much easier than it is made out to be.  Once you have a properly tuned instrument, you can play each note to recognize the sound of it.  Then simply look at where that note is on the staff, and continue playing it so that you recognize that noise.

reading music

Lots of resources can be found online for reading music as well.  This is one of the first things that you are going to learn regardless of what you choose.  And it's also one of the first lessons that children get when they are learning instruments too.  It won't take anyone long to pick up on, and it will give you a universal understanding of music that applies to any instrument.  It will also help you begin to recognize notes and chords in the music you listen to regularly.

Find Free Tutorials and Lessons Online

This next part is as simple as a search.  Go to Google and YouTube and type in "learn to play [your instrument] online".  You will be able to find lots of websites, videos, and other resources to help you out.

The way that most of these websites will work is that they will post lots of free content, usually for beginners.  Then they will have a premium membership or more information and content you can get access to for money.  That's okay.  Just stick with the free content at first and see how it goes.  This will give you an idea of the quality of the premium content.

Remember to check out different videos and websites.  Almost every one of these online educators will have a slightly different teaching style.  Some you will take to more easily.  Some will you have better quality sound.  Some will have extra resources like sheet music, which will be very helpful since you are also learning to read music.

After checking out a few of these free tutorials, pick one that has a sort of "course" in that it has videos meant to go in order.  Stick with this course, an try not to jump around too much.



This is the one thing that nobody wants to hear, but it's what you have to do to get good at it.  It's not easy to learn how to play an instrument without a teacher, but if you are determined, you will be able to do it.

If you are looking to get the most advancement out of your practice sessions, then it's better to go very slowly.  Never try to rush anything when learning something new like this.  You will take more away from the lesson by going slowly.  It is much better to play the notes correctly, but slowly, than to go really fast but mess than up.

Once you get into the habit of practicing regularly, you will begin to appreciate you regular sessions, and it will become a habit.  At this point, you can start to stray away from any "courses" and start learning songs and concepts you are interested in.  You can always go back and refer to the online material later.  At this point, you are learning things because you want to, and you will be amazed at how much easier it becomes.

Piano For Dummies
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Feb 25, 2014 12:34pm
I wrote nearly the same article, and was denied...what gives?

Some good points here, although I disagree with the need to learn sheet music. I learned to play guitar almost strictly from the internet, and am now in a popular local band. Not once did I ever need to learn sheet music for that particular instrument.
Feb 25, 2014 1:42pm
Good article. As an instrument player (piano and trumpet) I agree with all of the points you made here. Riz, you are right, it isn't technically necessary to learn how to read music, but I believe that if you are serious about your craft that you should be able to read it at least on a rudimentary level. It will only make you better.
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