Are Online Music Lessons a Better Value than Taking from a Live Teacher
Are Online Music Lessons a Better Value than Taking from a Live Teacher?
The proliferation of online services that are revolutionizing the way we do
everything from shopping, to programming to finding a spouse is, of course, old
news. This is the new normal and exciting world we live in and, it seems, it touches
nearly every aspect of our lives in some way. So if a computer algorithm can help us
find the right mate, maybe it can help us learn to play guitar – and perhaps save us
thousands of dollars in the process!
First some clarification: I am only trying to decide which is the better VALUE, not
whether in-person music lessons yield better results than online music lessons.
Even most sites offering online guitar or piano lessons say right up front that the
best way to learn an instrument is directly from a qualified music teacher. So it
seems the argument as to which is BETTER is already conceded, but while many
people might concede that a Mercedes is intrinsically a better car than a KIA, the
question of which is a better VALUE is probably more to the point for most car-
buyers. So the question here is which method allows you to gain the most musical
skill per dollar.
Private music lessons on guitar, piano or violin can range from $80/mo. to upwards
of $240 depending on lesson length, qualifications of the teacher and add-ons
whereas online music lesson subscriptions usually range from free to $20/mo. In
addition, there are many perks to online lessons that are not available from a
Take your lesson whenever you like
Take lessons in your own home
Learn only what you want to learn
Hundreds or even thousands of accompaniment tracks to liven up your
With all of these advantages it may come as a surprise that I am going to
recommend in-person lessons as the hands down winner in terms of actual dollar
value when it comes to learning an instrument. Why? For the simple reason that
teaching is an art form that, it it’s core, is based on intelligent and constructive
feedback about how the learner is doing.
Teaching a complex skill like classical guitar or blues piano is much more than
simply providing information – it involves hundreds of interactions in which the
student tries something, get’s feedback, makes a small correction and tries again.
Oftentimes this feedback isn’t even in the form of words: For example, if a student is
dragging the beat the teacher may instinctively lay into the bass of the
accompaniment a little harder giving the student the feedback that they need to pick
up the pace. This is something even the most sophisticated online lesson system can
never do. More importantly, a teacher can make small adjustments in your
technique that might seem minor at first, but can save you from technique problems
or even severe pain later on. A teacher might reach over and say, “here, hold it like
this.” or “you’re bending your wrist too much” and solve a problem before it begins.
In addition, many of the “advantages” listed above are the very reason online
lessons so often fail: For most busy people, having no particular schedule for a
lesson and no accountability to practice means that practice will happen
sporadically at best. The accountability of having an appointment with another
human being (especially one you like) keeps you coming back and making progress.
Similarly, getting to pick the songs and styles you want to learn assumes that you
know exactly what you want to learn and what the next right step for you really is.
Frequently a teacher who gets to know a student well and has spent their entire life
studying music will be able to suggest musical paths that were unknown to the
student, but are vastly more satisfying than that what the student already knew.
Isn’t that one of the main reasons to seek out an expert in the first place? To learn
what we didn’t even know we didn’t know?
I will close with an anecdote of a friend who insisted she would do better taking
lessons online and reading about saxophone technique until she had built up some
skill so her money could be better spent getting “advanced lessons” from a private
instructor. Despite my admonition that the most important stage of learning is at
the beginning when all the habits of good technique are formed, she forged ahead
and even practiced quite diligently. Several weeks later she caught up to me and
told me excitedly “Klondike, I just figured out why I have been having so much pain
when I play: I had the mouthpiece on upside down!” “hmm,” I said “that might have
been something a teacher would have caught in the first lesson…”
Klondike Steadman is a director at Orpheus Academy of Music in Austin TX.
Orpheus Academy of Music is an after-school music academy offering private
lessons and group classes in Guitar, Piano, Violin and Voice to students of all ages.
For more information please visit www.orpheusacademy.com