Learning an Instrument on YouTube – The Pros and Cons

Throughout recent years YouTube has become flooded with instructional “how to” videos on a whole plethora of subjects. You can find videos on how to cook certain dishes, how to fix your lawnmower and of course, how to play your instrument. These instrument tuition videos have divided the music tuition community as, some think they serve as a great study/practice tool and, others feel they are putting instrument teachers out of business and can be guilty of spreading bad information and bad technique. The reality (as far as I can see) is that there are elements of both good and bad to this learning strategy, so here is a list of what I think are the most important pros and cons to using this method.

Pro – YouTube gives you access to thousands of teachers that you may not have had access too otherwise. If you are living in a rural community with few teachers of your instrument within reach or, if you want to study Spanish Flamenco Guitar or traditional Scottish Bagpipes but can’t afford to travel to Europe YouTube can provide you the tools you need to study your desired instrument or discipline.

Con – YouTube feedback is one way and can be dangerous for beginners. Because YouTube lessons are not a two-way experience there is no-one with you to correct your bad technique and for beginners this can lead to slower progress, frustration with the instrument and unnecessary pain. Having a good teacher at the beginning of your musical journey is hugely important to make sure the basics of your technique are helping you progress, not hindering it!

Pro – YouTube gives you the ability to choose your subject. If you are primarily wanting to learn one style of one instrument. YouTube gives you the option to search for the exact song, technique or genre. This is a great tool for advanced and professional players to enhance their repertoire.

Con – YouTube gives you the ability to choose your subject. This is both a pro and a con because only studying the techniques or songs you are interested in will mean you miss out on one of the most important things about having an instrument teacher. Both my guitar bass guitar teachers introduced me to all kinds of different styles of music and techniques that I would never have known about on my own, it is because of this that I am able to enjoy a varied and diverse career today. Learning things outside of the music you enjoy is paramount to making you a well-rounded and eclectic musician.

Pro – YouTube lessons are free. YouTube is (if you’re willing to sit through some ads) completely free, when I speak to students that want to study an instrument this is one of the biggest pros that YouTube has to offer them vs what can seem like an expensive endeavour getting a private tutor.

Con – YouTube teachers are selling you something. Whilst this is not always the case it is more often than not. Usually a few free lessons or “part one” of a course will be offered at no charge and then it is revealed that you need to pay for the “whole course” or “lesson pack”. This is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing at all, I am of course onboard with teachers charging for their online lessons but, the upshot is that many students end up taking 30 different teacher’s free introductory lessons or “part one” of three or four different courses. This unfortunately leads to confusion, lack of motivation and boredom, a lot of these lessons or courses start from differing points sometimes in different genres and it is very difficult for students to make real progress surfing from one into lesson to another.

Pro/Con – You can study at your own pace. One of the big appeals of online video lessons is that you can pick up and put down your studies to fit around your busy life. This is both a pro and a con depending on your personality type and goals, for every hard-working individual studying and practicing before work in the mornings and late at night there are of course others who do a couple of videos a month and complain they are not getting the desired results. If you are a naturally high functioning and motivated individual with good self-discipline and work ethic this is a great option for you. If you are more likely to be a ‘couple of lessons a month’ type you will probably find having a teacher that will give you feedback, hold you accountable and give you clear instructions of what you should be working on will be a much better fit for you.

Conclusion - In conclusion I believe that YouTube is a fantastic learning tool for students, you can absolutely learn to play an instrument solely on YouTube but best to be aware of the potential pitfalls of this method. I believe (especially for beginners) having two-way feedback is imperative, it is very easy to fall into bad technique habits and very hard to break them later. If you can’t find a local teacher of your instrument 1-1 online classes are a great option for you, you can study from your home and find some great teachers online that can give you feedback on your playing and technique. For me, I don’t believe anything will replace having in-person instrument lessons, I think that they are great to help keep you motivated, open you to new ideas, develop a relationship with your teacher and have the invaluable opportunity to play with and learn from others.