The Illusion That Our Fav Artists Did not Have Musical Training.

We all like to hold on to the romantic notion that our favorite artists are “natural talents” who never took (or “needed”) music or guitar lessons to become that good.
Believing that an artist is naturally born with those great songs in him, or with those otherworldly guitar skills, makes for a more fun story.

That story we tell ourselves also adds a bit of mystery to the artist we like.

Moreover: artists like to cultivate that impression (or should I say “illusion”) themselves of course because it makes them being perceived as more mysterious or at least “more special”.

That’s why we often hear things like:

“The Beatles never had lessons”.
“Jimi Hendrix never took guitar lessons”
“Eddie Van Halen is completely self-taught. He’s a natural talent”.

Lessons vs school

I think that one of the many inherent issues with this, is that we confuse “never had lessons” with “never went to a music school”.

Those are 2 completely different things.

While it is probably true that the Beatles never went to a music school to study music, it is also true that:

  1. John Lennon and Paul McCartney supposedly wrote 50+ something songs that their producer George Martin turned down before they came up with “Please Please Me”. That right there is song-writing school. I don’t think it is likely that George Martin was the man behind the scenes, who wrote all the intricate string and horn arrangements to all the Beatles songs. He was the trained, schooled musician on their team.

Getting the Facts.

It’s also inherent in human nature, to neglect to check facts in favor of keeping up the more appealing and sexier mysterious explanation instead.
It’s more fun to believe in

While there’s a certain degree of enjoyable mysteriousness to the thought that Eddie Van Halen is born with amazing talent which has never been schooled, the real truth is that his dad, Jan Van Halen, is a musician who plays saxophone, clarinet and piano.
In addition: both Eddie and his brother Alex took piano lessons from a teacher as children.

There is usually a more simple, accurate explanation and different picture behind every “natural musical talent”.

Playing with Other People.

There probably is no better school than that.
Before James Marshall became “Jimi”, he had played for many years as a back up guitarist in numerous bands, from the Isley Brothers, to Ike Turner, Curtis Knight, and so on.
He had also spent numerous years jamming with other people.

The people you play or jam with, are your teachers.
They show you stuff you can’t do yet, or do things that you try to copy during the jam. None of this is any different than being with a teacher in a school: jamming with him on new material he just taught you.

Moreover: pretty much in every Jimi Hendrix biography, there is a mention of how Jimi had plans to study music theory with Miles Davis. If the sources of the authors are correct, there seems to be general agreement that Jimi felt insecure in the presence of other skilled musicians about his musical knowledge.

As a guitar coach, the only purpose for me writing this blog, is to help guitar students.

In my teaching career, I have worked with countless students who lost motivation or drive, because of their inclination to compare themselves against unrealistic beliefs they had about other musicians and artists.

Knowing that the musician you compare yourself too or use as an example, only got really good because of hard work, or because of lessons he had with a great mentor, helps tremendously to keep up your motivation in your own musical journey.

It’s motivating to know that guitar does not come naturally to anybody.
You’re in good company: every musician you admire had to work their butts of to be where they are at.
Even Michael Jackson still practiced non stop till right when he passed, Eddie Van Halen is never seen without a guitar in his hands, John Coltrane was still practicing lines right before he went on stage, and so on.

By all means: hold on to the fun stories, as long as they are no hurting or hindering your journey.


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