Are You Self-Taught?


As I searched for a musical subject to write about this month, my thoughts wavered between “Get ready to take music lessons this August” and “Famous musicians who had private music lessons versus being self-taught.” I did some internet research, and found, there is evidence to support teaching oneself but much more research based evidence supporting private instruction. Overall, music lessons are considered an excellent way to excel academically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally.  

Instead of quoting a variety of studies, I decided to base my article on my own experience.  So, here is my story.  We were living just outside of Boston, Massachusetts in a large town named Framingham.  At the age of 7, I recall begging for piano lessons.  One day, my parents introduced me to a man sitting in our living room, and, I was offered accordion lessons.  Yuck!  I responded, “I want piano lessons!” and then raced over to the piano and began playing.  My elementary school offered group clarinet lessons which my parents agreed to, and that I fully enjoyed.  However, the piano was always my first choice.  After the “accordion fiasco”, I was presented a piano book entitled “Have Fun Playing Piano” and a fingering chart which illustrated the notes on the staff.  It was as if my mother had given me the greatest gift of all!  Since a piano was left behind in our home’s basement by the last owner, I studied my information and began teaching myself how to read and play.  I spent many hours in the basement practicing, playing, and having fun making up my own songs, especially during the hot summers in Massachusetts where, the basement was the only refuge to escape the heat.  The cellar windows were usually open, and, the music travelled over the lake on which our home overlooked.  

Upon entering middle school, I joined the band program and continued private study of clarinet at the local music store.  I progressed well and eventually began studying with an orchestral clarinetist from the Boston area.  But, my piano technical skills were lacking.  Knowing that private lessons were needed in order to progress to the next level, I petitioned my parents again.  This time, I received a “yes”.  My father purchased a brand new Baldwin console piano for me!  I was thrilled.  During my first semester of lessons, I learned that my hand position was horribly wrong and I was lacking in proper approach towards the instrument.  Fingering was a big issue.  My teacher would often say things like:  “wrist above the keys”, “keep your pinkies down”, “gently curve those fingers”, “elbows out”, “shoulders down”, “observe your finger numbers”, and “count out loud!”  My fascination with the piano made practice seem like play.  If not for the lessons, I would have stagnated at an unacceptable level of performance and probably given up.  

Framingham South High School provided me with an amazing music director who also taught us “band students” two years of music theory from the popular theory book entitled “Harmony” by Walter Piston.  This is when my love for music theory developed.  I recall pining over our daily theory assignments and studying with classmates in order to pass our oral quizzes.  The book was kept as a fond memento representing the period of learning which answered the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how music works.

In conclusion, a variety of teachers / mentors are part of one’s musical development.  The study of music teaches great life lessons and perseverance. Most of my teachers were challenging supportive cheerleaders.  I respected them and implemented their musical recommendations and knowledge reaping greater abilities and personal reward.  The scanned photo with this article is of my original first piano book and chart which I have kept as a happy reminder of small beginnings.

As we approach August, consider adding music lessons into your schedule of activities.  We have a variety of teachers who will show you how to develop proper foundational skills and knowledge about your instrument whether on guitar, violin, voice, piano, drums, clarinet or other string and wind instruments.  We teach people of all ages (children and adults) and are open Monday thru Friday, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm by appointment.  Located in Santa Rosa Beach, we enjoy giving people tours of the studio and answering questions.  Call Ray or Lisa Cyr at 850-231-3199.  Our website,, also provides information about the studio, teachers, instruments, and more.