I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you a story about an imaginary guitarist called Frank. Like many guitarists, Frank decided to start learning guitar so that he can play the music that he loves listening to. And that’s great—I can’t think of a better reason for wanting to learn a musical instrument. 🙂
Once Frank gets his new guitar, he then tries to teach himself some of the songs he likes, using videos on YouTube. It doesn’t take him long to realise a couple of things…
- Playing guitar is a LOT harder than it looks.
- He’s going to need help from a guitar teacher.
Upon realising that self-teaching is going to be a futile endeavour, Frank contacts a local guitar to arrange some lessons.
Once lessons start, Frank soon starts to get frustrated about a few things…
- Rather than teaching him just his favourite songs, the teacher often gives him very simple songs that aren’t his favourite songs. Sure, he doesn’t find the songs too boring, but they sure don’t sound as awesome as the songs he loves!
- When the teacher does show him one of his favourite songs, he’s taught a version of the song that’s extremely simplified. This means that when he plays the simplified version, it sounds far less impressive than the album version.
- As well as teaching him songs, the guitar teacher also gets him to practice other things that aren’t songs. Franks feels that these extra things are boring, and a total waste of time. After all—if his goal is to play his favourite songs, then why the heck should he learn this other stuff?
Frank Quits His Guitar Lessons
Because of these frustrations, Frank quits his guitar lessons after just a few months. At this point he knows some of the basics of playing guitar, and can play some very simple songs from start to finish.
Frank then decides to find a new guitar teacher. He emails quite a few local guitar teachers and mentions to them that…
- He only wants to learn his favourite songs, and they have to be the “proper” versions, and not simplified versions.
- He doesn’t want to waste his time learning things that aren’t songs.
One of the guitar teachers replies to his email and says that they can definitely help him. Frank is thrilled by this, and is really excited to start lessons with the new teacher.
Frank Comes To A Startling Realisation
Because Frank is only learning his favourite songs, he stays with the second teacher for around a year. Over this time, he was taught a huge number of songs that he likes. But one day, when reflecting upon his guitar lessons, he has a couple of startling realisations…
- He can’t play a single song he was taught from start to finish. Instead, he has a whole folder full of songs that he can play bits and pieces of.
- If he’s being honest with himself, he hasn’t made any significant progress over the last year of lessons.
Why Learning Covers Songs Isn’t Enough
The irony in the story is that the first guitar teacher was probably doing a really good job of teaching. And if Frank had the patience to stick with that teacher over the long-term (i.e. years), he would now be able to play many of his favourite songs.
But before you judge Frank harshly for his poor choices, it’s important to realise that he’s not alone. Many people that haven’t learnt to fluently play another instrument, have no real concept of what it takes to get competent on a musical instrument. Because of this, they don’t realise the downsides of only learning cover songs in their guitar lessons.
Although learning cover songs are often a core part of guitar lessons, they definitely shouldn’t be the ONLY thing that your teacher focuses on. This is because…
- It slows down your progress. Musician’s write songs that they think sound cool. They don’t write songs for their learning benefits. So it’s important to supplement the song learning with other things that systematically develop your technical skills and musical skills.
- It will take longer to (competently) play the music you love. While you might be able to butcher your favourite songs right away, to play them well might require highly developed musical and technical skills. Because learning only cover songs in your lessons will slow down the development of these skills, this will mean it takes you longer to master your favourite songs.
- It can prevent you from reaching higher levels of playing. To progress to more advanced levels of playing, you need an extremely strong foundation of technique and musicianship. If you just learn cover songs, then this foundation probably won’t be built adequately enough. This can then cause you to reach a certain level of playing, that you can’t progress beyond.
- It fails to address other important goals. If you have aspirations of learning to improvise or compose music, then learning to play cover songs won’t help you much with these goals. You’ll also need to learn a LOT of other things that will help you to develop your improvisational and compositional skills.
- It will take longer for you to become self-sufficient in your song learning. The more you develop your technical and musical skills, the more effectively you’ll be able to teach yourself songs. Because learning just cover songs will slow down the development of these essential skills, it will take much longer for you to become self-sufficient.
A Few Last Words
Even if learning covers songs was your main reason for starting guitar lessons, they’re definitely not the only thing you should be learning. A good guitar teacher will almost certainly supplement the songs with things that develop your musical and technical skills in a systematic way. So be sure to keep an open mind, and work on those things hard—doing this will help you in the long run! 🙂
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