People may learn to play an instrument for any number of reasons: fun, creativity, expression, intellectual expansion, attracting members of the opposite sex and so on. Though all of these reasons are certainly viable in their own right, perhaps the most important reason to learn to play a musical instrument is the new outlook toward music that is impossible to avoid taking as one’s own. This outlook helps attribute greater value to music, assists in understanding what exactly is going on in a song and may even help to broaden one’s own musical horizons, all the while providing a sense of reward early on in the learning process. 

Valuing music is something this column has touched on in the past as an important quality; learning to play an instrument can be a very strong aid in that regard. Take the guitar, for instance: One hears plenty of radio songs with guitar, of course, but how many times does one stop and think about how difficult or simple a song is to play? Appreciating talent is as important to music as to any other art form, but it can be difficult to actually do so when one doesn’t understand the difficulty that goes into playing what comes through the car’s speakers. 

Inevitably, shortly after picking up an instrument, it becomes extremely evident how much talent it takes to craft the simplest song; as one becomes more talented, one’s musical tastes may quickly advance beyond simple music and toward more technically proficient art (though, this isn’t to say that music must be complex to be “good.” In fact, many artists that aren’t technically skilled at playing their instruments make up for these shortcomings by writing excellent music through simplicity. The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC, however same-y their respective songs may be, are examples of this). Of course, this means the radio may quickly grow stale thanks to the computer-created cochlear carcinogens that flood the airwaves, but this is not a bad thing.

The problem with learning an instrument is the inherent difficulty that comes with learning any instrument; certainly, instruments come in different degrees of difficulty, but none are exactly easy. As there is a wide variety of instruments to play, so too are there diverse methods of learning. The easiest method will not be the same for every person, and the best results will be found by those who find a style of learning that fits them best. Of the many styles of learning, three stand out above the rest: self-teaching, professional lessons from accredited teachers and lessons through the revolutionary website Bandhappy.

Teaching oneself to play an instrument is the most popular method of learning because of the cheap cost (no more than the instrument plus sheet music or tabs often found for free via the Internet) and the set-your-own-pace mindset. Learning moves only at a pace that is comfortable since the learner is the only one taking part in the process. Practice need only happen when one desires and can take place by learning one’s favorite songs, scales or rhythms, doing exercises designed to increase stamina or dexterity or learning music theory. Of course, there are pitfalls to the method: A lack of motivation may hinder the process, where a teacher might otherwise have pushed the learner.

Learning with an accredited teacher is an unparalleled experience because of the one-on-one time student has with teacher. The downsides to professional lessons are far more prevalent than those that come with self-teaching: Their enjoyabilty depends entirely on the teacher, they are done on a set schedule and they can become quite expensive.

Bandhappy, a relatively new venture, is a website created in January of this year by Matt Halpern, drummer for progressive metal/djent band Periphery. It is best described as a social networking site/marketplace hybrid for musicians. Many high profile artists are on Bandhappy, mainly out of the metal/hardcore/underground music scene, including members of Protest the Hero, Periphery, God Forbid and Animals as Leaders.

There are also lesser-known musicians experienced in pop, jazz, hip-hop and basically any genre out there. Best of all, Bandhappy is expanding daily. The website is based around musicians giving lessons either when they come through your town on tour or via webcam. Musicians set their own prices and use the money to make a living (since making music isn’t always a viable sole source of income). The lessons are a great opportunity to learn from one’s favorite artist as well as a good chance to get to know the musicians as people rather than simply as creative forces.

Learning a musical instrument opens up many new doors for one’s mind. It allows one to think outside the box, gets one’s mind going, gives an amazing sense of accomplishment within days of beginning to play and can even be a great release. The road may be tough at some points, but it is certainly worth it for the benefits that come with being able to play. Go forth and become the guitar guy at the party.

Regen McCracken is a junior intending major in journalism. He has a love for video games, metal, jazz and all things that make one think. He also writes and performs his own music while not writing these ever-interesting columns or studying himself to sleep.