Can you teach yourself a musical instrument?

It’s easy to access the tools and resources needed to learn a new instrument. But is it possible to master a musical instrument by teaching yourself?

Getting your hands on a musical instrument, whether it’s a guitar or bagpipes, is only the first step; the tricky part is learning how to play the thing. Is there a vital need to take lessons to learn how to play a musical instrument?

Generally speaking, yes, it is definitely possible for someone to teach themselves an instrument and be able to play it well. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. However learning a musical instrument boosts your mood and improves your mental health, boosting self-esteem, with benefits depending on the instrument like improving your breath control and multi-tasking skills.

Everybody learns in different ways, and you never know until you try.


Why would you want to learn a musical instrument on your own? It sounds hard

Not everybody wants a teacher bossing them around and dictating what direction their learning path will take. Plenty of people find they flourish best when not being judged by someone else. Teaching yourself a musical instrument also means you save money on music lessons.

Perhaps you’re just after a new project, or looking to challenge yourself. You never know what natural talent might emerge once you pick up an instrument.


Serious about teaching yourself music? Time to get organised

Research is the first step to teaching yourself a musical instrument. Start by listening to famous music featuring your chosen instrument, getting familiar with the sound it produces and different musical genres associated with it.

When it comes to the teaching itself, you know your own learning process better than most. Say you’ve been handed down a violin – are you content with mastering a few well-known folk songs, or would you rather complete a course to learn techniques that will give you a grounding to play a whole range of music? Having a think about what you want to get out of the process and setting goals will help to streamline your learning, saving you time.

There are YouTube tutorials out there for even the most obscure of instruments, and you can’t go wrong with teaching yourself from an educational music book. A vital step of learning an instrument on your own is establishing a routine right from the beginning of practising every day.


Is it worth it?

There are unique challenges to teaching yourself an instrument. Some instruments are arguably easier to learn than others – if you’ve zero knowledge of music or music theory, an easier instrument like the piano might be a better starting point than something like the cello. Saying that, plenty of determined learners crave a harder challenge.

Teaching yourself an instrument does pose the danger of learning bad habits, which a beady-eyed tutor would normally spot before they become ingrained – things like breathing techniques and hand positioning. There’s also nothing like being mentored by a talented music teacher with musical life experience to draw from, eager to introduce you to their own unique way of playing an instrument.

Consider whether you need the structure of music lessons to motivate you to keep learning. Some people find they need the motivation of being monitored week to week, craving that competitive feeling that nudges them to keep practising and not let their teacher down. If you find you’re struggling to motivate yourself, consider documenting your progress on social media, perhaps setting yourself a challenge to give yourself accountability.


The sense of pride and achievement that comes from teaching yourself a musical instrument is hard to beat. You know you got there by your own hard work, and you’re in total control of your own destiny. Everybody learns in different ways, and you can always take a few lessons later on if you’re struggling learning advanced techniques by yourself.

With all the online resources available, as long as you’re in possession of an instrument there’s absolutely nothing to stop you teaching yourself how to play it.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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