Is it okay to get an instrument and not take lessons?

Doglover101 asks: I’ve been wanting to play either the guitar or piano for a bit and have asked my mom to buy one of them or check them out in a music store. We might be going on Monday but here’s the problem… My mom would let me get one of them but always says that I’d have to go to lessons. I don’t want to play professionally or go to lessons, I want to do it for fun… But my mother won’t let me. Help?

Hi Doglover101 –


This is a tough one, and I’m on both your sides on this one. Not that you shouldn’t have fun, but… Let me try talking about it in terms of my favorite subject, dogs.

Every day, kids around the world say they want a puppy. And most parents say that’d be fine, but that they would need to do lots of chores (walking, cleaning up, grooming, training), and suddenly that bundle of loving fun sounds like a ton of work.

Then, very often, the kids agree, and the parents go to a pound or shelter or breeder or store, and get a puppy, and the whole family falls in love with the little nibbler at first sight. All is wonderful… at first. But then all those chores start having to be done – but they’re not. The puppy isn’t walked, so it messes up the house. He isn’t trained, so he chews up valuable stuff. She isn’t groomed so there’s hair everywhere… and bit by bit, instead of being what everyone loves, the puppy becomes an annoyance. The parents threaten to give little Buttonface away if the kids don’t start doing what they said, the kids forget, the parents give the pup back to where they got it, and everyone is resentful and miserable.

Now, of course I’m not comparing a wooden box with strings to a living breathing loving puppy. But often the same sort of thing happens – a guitar or piano seem so fun and cool at first, and they make all sorts of noise, and you can figure out how to play some songs you like… but then the novelty wears off. And as with any other toy or game, you lose interest in it.

But the difference between a piano and a toy is that a piano costs hundreds of times more (and a good guitar is also worth a lot).


So I definitely understand why your mom doesn’t want to spend all that money if you’re not going to devote yourself to mastering the instrument. But at the same time, how can you know you really want to put all that work in before you get a chance to have the fun with it you’re picturing?


So here’s my thought: Compromise. If you go for a guitar, have her get you an inexpensive beginner’s model. And if you go for a piano, have her rent one – or even find a place where you can pay for the right to use one for an hour at a time.

Like everything else in life, playing an instrument should begin with childishness. You should be able to bang noise on that piano, or make silly rockstar poses with the guitar, way before you start doing anything serious. Then you should have the fun of picking out how to play songs you like on them.

And then, if you truly find yourself drawn to making music, THEN absolutely, get a good teacher and learn how to really play. Do those exercises that make your fingers strong and sensitive, so you can make sounds that don’t just have the correct notes to them, but express emotions and passions.


In other words, take one step at a time. And let that first step be one your mom won’t be angry for (for having spent a ton of money on something you don’t really care about). Instead, let it be one where she helps you try out something new and discover how much interest you have in it.

Just as I’d recommend a family thinking about a puppy go spend a day with a friend who has a dog. And have the kids walk, groom, clean up after, and even train the pooch. So that then, if they still think they’d like one of their own, they know what they’re talking about.


(I will admit, though, I do have a result I’m hoping for. I want you to absolutely fall in love with an instrument. I want you to find a joy that will last your whole life long, and that brings even more joy to others. If that doesn’t happen, it’s okay. But if it did, wouldn’t that be amazing?!)


Envying you your fingers!


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