Teaching Without Teachers

October 29th, 2012

The WSJ has an interesting piece how the internet is changing the way students learn how to play a guitar. More and more music students are learning how to be musicians without actually interacting with a musician.

“I don’t know if in-person classes are really necessary,” says Thomas Sundboom, a 62-year-old guitar student in Balsam Lake, Wis., who is learning to play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. He pays $40 a month for access to Mr. Andreas’ site, less than half the $100 a month he paid for conventional lessons. “That should put a downward pressure on prices, for sure.”

“Traditional guitar teachers may find that the online approach will impact them significantly,” says Gary Ingle, executive director of the 22,000-member Music Teachers National Association. “Right now there is a great sorting out period.”

But can an online instructor encourage a lazy student to practice?

Motivation and discipline still lie at the heart of becoming a good musician. And it is here that technology still falls short of a traditional teacher’s care and attention.

In fact, technology in some ways makes the problem worse. Devices have made it so “kids can’t focus,” says Albany, N.Y., guitar teacher Jason Ladanye. “They don’t make kids the same way anymore. They don’t see the value in doing the work.”

Mr. Hutter, the venture capitalist, says that problem is solvable. He cites new studies that show social-network interplay—wisecracking banter among students—unlocks a greater ability to retain knowledge. “If you’re learning and engaging in a social community, that lights up the brain. That is the magic of this moment.”

Over time, perhaps, the traditional guitar teacher may become less of a gate keeper of knowledge and more of a motivator of the distracted student.

Teachers will be coaches, not priests.

I like viewing teachers as coaches, or mentors, rather than a sage on the stage.

My father is a musician, and tried for years to teach me how to play the guitar, clarinet, and a host of other instruments. I never liked it, and I didn’t care to practice. I doubt this technology would have made me more likely to practice.