"When does a musician need to take lessons?" It’s a question that I’ve been asked several times over the years and it’s an interesting one. My immediate answer would be all musicians need to or should take lessons, particularly in the beginning, but achieving greatness is a lifetime study. Any professional, in any career, that wants to progress to greatness, regardless of their longevity in the field, needs to be open to continuous study and learning. Many musicians are self-taught and can perform and have a following with the music they play. If you’re able to function on your instrument, playing what and the way YOU love, and are reaching your objectives, then lessons may not be necessary -- IF -- that is your only purpose for playing.

Lessons though enable you to play your instrument technically correct, but this can be a subjective area. That said, with proper training you’ll develop faster which will enable you to access creative ideas more easily which brings a certain level of haecceity. If your technique is on point, accessing your ideas would be easier which is the main point of practicing. Plus, and equally important, you’ll minimize the potential for injury. Musicians have high rates of repetitive motion injuries on all instruments. Learning proper technique teaches you how to avoid stress points in your joint and muscle motions. There are exercises specifically designed to make movement easier, consequently, minimizing unnecessary exertion and reducing stress on the tendons, joints and muscles.

 Lessons also teach you music fundamentals. We all learn firstly through emulation. We copy ideas. A guitar player for example with no training might hear a song and sit for hours trying to figure out what that “weird” chord is when it’s simply a minor triad (three-note chord). A musician that’s studied and had lessons would have little problem identifying these types of chords and their movements. There is specific continuity in chordal movement and you learn how and why a VI chord would usually move to the II and II to V and V to the one. It’s all very fundamental harmony. Self-taught musicians spend a LOT of time trying to figure these things out. Think about it, when you know note/chord relationships and basic theory, that would help you tremendously in creating more interesting melodic movement and will enhance your improvisational skills.

Self-taught drummers as an example, run into what is identified as sticking problems all the time. When you’re not taught rudiments and alternating stick movements it’s not a question of if you’ll have problems but when. At some point you’ll need to play double stoke rolls, for example, and without rudimental training your rolls won’t be even. They’ll be sloppy and you’ll have difficulty hearing your weak points objectively. If you’ve never been trained you might not know where the problem areas are in your playing. A good and informed teacher can point these things out to you. In addition, not being trained properly with your technique will lead to time problems in your playing. That will keep you unemployed because keeping good time is the most important role of the drummer. Not the only role but certainly the most important, and good time isn’t just the responsibility of the drummer.

It’s also a mindset and sometimes egos can get in the way. There are musicians that feel they don’t need lessons because they have friends, that don’t play instruments, telling them how great they are and how good their music sounds. Plus, when they perform live, they have a following. This is common, but I would recommend staying humble to the process, respect and recognize true talent and embrace learning. Trust me, there’s always someone better at it than you, so be a sponge. While you must decide what’s best for you as an artist, remain open to learning from superior talent. Lessons and technical study will ALWAYS work better for you in the long run and will save you a bunch of time in trying to figure out those confounding triads or super hip paradiddles.

Jae Sinnett hosts Sinnett in Session, The R&B Chronicles, and Students in Session on WHRV FM. He also shares his love of the culinary arts on Cooking with Jae on Facebook every Sunday at 6 p.m. Plus, catch up with past episodes