The Art of Self-teaching: Musicians Who Taught Themselves Music

Music is a powerful thing. However, depending on whom you ask, music may hold different meanings and play a different role for each person. For some, music is an escape from reality, a way to express themselves, and even representing one’s culture. For others, it can inspire, educate, and evoke several emotions within a limited time. These reasons alone explain why music plays a significant role in our society, influencing and being influenced by everything around us.

David Bowie

And while music and songs continue to evolve with the times, one aspect of music has yet to change: musicians. They are, quite literally, the heart and soul of music, embodying the jumble of lyrics and chords that make up a song. Often, we think of musicians as either prodigies or musically-inclined individuals with years of formal education under their belt. And while this is true for some musicians in the industry, a good amount of them happen to be self-taught.

From music legends like Jimi Hendrix to the Beatles, here are a few self-taught musicians you can learn a thing or two from.

Musicians Who Taught Themselves to Play


Growing up in a musical family, it was only natural for Prince Roger Nelson to show an interest and talent for music. He began playing the piano and even wrote his first song at the age of 7, then went on to master the guitar and drums by the time he was 14. Like Stevie Wonder, Prince had shown the unique ability to perform the instruments he required professionally.

For the most part, the Minnesota king of funk was self-taught. But like many self-taught musicians, he gained a deeper understanding of the technicality of music from his high school music teacher, Jimmy Hamilton, who helped him learn more about music theory and saw his potential at an early age. Despite his shy nature, Prince showed a deep love and understanding for music that could be seen in his performances.

David Bowie

The solo singer-songwriter is a prominent figure in the rock industry, known for freeing himself from the boundaries of musical genre and style. From the age of 13, Bowie, greatly influenced by his brother, Terry, has shown an interest in music and started playing the saxophone with the help of a teacher. Terry helped him discover the world of rock music, influencing the kind of music Bowie would, later on, produce and perform.

He taught himself how to play more instruments such as the piano, bass, harmonica, and even the koto throughout his career. Because of this, Bowie, accompanied by his ever-changing personae and stage antics, had become one of the most versatile musicians of the 20th century.

The Beatles

Ask anyone, young or old, about The Beatles, and chances are they’ll know about the legendary band. The band consisting of George, Ringo, Paul, and John, has become one of the most influential and recognizable in history. Aside from their musical talent, one thing that serves as the common denominator among the four bandmates is their music education- they had no formal musical training.

Despite not being able to read or write music, they created tracks like Yesterday and Hey Jude that became worldwide hits.

Jimi Hendrix

Rock fans who know their stuff know about the most influential rock guitar musician to date. With the loss of his mother and a troubled childhood, Hendrix sought refuge in music, from blues to rock and roll. His father encouraged Jimi’s interest in music by gifting a guitar at the age of 16, prompting Jimi to teach himself how to play it, despite being left-handed.

This small encouragement led him to achieve more incredible things, becoming a rock legend known by both fans and casual listeners of the genre.

The Misconception Behind Self-teaching

Often, people think that being self-taught is synonymous with genius and pure talent. This causes the misconception that people need to be a genius or a prodigy to teach themselves to play an instrument. However, this isn’t necessarily true, and many people misunderstand the concept of self-teaching as a whole. Many self-taught musicians must still have had to ask someone like a mentor to show them a thing or two about a particular instrument.

It all comes down to one’s learning style. For instance, if you’re learning to play the guitar, you may find that you know better with a teacher or mentor at your side through guitar classes. On the other hand, some may find the opposite more effective and prefer to learn themselves.

The Bottom Line

Music plays a vital role in our lives, and musicians are the key to helping fulfill this role. And with many musicians in the industry, including those who have become influential and recognizable musical figures, being self-taught, people tend to assume that this is due to their genius or innate talent. However, this isn’t always the case, and self-teaching can mean no formal musical education. But with the existence of the internet and the variety of learning materials available to us now, learning an instrument is much easier than it used to be, and it doesn’t require a genius or prodigy to use these materials to our advantage.

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