Friday, August 15, 2008

Learning from DVDs

Jack Baker posed a question on the Banjo Hangout recently. He asked. "Can you learn from DVDs?" It's a good question. Is an instructional DVD or Youtube video instruction enough, or does one, at some point, really need to seek out an instructor?

I pondered a bit. Here's my response:

Thinking back to the way I learned...

In some respect I learned without any teachers - at least ones I paid. My parents got me the Earl Scruggs Instruction Record - no book, just the record - and I learned Cripple Creek and everything else I could put to quick use off that record. Then I daily spent hours on end with LPs trying to figure out what the banjo player was doing. I picked up some of it... made up what I couldn't figure out by using the things I learned off the Earl Scruggs Record. I also had a book by Lee Elliot that was very helpful in mapping out how to put things together.

I spent about 8 months or so playing along with records before I ever encountered any real players. However, by that time the woodshedding really paid off and I could actually participate in some jams. I was able to finally watch other players and get new ideas. Seeing the lick wasn't as important to me as hearing the idea in context. I knew at that point that playing with others was a great way to get new tunes, licks and ideas.

So, as I consider how I learned, in many ways I envy those starting today. The volume material available is almost unfathomable. DVD's should be incredibly helpful. I've encouraged my students to play along with records and not worry about messing up because those guys on the recording really don't care; they'll play that song again and gladly stop for you in the middle and let you take your break over and over until you get it right. :) Same applies with the DVD instructor. True, he/she can't tell you what you're doing wrong, but they can show you the right way as many times as you need it - and they never tire of doing it.

I realize the DVD or even Book methods of learning aren't for everyone, but for the observant and non-self-delusional student they can be a suitable substitute for a live teacher.

So, do I think I'd have progressed more quickly with an instructor? Maybe. I'd have perhaps learned more tunes, techniques and licks in a shorter amount of time, but would I have gained the sort of confidence to just go ahead and figure stuff out without having to be shown? Not sure. I'm pretty stubborn, and I like to figure out things my own way... so maybe so. But I also know that I'm pretty lazy, and if I can find a shortcut I'll often take it - and that lack of virtue on my part might have held me back.

Regrets? None. I still think the way I learned was the most beneficial in the long run - at least for me.

Can I learn from DVD's? Yes, but it probably took getting to where I am now first.

So, how do you feel about the current state of instruction material available?


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