There was something in open source learning that seemed familiar to my life as a guitar player. Nearly all the non-classical guitarists are self-taught. We often have to invent our own language to describe music and we develop an idiosyncratic approach to harmony. Unlike pianists, the guitarist thinks about harmony in visual shapes and often does not know the notes that make up the chord, but eventually, he learns to ’spell’ it (root, third, fifth etc.). The self-taught guitarist listens much more to the idiom, researches books and the internet to find out how it is played and develops networks of like-minded people with whom to share ideas and knowledge. He (it is usually he) will passionately explore the idiom unlike students of orchestral instruments who tend to accept, passively, whatever is put on the music stand. He will try pieces which are way ahead of his technical ability and this can either accelerate his development or make him aware of the need to revisit some of the basic technical exercises.
I grabbed this term ‘self-taught’ without giving it much consideration. I have gradually come round to realising that I did have guitar teachers: my father (the first 3 chords), my elder brother (a few more chords) and then Eric Clapton, Freddie King, Jimmy Page, Albert Lee, Jimi Hendrix, Django Rheinhardt, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, George Benson, Ed Bickert, Baden Powell, Toquinio, John McGlaughlin, Derek Bailey and Pat Metheney not to mention countless other instrumentalists, critics and books (especially ‘Rhythm and Background Chords’ by Warren Nunes). I was taught by friends, colleagues and many other musicians. And then there is the soundtrack to our lives, the music we hear as children, on radio, TV and at cinemas, church and school. Music is everywhere and we are listening and learning all the time.
This is the model for all post-13 education. The difference between being taught and self-taught is that with the former, the teachers are ’qualified’ and with the latter they are qualified. Two distinct educational philosophies separated by a mere pair of inverted commas.