No teacher, no problem for self-taught musicians


In the center of the room, encircled by a drum set, a pile of auxiliary cables, and a personal collection of several amplifiers, senior Sam Darwish plugs in his 2007 Gibson SG guitar and sinks into his music.

“I play the guitar to the point where I don’t get anything else done,” Darwish said. “If you walked into my house at any given moment, there’s a high chance that I’d be noodling with a guitar.”
While talented Piedmont musicians often choose to take music lessons, Darwish said he belongs to a small group of self taught instrumentalists.

The way Darwish sees it, when it comes to guitar, there are two ways to become a distinctive guitarist.

“One of those is to become so much of a virtuoso that it just flows out,” Darwish said. “And the other way is to be perfectly competent, but so isolated in your style that it becomes really definitive.”

Darwish cited Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain as two examples of guitarists who developed their unique styles of playing through two very different approaches. Hendrix’s jaw-dropping technical command of his instrument enabled him to play practically anything, Darwish said.

On the other hand, Cobain was entirely self taught, Darwish said, just like Darwish himself.

“His sound took the world by storm in 1991, because his style was so divergent from how you’re supposed to play guitar,” Darwish said.
Darwish said his style shares much in common with Cobain’s.

“Not to compare myself to any successful musician, but I’m closer to that side,” Darwish said. “The fact that I haven’t had a teacher means that though my sound is clunky and I didn’t get anywhere in the first few years of playing, it’s more me than it is correct.”

Junior Kevin Judd, a bassist for the punk rock band Mt. Eddy, is also a self taught musician. Although Judd said he had taken piano lessons in middle school and sung in choir since elementary school, three years ago when the band asked him if he could play bass, he had no experience with the instrument.

“I lied to them; I told them I knew how to play bass so I could be in the band,” Judd said. “I learned how to play bass that week and came to the first practice knowing all the songs.”
Last year, Judd said he finally began taking bass lessons so he could audition for the jazz band.

“I don’t know the instrument that well and had only started learning to play it a year and a half ago, but also I just wanted to jump right into jazz band,” Judd said. “That’s why I’ve been taking lessons.”

For senior Ray Chen, the musical journey began when his parents forced him to take piano and drum lessons in elementary school.

“I really hated the lessons,” Chen said. “I hated them so much that I quit almost immediately.”

But after a couple of years of playing percussion for the middle and high school pep band, Chen said he decided to try the piano and drums again.

“Everything is self taught,” Chen said. “According to conventional music schools, maybe the things I’m doing are all wrong, but if I feel like it works, I’ll do it.”

Chen said that not having a teacher should not stop an individual from being involved in music.

“Everybody should learn an instrument,” Chen said. “I’m not kidding, even if you think you suck at music, put some time into it.”