5 Ways that Famous Musicians Trained...

Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson

Most everyone will agree that honing your chops as a musician is a lifelong effort. If you're just getting started, that truth can make the initial steps seem that much more daunting — this article will help put musical training into perspective.

There's never a point where any musician can throw up his or her hands and declare, “Okay! I can stop practicing! I know everything now.” Every musician's gotta start somewhere, and it might help the ambitious amateurs to know that even the most famous players had humble beginnings. Of course they did, right? Nobody's born a fantastic guitarist or drummer. Serious dedication to improving playing skills is necessary work, no matter who you are.

Read on for five ways that well-known and well-respected musicians first began learning their craft. It's not all about university or classical training. There are many different routes to finding and fine-tuning your skills — and these examples should reassure you that, with the right amount of commitment, any method can lead to incredible results.

1. Professionals self-educate (at any point in life)
So many iconic musicians never took lessons, but instead taught themselves. Jimi Hendrix, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett, Prince, David Bowie—all self-educated. You don't have to start out as a kid, either. Marnie Stern, renowned for her finger-tapping skills, first picked up the guitar at 15, but abandoned it after only a few lessons. It wasn't until her 20s that she really began the process of mastering her instrument.

2. Top players approach learning conceptually
The experimental no wave scene of 1970s New York inspired Kim Gordon and her Sonic Youth bandmates to see music-making through an artistic lens. This conceptual, more abstract way of both writing and playing likely had a crucial role in shaping the raw, non-conformist style in which she continues to create. To this day, she still does not consider herself a musician in the traditional sense.

3. Great musicians constantly learn from others
Widely considered a guitar virtuoso, Tommy Emmanuel learned how to play from his mother when growing up in Australia. Meg White hadn't even tried drumming before marrying now ex-husband Jack White in the late '90s. He had a spare kit, so she began figuring out her style while they were simultaneously writing material together.

4. Pros know to play for audiences as practice
The Beatles gigged their way to perfection back in the '60s, performing more than 1,200 shows before the Beatlemania craze began. You don't have to start in venues, though. Joni Mitchell and Bessie Smith, (two legends of different eras and sounds), both spent a lot of their early years busking in the streets. (Mitchell had played a few clubs in western Canada before busking in Toronto).

5. Many professional musicians went to music school
If you can afford to go to music school and think you'd benefit from the education (not to mention the connections and resources), then go for it! Plenty of great players (of all genres) are formally trained in music.

Just keep in mind that conventional learning, while certainly valuable, doesn't guarantee a style or voice better than that of a self-taught artist. Like any method of learning, the gained knowledge is ultimately up to you and how you apply it.

Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.


  1. Andrew, you're a amazing musician, (a person born to play guitar), but I do think that you having graduated from G.I.T. (just like Paul Gilbert) made you literally a "Super Musician." (just like Paul as well). You're one of my biggest inspirations as a guitarist. One day I too hope to make it to Musicians Institute just like you and Paul Gilbert.