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By: Konner Scott

We live in an age where we have the expansive wealth of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Could you imagine what might have been had Mozart, Bud Powell, or John Lennon been granted access to the internet? The 21st century is a golden age of information, and it’s easier than ever to capitalize on that and acquire a new skill without ever having to leave your computer desk. If you’re interested in studying music but would like to forego expensive lessons or college courses, the internet can be a great resource.

The downside, of course, is the same thing that makes the internet great: anyone anywhere can upload their thoughts on anything and publish them as fact. As such, while many of the world’s geniuses have poured the contents of their brain into YouTube videos, it’s also important to be able to sift through the information of… shall we say… lesser quality, so that you can find the tools that will actually improve your skill set. It’s easier than ever to acquire information, sure, but it’s also easier than ever to acquire bad habits.

In my own experience with self-study, I’ve come up with a framework that I use to bypass the noise and find my way straight to the most valuable information, as well as some techniques for how to best absorb and internalize that information. Here, I’d like to provide you with five things I’ve learned that have been useful in my own journey.

1. Spending Some Money Can Help Trim The Fat

Free information is great, but it’s hard to know the level of quality you’re getting, especially if you’re doing research on a field you know quite little about. Companies like MasterClass and Monthly have come up with an elegant solution: they provide a subscription service for courses, which costs a bit of money, but substantially less than consistently taking music lessons, and certainly less than college courses. I’ve taken a bunch of these myself, and I’ve found they’re a great way to ensure you’re not only learning from the experts, but you have a structured learning path & curriculum to help you stay focused and efficient!

2. Research Those Providing the Information

Speaking of learning from the experts, you want to make sure you’re doing just that! It’s important to check that the information you’re obtaining is from an accredited individual that knows the field you’re studying inside and out. That’s not to say that amateurs don’t have useful tips to offer, but across time, the average quality of information from an expert will far exceed someone who has not put the requisite time and effort into learning the craft. If you find a YouTube channel or website that seems to offer a lot of valuable information, pause and do a quick Google search on the individuals offering up the advice. If they’re legit, there will almost certainly be a plethora of sources confirming that- and there will certainly be more than just a self-aggrandizing biography that they themselves authored.

3. Don’t Just Absorb; Apply

A little under two years ago, I decided I wanted to improve my music production skills. I’d always enjoyed home recording, but had never invested much time into learning the craft. I began to binge watch advice videos and tutorials, but found myself frustrated at my sluggish rate of improvement. That all changed when I encountered a tutorial from a wonderful YouTube channel called ‘Make Pop Music’ (quick plug; thank you Austin Hull!) that encouraged me to follow along and try to apply the techniques that were being covered in the video. I opened up Logic Pro and began to alternate between watching segments of the video and pausing it to try some of the techniques on a song of my own creation.

By the conclusion of the video, I had put together a track that was of far higher quality than anything I’d created up to that point! I internalized the moral of that story: put my ego aside and don’t think that “I’ll remember how to do this”. Even if I do, knowing how to explain it is not the same as knowing how to apply it. Since then, this has become one of my biggest strategies for developing my skill set. Whatever I’m trying to improve- my production skills, my piano chord theory, my guitar technique- I sit with instrument (or computer program) in hand while watching tutorials and I try to apply the concepts on my own.

4. Take Notes!

This one seems simple, but can be really powerful. If you’re like me, after roughly a decade and a half of slogging your way through school, you might be sick of note taking and have no desire to return to it. However, if it’s in service of something you’re passionate about, it can be a very useful technique! I’ve found myself often taking notes on tutorials & other videos I watch. Strangely enough, I rarely return to the notes and reference them, but just the act of writing down what I think is the most important information helps hone my focus and I find that I absorb more useful info in the process.