How does your birthday affect the way you learn?

Why is that some people look for a coach or teacher where others prefer to try and self teach? Is one way better than the other? Are there not great examples of people who have taught themselves?

Many people think that a teacher is simply someone who passes on knowledge. In today’s information age knowledge is free. Everything you could probably ever want to know is available on the internet for the cost of a computer and internet connection. So why bother with a teacher? Why would you waste your money?

One strong argument is accountability. We humans are terrible at making ourselves accountable. Look at the evidence. More than 50% of the population believe that they are overweight. Why? Because they cannot make themselves accountable for what they eat. 90% of people will retire with almost no money in the bank. Why? Because they fail to make themselves financially accountable.

Lets flip the coin and look at successful sports people or teams. How many Olympic athletes coached themselves to a gold medal? Probably zero. How many professional sports teams self coach? In fact these days when teams lose the first person to be blamed is usually the coach. When I was a kid we would point the finger at the players. In business they found that the more money a company spent on training the more likely the company was to succeed. If you are looking at buying shares in a company just look at their budget allocation to training.

So how about learning something like guitar? (My specialty by the way) Guitar is one those areas where 99% of people who own a guitar either play at a standard that we would prefer not to have to listen to or simply can’t play at all. It is no coincidence that playing guitar is probably the most self taught skill I can think of. It would certainly rank in the top 1%. So why given the overwhelming amount of evidence that having a coach, teacher, mentor would anyone try and teach themselves? The answer may surprise you.

I recently read a book called Outliners by Malcolm Gladwell. He points out how that in Canada the champion hockey teams seem to have a disproportionate number of players who were born in the first half of the year. They found that it was related to the fact that when you were young and born in January compared to say December you were bigger, stronger and smarter. You could be up to a year older. When one child is 5 years old and another 4 years old the 5yo is going to have the advantage. This equates to the older child getting more attention and even being labeled as gifted. The younger child gets the opposite treatment. I looked at the Australian Rugby League squad and sure enough 66% were born in the first half of the year.

So how does this effect guitar players? Well this is where it gets very interesting. If you are in school and in the younger group you are going to be slower. The older kids are able to understand the work more easily where as you begin to fall behind and lose confidence. This loss of confidence is in any activity that essentially puts you up against other kids in your year at school. So this includes sports of course. As you lose confidence in school work and sports you seek out activities that are not pitching you up against other students. By the time you are 8 or 9 years old and the gap on age difference is relatively small but its too late. The damage is done. You bowed out of school work and sports some years earlier and have adopted a self belief that school and sport are simply not for you. This is exaggerated by the fact that the older kids have been getting much of the attention often resulting in extra attention from teachers, coaches and family.

The younger kids now seek out something that they can do that is separate from school or at least something that is not associated with competing against the older kids in their year. This leads them to the guitar for many reasons. I recently did a survey of all the guitarists I knew and found an amazing 87% were born in the second half of their respective school years. This is no coincidence. But how does this all explain the desire to self teach?

My theory is younger students generally lose faith in the system due to their early experiences. This is for the most part subconscious. No one likes to feel like a loser but what chance do you have when most of the kids in your class are older, smarter and stronger than you. The odds are stacked against you. It would only be if you were somehow exceptional that you would move to the head of the class. To you the teacher/classroom experience is a losing game. You prefer to play your own game. You learn to find what works for you. You learn to become independent and self sufficient. You learned to self teach but unfortunately self teaching is not a smart move because there is no accountability, no outside perspective and no proven strategy. You are reinventing the wheel.

Would you teach yourself to fly, parachute or perform heart surgery? Of course not because their is no room for mistakes so why waste time teaching yourself guitar? It just doesn’t make sense. Why not avoid all the mistakes and learn from a trained professional teacher? Even if your decision to self teach is motivated by the desire to save money the time wasted teaching yourself could be spent working a few extra hours a week.

Conclusion: There are examples of people who coach themselves to greatness but there are also examples of people who got rich gambling. Teaching yourself requires taking a big risk. I personally believe that every dollar I have invested in teachers has always paid off even if not obvious at the time. Even a poor teacher has helped me to learn more about what I am looking for in a teacher.

Kind regards,

David Hart – Program Director

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