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by Jamey Mann, Catoctin School of Music

“David Grohl Proves You Don’t Need Lessons to Rock”

While surfing YouTube for new music and educational videos for my students I was dismayed to find the titled video above. I was hoping that the title sarcasm and the video would offer some insight in the work it takes to be a part of successful bands like Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. This was not case.

Instead this video is nearly three minutes of David Grohl proclaiming to be completely self-taught and that you don’t need lessons to “rock”. Not only is this statement false but totally misleading and dangerous for young students that have dreams of becoming rock stars or working in music one day.

While I do agree to some extent that you do not need years of formal lessons to rock and have a good time. I completely disagree that he is discounting lessons altogether in this interview. Not everyone is born with inherent ability or eye hand coordination to master an instrument on their own. Even those that are, might not be born with the technique, musical theory or history knowledge that will keep them moving forward

The following are reasons why I disagree with the David Grohl interview so harshly on this topic and why I believe this message is dangerous for young upcoming musicians.

  1. “ I never took lessons on the drums…” – DG starts of the interview with this statement. Unfortunately, he is wrong. He may not have had formal lessons, however he still spent hours listening to other musicians. This also likely included learning information from books, magazines, and picking things up from other musicians. Although this is not learning from formal lessons, he is still taking lessons from listening and watching other musicians.  Whether you know it or not you are always learning from those around you and those that came before you.
  2. “$30 an hour to re-learn everything I’ve learned…” – This happens often when one comes to take lessons from a trained professional teacher. Proper technique is the foundation that allows musicians to keep improving and grow over time. Without a good technical foundation, students will continue to hit roadblocks slowing progress. In extreme cases poor technique over prolonged can lead to serious injury and end careers prematurely. There are many examples of this recently with famous singers having to get serious surgeries from singing with poor technique.  Thirty dollars an hour may seem like a lot of money, but you must remember that you are paying a teacher for a lot more than just lesson time. You are paying that teacher for the years or decades of knowledge they will pass on to you. Knowledge that took them hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of hard work to obtain.
  3. “I don’t really know what any of the chords are” – This is fine if you plan on playing with the same people all your life or you want to stick to one musical style. But if you want to work in different musical styles and with varied musicians you need to know theory and basic terminology to communicate.
  4. “I don’t want to read instructions…I just want to figure it out” – I think most can relate to this comment. However, let’s not forget that someone taught you how to use the tools the proper way and there is a time to look at the instructions.
  5. Luck and Timing – These are three points that DG fails to mention in this interview. A huge part of his success is attributable to luck and timing. Nirvana had seven drummers throughout the 80’s before David Grohl joined the band in the early 90’s. He joined at a point in time where musical tastes were changing from the hair and glitz of the 80’s to the darker, crunchier angst of grunge music that dominated popular music in the early 90’s. Nirvana hit at the perfect moment in time to become one of the most popular bands of the genre and of the 90’s. It was in part due to the success of Nirvana that DG’s band the Foo Fighter became successful after Kurt Cobain’s tragic and untimely death. Had anything along this timeline been different we may have never heard of David Grohl.

As much as I am disagreeing with David Grohl, I do still love Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Nirvana is one of the bands responsible for my love of music. I also still believe that David Grohl is an extremely talented and creative musician. This is an older video, so I hope that some of his beliefs have changed over time and that he is not putting this message out anymore.  

This message is dangerous for young developing musicians as it encourages them not to take formal lessons seriously. If a talented person wants to pursue music, they need to be taught that you cannot rely on just talent, luck, and good timing to make bring success. It is also important that they are taught to have a backup plan when being a rock star does not pan out. Those that have had formal training and have back up plans can still have successful jobs in the music industry.

Too often I lose students to the “I want to be a rock star” mentality only to see them later wish they had taken the gift of music lessons more seriously when they had the chance. Nothing replaces hard work under the guidance of an excellent mentor.
Jamey Mann, Catoctin School of Music