Free lessons: Do they work?

Bookmark and Share


About a year ago I tried something I haven't done in many years. I decided to learn to play a new instrument. One which I had never owned and never tried to play. I bought a Dobro. Well, actually it is a Crafters of Tennessee resophonic guitar. Tut Taylor model.

I suddenly understood something about the visitors to my website.

I should make it perfectly clear that I have written over a dozen instrument instruction books and have filmed 70-some video instruction lessons. My website is filled with free lessons about how to play the mandolin, bluegrass banjo, clawhammer banjo, the dulcimer and more. And, I offer lessons for sale. Video lessons and eBooks which people can purchase to help them learn to play.

And now, let me confess to thing which I did.

I got my new dobro out, tuned her up, went to YouTube and immediately started searching for "dobro lesson." You've probably done similar things. Then I "googled" the term "dobro lesson" and I then fiddled around for a few days jumping from website to website and from free video to free video.

At the end of a couple of days I was trying to play my dobro along with a practice jam track (one of my own... Red Haired Boy.) and I realized that I really didn't know what I was doing. I was trying to play it by applying what I know about the banjo since they are tuned similarly.

I was guilty of trying to learn how to play without spending one red cent. I was making a bit of progress but it was S L O W!

I admit I HAD paid actual green folding money for the instrument. And I HAD purchased a dobro capo (not cheap) and TWO slides. That's a pretty good chunk of change. You may have done something similar with the instrument(s) you have wanted to play.

Finally it dawned on me that I was doing the VERY OPPOSITE of what I want my website visitors to do. So, I went back to one of the websites I liked ( and I plunked down the bucks for a video lesson. Here's Jimmy showing me the ropes:

jimmy heffernan dobro lessons

When I tossed down a few bucks on that first video lesson something changed. Certainly something changed in my mindset.

Before I purchased a lesson I had no real plan. And I had nothing invested in learning materials. But suddenly I was upside down! I had BETTER learn to play that version of "I Fall To Pieces" or I would have wasted my money.

The next week was different. I didn't jump around YouTube. I didn't visit Dobro Hangout. I just sat there going over and over and over Jimmy's video and playing that ONE SONG along with the track he provided. I began to notice progress.

I deliberately chose a lesson that I thought would be a little difficult (in the key of B flat) because I thought "If I can learn to do this it will help me play other things." I was right. It did!

I was showing up each week for a local bluegrass session at Pat's Place here in Americus with my reso in hand and nobody ever asked me to play the tune I was working on, but I noticed that I could play all of the other tunes (Ashes of Love, Old Home Place, etc.) MUCH BETTER! What was going on here?

Now, in hindsight, I realize that one of the factors at work here is actually pretty simple. You get out what you put in. I was putting NOTHING into jumping around from free lesson to free lesson. But the moment I dropped a little cash on a lesson I really began to apply myself.

You might think, yeah right. He is just trying to sell me some of his lessons. Well, you are free to think what you want. I am trying to sell you some of my lessons. But why?

Stop and ask yourself this question: Does it make sense that a guy would set up a website selling instrument instruction lessons... for bluegrass... if he was trying to just make a buck? Hahaha. That is pretty funny if you stop and think about it. Wouldn't I do a lot better peddling something a bit more POPULAR!

NOBODY ever got rich teaching someone how to play a banjo or a mandolin. You know that. So why do I do this? This is what "musicians" do.

I do want to eat. I do want gas in my car*. I chose the route in my life of being a musician and that meant having a lot of fun, making a lot of music and making very little money. I accepted that I would not have a fat 401K or a pile in the bank. I worked every kind of crazy day job--so long as I could get off whenever I had a gig--and the end result is what you see. I know a lot about playing music, I have taught literally thousands of other people to play, and now, as I coast towards "geezerdom" I pay my meager bills by sharing what I know for a few bucks at a time with my online lessons. And I wouldn't trade it for anything! But, in truth, this life is not for everyone! (You might want to keep your government job or insurance sales job... just sayin'.)

But, let's get back to my main point here. If you never spend a cent on the learning materials you will likely not place much value on them. If you drop a little bit on some lessons you will treat them differently. And that can make all the difference. The same principle applies to picks. Have a free pick? You'll lose it in a minute. Buy a $35 dollar "super-duper" pick and you'll take good care of it. Because you value it.

Here is a little video of me playing my dobro: (Don't blame Jimmy for this version of Red Haired Boy! I didn't learn this from Jimmy's videos, but his lessons helped me figure out how to do this and got me to "buckle down" and make some real progress! Thanks, Jimmy!)

*I used to joke with some of my students that if they wanted to pay me they could just bring me a 5 gallon can of gas each week since that's what I was going to use their money for anyway. Or some frozen ground beef. I somehow feel better knowing I put a couple of gallons of gas in Jimmy's car.



Back to list of articles

Bradley Laird's Mandolin Books and Learning Materials


Copyright 2016, Bradley Laird



home page bradley laird bio bradley laird's blog contact mainhome