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[Editors Note: This is guest blog written by Dr. Ken Steorts – the founder and president of Visible Music College in Memphis, Tennessee and founding guitarist of the Grammy-nominated band Skillet.]

Yeah, I may be a dinosaur, but I’m not ashamed. To me, when it comes to music, an education is better in person than online, any day. Hear me out.

Granted, a lot of knowledge can be gained from online resources and being online often offers access to the most contemporary tools available. But the creation of music in the world, in the room, in real time, should be a shared “in person” experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I‘ve transferred files and recorded across multiple countries, watched live-streamed choir performances, signed up for lessons, watched videos and listened to podcasts, all online. I chat with musicians globally and am able to open links, listen to ideas and recruit students from as far away as Nepal. Ultimately, though, it’s all in the hopes of working on music together in a room. That’s the goal.

The way I learned guitar – the way kids get wide-eyed and crazy about tube amps, horn sections, and drum solos – is not through a mobile device with a compressed video file. It’s from being in a room with someone who is sweating it out with all their passion, transferring their music energy to other humans. I went crazy the night I saw the band on Beale Street, shirtless with their guitars slung low, rockin’ the crap out of a Strat and beating the drums within an inch of their lives. I played guitar on a burning hot Minnesota summer afternoon under a makeshift stage cover to thousands of screaming people and felt the music take over and create a frenzy – I thought my guitar would play itself if I threw it down. There’s something about “Being There” or “Being in the Moment” that a vacant digital experience can’t replace

Getting ideas and knowledge? Yes. But getting a degree in music without being present in the room? Can’t be right. It lacks emotion and proximity. 1984 the book, yes. 1984 the album, no.

And here’s nine reasons to opt out of online courses for your music degree and opt into a human connection that’s an integral part of a residency-style music education:

See it live.

Attending an actual live performance is irreplaceable. Come see people play and move and deliver the gift of live, original music. The real emotion in the room or at the venue loses something over the internet.

Feed off the energy.

Musicians respond to people in the room, and you need to learn this for yourself as you grow your skills. Not everyone is excited about your modes or tonguing technique. They want to yell and join in with you.

Learn from the greats.

You can learn more in a few minutes in the presence of great musicians than hours from a feed of them in front of a camera.

Josh Kottke, a member of Visible Worship (Visible Music College’s touring worship band who charted on iTunes with their self-titled EP) says: “One of the biggest ways we can grow as artists and musicians is to be surrounded with others that are better than us. We are able to pick up ideas and learn off one another by listening and collaborating together.”

Build connections builds a career.

Regionally is how you are going to succeed in music anyway. Build your career through relationships and live music by performing around your town, county or region. Recording-only artists are rare. Artist who record and perform set the standard.

You’ve got to hear it.

Sound quality is better in a room and you need to learn what music sounds like, not through a digital transfer.


Musicians are “first responders” in community settings and need to appreciate that aspect of their lives. As creative people, we thrive in a community where we can be sensitive to the needs of others. We need to practice this giving of ourselves from time to time and not just feed our computer-tranced selves.

Do it right the first time.

The exact angle of your wrist or back is important when training. Someone, in person, needs to make you do it right by touching your hand and watching you breathe. Josh Kottke agrees: “Being in a hands on environment, surrounded by instructors and fellow students drives artists and musicians in many ways that an online campus environment can’t. Having one-on-one, in-person lessons helps the instructor pick up and correct things that are harder to notice from a computer screen.”

Make music work.

Emulating someone in real life is powerful, especially when they are making a living doing what you want to do. Take a look around you at some people who make music right where you are, and are building a working career. See music as an art form and a viable, long-term career.

Support systems keep you positive.

It’s hard to be a working musician and not become cynical. It’s hard to work for steady income while creating from the core of your being. Working with fellow artists is essential. They’ll show you how your creativity and work come together. These support systems can set you up for success.

Last year only 17 percent of University of Phoenix students graduated within 150 percent of the expected time of graduation. Need I say more? Music education in person trumps an online music education. Every time.

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