Few issues are more widely debated in music than whether the road to success passes through a music teacher's studio, or whether it's best accessed with one's own experimentation and innate talent.
If you quizzed a sampling of professional musicians--whether they're part of a stadium-filling band or a studio musician laying down tracks on a 40-hour schedule--you're likely to find a wide variety of answers.
Well-schooled musicians will tell you that there was no way they would have reached their highest points without good instruction. And many of them learned their crafts from teachers in small towns or modest cities throughout the country, just as you can do with a quick check of TakeLessonsreviews and the local instructors they track.
There's no doubt that certain performers have a knack for their chosen instrument (or instruments). Many players can show evidence that a feel for the instrument and an ear for sound will carry you far.
But there are a number of downfalls with learning music unassisted compared to being under the tutelage of a qualified instructor.
Ability to archive
Or, "What was that brilliant piece?" Learning by ear will most certainly enable you to duplicate the work of others, maybe down to the last note. But if you picked apart Chopin in 2004 and want to perform it in 2013, you will have to largely re-learn it.
On the other hand, with instruction you'll be able simply to archive the sheet music and retrieve it years later, then rehearse it and quickly regain your proficiency.
And if you compose your own melodies, the ability to document it on paper will help you remember it for later, share it with others, and protect it with copyright.
Ability to assimilate
Learning the rudiments of an instrument will help you to understand the methods associated with different styles of music. That's how we ended up with a flash of jazz in Led Zeppelin and a whiff of Big Band in the music of Rush.
Knowing the techniques, chord progressions, syncopations, and other unique elements of many different genres will inject character into both your own compositions and your interpretation of the work of others.
That assimilation of other styles can also shine through in your playing and song selection. Classical Spanish guitar permeates the Eagles' live version of "Hotel California". Without their propensity for such music, the group's guitarists would have never been able to lay down a classic re-imagining of a legendary rock song.
Ability to expand
You may in no way aspire to multi-instrumental skill, but a qualified teacher may have just the insight to detect something in your talent that you don't see in yourself. This could mean either adding a new instrument to your repertoire or steering you toward one that better suits your skills.
A good music teacher may also choose to accompany you on a different instrument, allowing you to hear the interaction between the two and developing your skill for playing in an ensemble.
The old joke says that how you get to Carnegie Hall is "practice, practice, practice." But unguided practice in music is counterproductive and can limit your success. Spend the time to find a great instructor who inspires and motivates you. That person can take you and your instrument to places you never imagined.