Berklee Student Self-Taught by Internet Named Senior TED Fellow

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Usman Riaz (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Usman Riaz (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Usman Riaz began taking classical piano lessons at age 6 in his native home of Pakistan. Now, at 22, he's a multi-instrumentalist, as well as a composer, a filmmaker and a freshman at Boston's Berklee College of Music. The latest addition to his resume: he recently became the youngest person ever named a Senior TED Fellow.

Riaz had already been a TED Fellow doing TED Talks — he was selected last year — but his new senior status means he'll have even more speaking opportunities and more public exposure.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Riaz about his latest honor and his unique learning style: he's largely self-taught using the Internet.


Usman Riaz, Berklee College of Music student and Senior TED Fellow

Excerpts from Interview

On why he turned to the Internet to learn:
I wanted to branch out and expand what I do, and this is when I felt extremely limited back home, or anywhere, because I wanted to do so much but there was really nobody who could really help me do it. I mean, the things I wanted to learn, like the style of guitar that I saw on YouTube, there was no teacher for that. So I just thought that I'll use everything on the Internet to teach myself. And it's not like there were tutorial videos or anything online; it was just by watching everything that was up there that I was able to pick up on everything.

On the advantages of learning online:
I know what it's like to sit and learn from a teacher, and although it's incredible I wanted to do things at my own pace...When things are up online I can slow them down and pause them and I'm not forcing somebody to constantly replay passages, I'm not examining them closely and creeping them out. But online you can do that. You can just pause and examine finger positions, look at what people are doing, examine their technique, really put them under the microscope.

Parting advice:
If a teacher isn't available, that shouldn't mean you should just give up. A teacher is always going to impart wisdom on you that a video won't, but that doesn't mean that it's the only way to move forward

This segment aired on December 23, 2013.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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