Author: Campbell, Bruce

Music Lessons for the Student and the Teacher

I have been giving guitar lessons to a gentleman in his ‘40’s recently. He is a true beginner – he received a guitar as a gift and wants to learn how to play.

I have never given lessons to a rank beginner before – it’s hard to know where to start. There’s so much to know, and assimilate. There’s an enormous amount of beauty and elegance in everything about music. The way scales work, the way octaves work, the way keys work, the way instruments play of each other, the principals of meter, dynamics and tempo - I struggled to devise lessons that will convey all of this, without getting in the way of actually learning to play.

The fact that my student is an adult helps, I think. I know he’s intelligent, and I know he’s determined and focused. With younger students, they often go through long stretches without practicing, (“Should I practice, or go hang out with my friends? Hmmm!”) and you may find that what you taught two weeks ago has not even been attempted by the next lessons. This is not the case here.

The challenge then, is to get him from a non-playing state to a playing state. I havelessons around basic right hand strumming rhythms, basic chord structures, and we’ve been working with a metronome to instill a sense of timing.

I had forgotten how hard it is to learn this stuff. If he’s working extra hard on the left hand fingering, the right hand often loses its way, and vice versa. If he concentrates on getting the chord shapes and the strumming right, a fatigued right arm will move his hand away from the proper frets in tiny degrees.

He’s been making very good progress, and last weekend, we applied the lessons to some actual songs, to give his playing context. It’s just one more thing to keep track of, of course, but already I see that some motions and movements are being committed to muscle memory, so the list of things that demand his conscious attention is becoming shorter, bit by bit. A couple of times, we were able to get through a song, slowly, with enough consistency and confidence that I could play an accompaniment rather than double him.

What’s he’s about to learn, and I can’t wait for this moment, is at some point his mental and physical efforts will be spent solely on playing better, rather than just playing. That will be a magical moment, because at that point, he’ll learn to make subtle choices in how he plays and express himself rather than just mimic motions. An amazing door is about to open for him, and he doesn’t even know it! Then, my diabolical plan is to get him hooked on bluegrass!

Posted:  5/8/2013

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