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Guitar Teacher Stories: The first student lesson.



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An article by Len Collins. Guitar Breakthrough the Guitar Tuition Program that gives your playing a future

Guitar Teacher Stories: The very first student's guitar lesson.

I had played through the sixties and into the seventies non-stop. Now I was finally in a place of my own in London. The short scale Rickenbacker that had been my only companion through the years lay quietly in the corner next to my Fender bass amp. I used my bass amp when none was provided by the theatre, club, pub or outdoor venue that had booked me.

I began to unwind (unravel would be a better word). I was close enough to Highbury to walk to the football on a Saturday afternoon. Being free on a weekend was quite a thrill. I had missed watching the soccer more than I realised.

My new house was empty and clean, which was more than could be said for my head. My brain resembled a much used tool shed; it was full of useful but disorganised thoughts, tools and memories. If my life were to flash before my eyes in a moment of danger it would take at least 20 minutes to view the highlights.

I had put my first advert into a local newspaper and my first pupil was due to arrive a week later. I knew what I wanted to say to my new student but how to say it a different matter entirely.

Real life and teaching are two different things and I wanted to bring them both together. I began to retrace my steps through each stage of my early progress, making notes on the really important things, creating mental flow charts of where they led. Above all I would show how all this knowledge would bring imagination and confidence into guitar playing.

I remembered my first live guitar solo, in the middle of a song right there in front of hundreds of people someone in the band had shouted, "Go for it Len. Show them what you can do!" I can't remember the title of the song but I can remember it was in the key of F. I played that scale with as much imagination as I could muster. I knew my fretboard, my fingers responded well and I got away with it. Nobody threw any bricks at me!

Over the years I met and played with many hundreds of musicians most of whom, because of the freelance nature of the work, knew their job extremely well. The music ranged from rock to jazz, blues, heavy, country and folk plus whatever else was on offer. The core to playing all styles to a high standard is knowledge and the skills to use it.

Strangely, it was the other type of musicians I played with that interested me; the chart-bound rock and rollers. They played by ear and were extremely energetic creating a multitude of sometime from almost nothing. I loved the music. It was a different challenge to play. I never wanted the chart success they sought as their star burnt very brightly for a while then went out leaving only a small trace of their creativity behind.

Combining natural energy and knowledge was to be the plan and the plan was good. Give guitar players a future.

I bought a Fender acoustic guitar and started, for the first time in years, to play for myself.

People talk of the buzz of drugs and how much they have to drink before they fall over. What a waste of time, and life! Get a guitar, play music live and hard.

I enjoyed the emptiness and the music of those peaceful days between ending my playing days and beginning to teach. Although playing on stage had been a daily routine for me I never got rid of the sheer panic each time I saw the stage on which I was to perform.

One sight of bare wooden boards and I was off to the toilet.

"Are you OK?" People asked as I rushed past them.

"Yeth." I gasped with one hand over my mouth while the other struggled to push open any door that led outside. Outside, or in the safety of the loo, I began to breathe a little easier. The pain and the panic calmed down. Once I could breathe without the support of a wall I went back inside.

I busied myself tuning everything that needed it, checking wires that looked loose and liable to explode and above all creating tension among fellow musicians. By the time the gig started I'd got the band fired up and had almost managed to stop my hands from shaking. I led from the back in whatever shadow could hide me.

Once the first track was over the nerves disappeared in an explosion of adrenaline. Long hair flowing. Fingers like lightening. I was earning my money. That was now the past.

Back in my quiet house I needed someone to love, to care for and to live with.

Enter Budgie, my kitten. I played my guitar for her; she sat on my lap and slept. I would feed her then she sat on my lap while I played guitar for her. She slept some more.

The day of my first lesson.

My thoughts were organised and clear when I opened the door to let in my first student. He took out his guitar, sat down and looked at me. I looked at him. He blinked twice in quick succession. Shortly after, I did the same. I thought of wooden planks and tried not to panic. The smell of freshly cut grass crept in through the open window.

"Say something!" I said quietly to myself.

"What?" a terrified inner voice replied.

"Anything. Say hello. That might be a good start!"

"Hello" I said.

I picked up his guitar and asked, "Do you know which end to blow into?"

I was away. He laughed and I taught. Budgie sat on my lap and slept. Next week his brother started, then their friends then friends of friends. I knew that I must be doing something right.

It took a while for me to create a game plan, I decided almost from the start to put all the main facts up front in the first four lessons; then it was everybody for themselves. This meant I had given my knowledge a base camp in peoples thinking and my students could then work at their own speed.

The more natural and quick students were great to teach, they were turning knowledge into creativity like an alchemist turns lead into gold. The slower pupils however gave me nightmares. Initially I spent most of the hour's lesson complaining and criticising those who were struggling which was depressing them and me. The lessons were losing their fun for these people because I had forgotten how hard I had found playing the guitar to play.

All that changed one day when instead of highlighting mistakes I pointed out, to one particular musically challenged student, that they had at least played the third bar in time if not in tune.

The result was both stunning and immediate. His little eyes lit up!

"Did I?" he asked amazed.

"Yes, you did." I said.

Charged with the power to do something right clearness and accuracy entered his playing. Skills he never thought he had lightened the day. I used the same approach in the next lesson. It worked!

I have used that method ever since. One other point that I should make is that however much of a challenge a student is I will never, ever give up on them.

Some, though, will never learn and cannot be taught, they will always believe that they know best. It doesn't seem to occur to them that they are paying for my help and advice. One such person asked if putting steel strings on a classical, nylon strung guitar would cause any damage. I pointed out that the bridge was come off if he tried it.

"Are you sure?" He asked.

"Yes, it isn't built to take the extra tension. Don't do it!" I replied. I could tell by the glazed look in his eyes that that first thing he would do when he got home was to change the strings.

"Don't do it." I insisted as he left.

One week later.

I had brought into my teaching room a large round table. My music stand was to my right. I waited to see if he had changed the strings. We sat down facing the table with the guitar resting between us.

"I've changed the strings." He said.

"The bridge will come off." Said I.

The very moment I said the magic words, 'The bridge will come off', there was a huge twang and there, wobbling on the table was the bridge with the six steel strings still attached to it.

"I told you that would happen." I said with as much control as I could manage. I know I shouldn't have laughed but it was funny. The usual 'See you next week' wasn't offered at the end of the lesson.

Budgie sat on my lap and went back to sleep.

Article by Len Collins
Guitar Breakthrough the Guitar Tuition Program that gives your playing a future

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Guitar Teacher Stories, The first student lesson.