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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"Yes, you did."
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?"
"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.
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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