by Jamie Andreas
More guitar, musician articles
There is a certain situation that guitar students can
easily find themselves in, or, put more correctly,
there is a certain situation that a student may
actually BE in, and not know it. In fact, it would be
good if they did find themselves in it, instead of
just being in it without knowing it! It is the
being, what I call, "taught by travel brochure".
And what could I possibly mean by that? Well, I don't
mean being taught long distance, or taking
some kind of correspondence course. I mean something a
bit more subtle, which I will lay out for
Many guitar players, along the course of their lives,
become guitar teachers.
They are often people
who have a good amount of what is called "natural
talent", which simply means the tendency to do
the "right" thing when it comes to performing a set of
skills. It's like there is some innate sense of how
to go about something. It can even be something the
BODY knows, but the mind doesn't quite know
consciously what is being done. For instance, I have a
sister who has always been a great singer. She
just popped out of the box that way! Even when she was
in the first grade, it was evident that she
was a great singer. She obviously had the ability to
just hear good singers, and then her MIND and
her BODY were able to put it together to produce the
same results she heard other people get.
But even though I say it was her mind as well as her
body, it doesn't mean it was her conscious mind.
I doubt very much she could have described to others
what she was doing, or have been able to
bring someone without that talent closer to the state
she was in, of being able to sing so well. In other
words, at the subconscious level, her mind could
direct her body to sing, and do things like using her
vocal mechanism, support, etc., correctly; but at the
conscious, verbal, analytical level, she did not
know what she was doing.
This is the way it is for many guitarists who are
considered good guitarists. They just pick it up and
BINGO! Beautiful music happens, or at least, music!
The problem comes when these people start to
"guide" others to do the same
When I discovered classical guitar, I had enough
natural talent to teach myself to be able to "play the
notes". I was able to learn pieces and play them
fairly well, in tempo, and make them sound like
music. I was able to get further on my own than, as I
found out later, many people are able to take it
even with a teacher. (The fact is though, I was also
doing many things ass-backwards, and
guaranteeing many playing problems I would have at
more advanced levels, and have to undo later,
but that is another subject). The point is, I was able
to get relatively further than the average person,
and didn't run into the same types of "beginner"
problems that others had (I ran into more
Because of the fact that I never had to deal with
"beginner" problems, when I began to teach I HAD
NO WAY OF RELATING TO THE BEGINNER PROBLEMS THAT I WAS
ENCOUNTERING IN MY STUDENTS!
I couldn't understand why so many students couldn't
just hear a passage and then play it.
they couldn't watch me play a scale run and then just
move their fingers like that. I, like most other
teachers, began by making the great cardinal mistake
of teaching: I taught the way I had learned. I
assumed that just because a certain approach worked
for me, it would work for everybody. I soon
found out I was making the WRONG assumption!
I realized that teaching this way only yielded hit or
miss results. Of course, the really "talented" people
would benefit. Those people will learn SOMETHING from
any teacher. But my student body was
becoming full of people who basically made no
fundamental progress; they only made what I have
called "Horizontal Growth". You can make horizontal
growth (playing more stuff the same way) on
your own; you don't have to pay somebody for it!
Dealing with this realization is what led me to
develop the teaching methods I use today. But I am
writing this to warn all guitar students and to advise
all guitar teachers: the world is full of guitar
teachers who haven't become aware of these things, and
who only keep students "busy" learning
more stuff, and playing it in the same "handicapped"
fashion! They do not turn out, consistently, good
players. I am not saying this in order to accuse or
point fingers. It is just a statement of fact, based
knowing many guitar teachers throughout the years, and
hundreds, if not thousands, of students. I am
saying it because it needs to be said.
I have often thought that if reading and writing were
taught in the same ineffective manner as the guitar
is, we would be a world full of illiterates! (And at
one time, we were, because the systems of
effective teaching did, in fact, not exist.)
And I am not saying all teachers are like this. In
fact, I am sure we all fall somewhere in the spectrum
from "horrible" to "wonderful", and personally, I am
learning all the time. But I believe the vast
majority of teachers, (and this is probably true for
teachers of anything) DON'T work to improve
their teaching skills, modify their teaching style, or
learn to improve the results they get from their
students as the years go by.
I believe many teachers fall into the category of
"teaching by travel brochure", and here is what I
mean by that. Because the "talented teacher" has never
had to experience the "beginner problems",
they don't know how to lead the student from "beginner
hell" to "talent paradise". The best they can
do is describe, or demonstrate (by playing) what it is
like to live in "talent paradise".
When the student can't "get" something, the teacher
will grab his guitar and rip off that lick or
whatever, and say "It's like this!" and then stare at
the student, and wait for them to repeat it back
(because that's what they, the teacher, were able to
do when they were the student).
It's like, for instance, I grew up in a wonderful
paradise island, and you live in a ghetto. You want to
come to the Paradise Island and are asking me for
directions. Well, since I didn't come from the
ghetto, I CAN'T TELL YOU THE STEPS TO TAKE TO GET
HERE! I CAN ONLY
DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS LIKE ONCE YOU ARE HERE!
So, you ask me for directions, and I send you a travel
brochure, describing my wonderful island
Rather than helping you get here, I'll probably just
make you feel a whole lot worse about where you
Great classical players like John Williams and Pepe
Romero were taught from a very young age by
their fathers, who were master teachers. They were
supervised constantly in their practicing. They
were prevented from developing the usual problems in
basic technique on the instrument. Do you
think they can relate to the way it feels for a player
who has not been so blessed with that early
training? Sympathize maybe; relate, I don't think so.
Chopin would play for a student, expect them to be
able to play it back, and kick them out if they
couldn't. I once heard a story from a student of
Julian Bream. He asked how to do a certain
technique, and Julian said in an annoyed tone, "You
just DO it". Segovia was known to play for a
student and say "do as I do".
Is there something priceless and sublime to be learned
by just seeing a Master play?
have had major revelations just by watching the way
Segovia moved his right hand away from the
strings. It said so much; but only after almost 30
years of my own playing experience. At another
time, it would have been useless. (But I'd advise
What to do about this situation? If you are a student,
take a serious look at two things: your progress
(think in terms of months), and your teacher. (I am
assuming you are practicing and doing what your
teacher tells you to do). Ask yourself these
1. Do I feel comfortable asking my teacher ANY
question, no matter how stupid? Do I get the
feeling the teacher gets annoyed with me if I do ask a
stupid question (of course, there is no such
thing as a stupid question, except the one you DON'T
2. Do I feel like my teacher is constantly checking to
make sure I am paying attention, and to make
sure I understand? (Sometimes a student THINKS they
understand, but I know they don't!)
3. Do I feel like my teacher will BEND OVER BACKWARDS
to make me understand something?
Does my teacher try a hundred ways to explain
something UNTIL I GET IT! Or until we decide I
need further background in a particular area before I
CAN understand a certain point.
Now if you are a teacher, it's very easy. Just be the
kind of teacher who would get a YES on every
one of those questions if your students answered them.
Teachers, NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING!
Here is an example of
a time when I became aware of
an assumption I was making in teaching, an assumption
that explained why a lot of students weren't
making progress with things they were working on. In
my own practicing, right from the beginning, I
got in the habit of taking small sections of things, a
measure of two, and doing them over and over,
while watching my fingers. One day, I realized that my
students never watched their fingers while
practicing, and so they had no idea what their fingers
were really doing, and therefore no ability to
change a bad habit, because they didn't know they had
a bad habit. Well, needless to say, I
immediately declared it "National Finger Watching
Month" for my students!
Don't assume your student is even LISTENING to you
when you speak. Often, they are not. And
THAT must be addressed, before the subject you are
trying to communicate is addressed. Often, a
student is busy having an emotional reaction to
something that just occurred in the lesson, so they
not listening from the part of their mind they need to
be listening from in order to "get" what you are
Being able to sense this in a student, and bring them
to the right place, is an art in itself.
Develop the ability to "jump inside" the student.
Experience what is going on in the lesson from
THEIR viewpoint. For instance, do you want to
experience how weird it feels for an inexperienced
left hand to fret a guitar? Just play yours using the
right hand to fret! That's what it feels like in the
beginning, and did for us to, but we forget.
Don't send your students a "travel brochure" when they
are asking how to get from where they are to
where you are. Go find where they are, and lead them
Copyright 2000 by Jamie Andreas
Click here for more of Jamie's articles