Letter to a Young Teacher

I received an email from a young jazz guitar teacher in Europe

asking about how to stay interested in what he was was doing and how to

make teaching more fun.

I wrote the following in response and post it here in the hope

that some bit of it may be of interest to you.

I really enjoy teaching and, particularly, helping a student to really ‘get it’

( whatever “it” may be at the moment )

it’s clear to see when that happens…the student suddenly has extra energy and an excitement that motivates them to delve even deeper in the topic…

one way to keep it fun is to keep re-enforcing the fundamentals…if they are interested in jazz: have them play quarter notes or 8th notes over a 1 chord vamp with really solid time…can they keep the line going without hesitation? are they making nice note choices? are they developing thematic material ?

on a real practical level: how is their fretting hand technique ?…where do they keep their thumb ? how much overall force are they exerting ? are the fingers kept so that they have easy access to the fingerboard or are they curled up near the palm when not in use ? are they holding their pick too hard or too loose…? do they like the tone they produce ? have they explored other methods of tone production ?

another way is to work with each student on the music they really love the most…using those tunes and performances to break down structural basics and concepts…pointing out a deeper dimension in what they already like ( maybe the deeper voice leading, maybe the way the artist uses dynamics ) always pointing the student towards a more subtle and nuanced approach to playing and experiencing music ( this then carries over into broader aspects of their life )

asking them to breathe with their notes…breathe with their phrases…

if you haven’t checked out The Alexander Technique you may wish to do so…it isn’t about body posture so much as it’s about body awareness and usage…allowing the head and neck to be free, the spine lengthened, the hips and butt solid and stable…for players that sit down this can open up a whole other world…a body centered awareness that they carry into their playing and throughout the day…this is integration…the merging of the player with the person…it becomes a 24 hour a day continuity rather than some playing interspersed with periods of ‘dead-ness’ or ‘spaced out-ness”

music deserves the respect that we are fully there when we play…attentive and ready to serve both the sound and the space…when we attend in this way good things often happen… these are just a few fruitful areas…I usually wish that lessons were longer so that we might get even deeper into learning…one certain way to enjoy teaching more and to make it more fun is to keep in mind the passing, ephemeral nature of our lives and the world…for a brief time we had the chance to sit, listen and occupy ourselves with something that doesn’t hurt anyone else, doesn’t leave scars, and doesn’t start wars…we are involved in something which promotes and fosters some of the deepest human feelings and ideals possible…I wish you the best in your teaching and look forward to reading your ideas on the subject.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. aliv
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 13:48:17

    I once had the same problem like one you wrote in this post. Now, I found the secret of being a safe teacher. Teaching how to play guitar can be so jiffy if you orientation is “know”. Make the student “be able to play” not “know what/how to play”. I think you’ve got what I mean here.. goodluck.


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