By Travel Brochure
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 situation of 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 you.
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 thing...........................
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 "advanced" problems).
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. Or why 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 on 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
No, 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 paradise.
Rather than helping you get here, I'll probably
just make you feel a whole lot worse about where you live.
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? Absolutely! I 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 questions:
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 are not listening from the part of their mind they
need to be listening from in order to "get" what
you are saying.
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 out!
Copyright 2000 by Jamie Andreas. All Rights Reserved.