What do you think of when you think of guitar lessons? For most of us who play, the first few lessons entailed chords, little fingers barely making it around a fat neck on a Johnny-Cash like acoustic guitar with painful steel strings. With determination callouses form, fingers grow, and eventually that big guitar will stay on your lap. Or maybe not, and it will collect dust in the corner as you move on to gymnastics or the clarinet.
My dad was my first teacher, so I was blessed to try some licks and chords out on a narrow-necked electric guitar- a Guild jazz guitar with easy action.
It wasn’t long before he taught me 2-5-1’s, with nice jazz voicings, and I could move around the neck. At the same time I was taking classical lessons, during which I sat in fear most of the time, intimidated by my teacher. In retrospect, I know there were some missing pieces to his teaching skills. When I didn’t practice, I was told I was wasting my parent’s money. I was told I had potential but I was lazy. Well, maybe I was lazy and lacked motivation, but he was scary. I dreaded going, I dreaded the practicing because I was so scared in the lessons that I forgot half of what he told me. There was no joy. But there was joy in what my dad, who loved me, taught me.
I backed down off of the classical lessons and played power chords in a rock band and sang Heart tunes and Led Zeppelin. But eventually music took a back seat to ‘real life’. I attempted some lessons as an adult, but they were very frustrating because I couldn’t apply what my teachers were telling me. With so little time because of ‘real life’ considerations, why bother with lessons and be continually frustrated and not make progress?
So many young musicians quit because of distractions and isolation. Much of what I thought was going on in my playing was ‘in my head’. There was no one to tell me otherwise, my teachers didn’t recognize it. They could teach modes and scales, but I couldn’t receive their teaching because they weren’t present with me in the lessons, they were in THEIR heads, it was all about them. They were great musicians, all of them, and that is what they offered in their lessons. A piece of their greatness. They couldn’t begin to see how to help me navigate, they could just demonstrate.
I was able to overcome these obstacles which plagued my playing for quite some time, In returning to classical guitar music I have felt more joy than in any other type of playing. WHen I play a Bach piece for instance, I feel as though I am having a conversation with him, across the centuries, and in using melody and harmony and rhythm, communicating something that words just cannot express adequately. Hans Christian Anderson said it best: “When words fail, music speaks”.
I can readily see the joy on my students’ faces when they experience this. The Suzuki method puts the student at the center of the lesson. The teacher and the coach support the student by acting on and through Suzuki principles: A common repertoire, small steps, repetition, intentional listening, creative motivation, and an instrument sized for the student. All along the way, I am present with my students, in the moment, and making every effort to be gentle, encouraging and responsive to what is needed in the moment for the passage or skill we are working on to be joyfully rendered.