I loved being a classroom teacher. Guitar teaching is better in certain ways. My life in the classroom gave me some of the most joyful moments. Memories I smile at constantly. Some that make me want to cry. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore with today’s extreme emphasis on standardized testing. One thing that is a constant in education is that it is very cyclical. Fads come and go and come again. I’m honored and fortunate that I hear regularly from many former students. They do brighten my days all these years later.
Guitar teaching is a special joy for different reasons. It allows me to teach in a way that was impossible with a class of 30 plus kids of 30 different abilities, hospital learning styles and interests. The claim of individualized instruction in a regular classroom is mostly wishful thinking. There are moments of it happening but the system pretty much demands that you try to teach to the middle. Now I get to spend a large portion of each hour on alert for individual learning styles. You unlock that and you are half way home. The rest of the way is paved with the student’s own determination to learn.
The first huge discovery I made as a young classroom teacher is that you can become very effective at teaching things you struggle with. Especially with students who struggle in the same way. Spelling has always been a problem with me. I lack visual memory. A childhood brain injury but that’s another story. I was taught by rote. Very ineffective for my disability. So I taught spelling with rules. A lot of English actually follows them. And a lot is helplessly stupid. Which makes people like me seem stupid. I was pretty good at taking the onus of stupidity off of struggling students.
So with guitar teaching, view I like to start with teaching a song the student wants to learn. I change the key to avoid the hardest chords. I show little tricks about the most efficient way to finger the chords to get to the next one. In the process, I learn a lot about how each one learns. Then I have something to work with.
Music for the Illiterate
I’ve run into music teachers along the way and music majors who lack the ability to see that there are talented people who can not learn to read music or understand it the way they do. As if people like The Beatles never happened. I was told that Chet Atkins responded this way when asked if he could read music: “Yeah but not enough to fuck up my guitar playing.” Whether that’s an accurate quote or not, it says a lot about the art versus the science. Clearly in the history of human experience with music, there are many ways to become a great artist. And sadly, just as many ways to stifle artistic growth. Our minds were not all cut from the same mold.
A desperate politician said recently that his rival is a snob for wanting everybody to go to college. He would have me agreeing with him had he said that there are many kinds of intelligence. That we can all be educated in one way or another but that working hard is a virtue regardless of the kind or style of work. This is a person I could never support for a variety of other issues but he clumsily hinted at a problem we have in this country about our perception of education.
I’m constantly learning things about my own best way to learn. I think it’s a sliding scale. I think my ability to learn rests on many changing factors. This must be true of everybody else to some degree.
- How much sleep have I had?
- What chemicals are coursing through me?
- What have I been eating and drinking?
- What’s been on my mind lately?
- What’s the weather like?
- What is my energy level?
- Do I feel this material I’m studying is really important to me?
- How much pressure am I under to learn it?
- Will I disappoint somebody if I don’t learn it?
- Exactly how anxious am I about learning this?
- What experience have I had that I can relate this to?
Is there anybody out there who knows someone who actually has photographic memory? Not just sorta but the real deal? Is that person totally normal otherwise? Must perfect learning be contingent upon giving up some other aspect or our human-ness?
What I’ve learned is that the more I write, the more song writing ideas I come up with. Watch this space for songs about perceived intelligence or being too smart or disappointment or……