Guitar workshop for the Great 48!

Nov 2, 2013 | Welcome Column

I am honored to announce that I will be a guitar teacher at the Great 48 Jam in Bakersfield, California, so I thought I would take this time to talk about my teaching philosophy.

In my earlier years, I was a student at the CBA Music Camp, and later I was a teacher’s assistant at Camp. In these years, I was able to see the reactions of the students and what they enjoyed. That includes how they learned, and what they liked learning. I saw that enjoyment was a key component of learning, so I would give that a high priority. And what I saw the majority of students enjoy was not the music theory part or the reasoning behind it, but the cool licks they could learn and things that would sound nice in their jams. And even though many teachers may disagree with me, that is what I will teach at the Great 48. Even though it may be a cynical view, I believe that most people who play music do not take it serious enough to really want to understand the mechanics. The mechanics are a necessity for the next level of musician, but not to get the smiles of your friends in a jam. And that is where most people’s musical adventure ends. Whether professional teachers like it or not, the most asked question and requests by students in the classes in which I have been was, “Can you help me learn that lick you did in such and such a song?” I would be glad to answer that type of question, because I have been in that situation. I remember when I used the office hours at the CBA Music Camp to learn a Vernon Derrick lick from John Reischman, never having more joy than when I finally mastered it. While it was only one lick, and is not substantial to mandolin playing, I believe it inspired me to find new things to learn along with discovering why that series of notes created that certain sound. I believe that next step is up to the student and not up to the teacher to show. Usually that is the point where most students check out and continue trying to play the lick consistently.

That leads to the next point: the best way to learn is to play. Even though music is an auditory act, I believe that the best way to learn is hands on. Listening will give you a general idea of the lick and how it should sound, but each person interprets each lick in a different way. Finger structure and many other strategies are just as helpful as an instructor telling you what to do.

I can understand the other point of view. Scales and theory lead to the big picture that will soon trickle down into numerous licks, but most students will not make that next step. Most will just be frustrated with the lesson and forget it ever happened. A teacher needs to entice the student to learn more because it is nearly impossible to open that key to advanced musical discovery within a 1-2 hour period where there are numerous students who don’t want to hear it. Scales also are important for those who have the time and determination to use the scales to their advantage by finding the notes in the scale that relate to the way that one would make a lick. But most either can’t or won’t work on scales.

Some would say this is underestimating the student, but I say the opposite. To learn a series of notes is much more difficult than scales or the math of musical theory. The teachers who spend most time talking don’t want to hear the students play them wrong, and believe that they would just forget it the next day. If the student is really enjoying the class, they will take time to learn the lick and possibly extend their learning.

I am very open to corrections or interpretations on teaching philosophy. This is my first time teaching and I would love to have pointers so that the Great 48 will be one of the many times in the future where I will be able to lead students into more enjoyment of bluegrass.

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