Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Music Education Sucks!

You may have read a government report published recently regarding how music education in schools is considered inadequate in many instances. I forget the exact statistics involved - which doesn't matter because everyone knows that 74% of published statistics are made up on the spot. Ahem. In any case, the report showed that music lessons haven't really moved on since I was at school. The reason seems to be, according once again to the government report, that a lot of school music teachers are, and I quote, 'out of touch with modern trends'.
Well hallelujah - someone's noticed at long bloody last!
Back in my murky past as a guitar teacher I had the opportunity to teach in a school (I won't mention its name) as a supply teacher. I guess they were desperate or something... Anyway, I had to teach classes full of young people according to the prevailing syllabus of the day and top of the list was 'instruments of the orchestra'. Now, you probably don't need me to tell you that the average 14-15 year old doesn't give a rat's ass about classical music. To them, it's what you listen to in preparation for old age and death and so the job definitely wasn't an easy one. No matter, I was told - the syllabus is written by wise men for us to follow and who are we to question them?
Well I wish someone had because that was 22 years ago and it doesn't look to me like anything has really changed since. Last week I was shown a mock GCSE music paper and at least 70% of it was based on classical music and orchestral instruments. Why don't they learn? Kids don't want to hear a load of dead guys' music and so why not play them something they do want to listen to instead? After all, music is music - it's not like Bach employed a wholly other set of rules when he sat down at his mighty organ to compose. There aren't one set of regulations for classical music and another for popular/rock/blues/prog/metal. It's basically the same - especially if you're teaching kids about time signatures, minims, quavers and other assorted delights.
So what do we do? For one thing, we need to start teaching the teachers differently in order to get rid of the compound errors inherent in the system. After all, it's probably true that all music teachers in schools today were taught by the previous generation of educators - and this is something that has been going on unchecked for years. So let's change things...
Want some suggestions? When I was teaching, the syllabus insisted that I played my class Debussy's La Mer and banged on about 'impressionism in music'. Boring. I could see the kids glaze over after the first few sentences... Until, that is, I suggested that possibly modern day film music had carried on the tradition of painting pictures with music. Take Star Wars, for instance... You should have seen the change in mood in the classroom that day - Star Wars? Now you're talking, matey! Using this root I was able to get across loads of information - did they realise that the instrument at the beginning of Jaws was a double bass? No? Well now you know what one sounds like. Job done!
So come on, people - everyone agrees that music is an important art form so why not teach the next generation in a way that holds their imagination and let them discover the classics in their own time, eh?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Going Bespoke: Slight Return

For a few months we followed the making of my Fylde Falstaff guitar in pictures which were provided by its maker, Roger Bucknall. In actual fact, Roger sent me 50 pictures in all and I didn't publish them all, fearing that the amount of space they would take up here would cause some sort of bandwidth catastrophe in the process!
But if you're at all interested in how an acoustic guitar is made, then I'd invite you to check out the 'director's cut' - a photo album comprising all of the photos, neatly captioned, with comments telling you what is going on in each. The album can be found here.
If you have any questions, send me a message via the iTalk Guitar site and you might also like to check out the brand new Fylde Guitars site, too.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Oh, and this one goes to 11, too...

Every so often I find myself hunting through the videos on You Tube to find something in particular and, being a very helpful site, they tend to recommend me videos that they think I will enjoy based on my various searches. So I'm usually met with a menu of random Family Guy snippets, something about the latest endeavours of the SAS (don't ask) or some super-widdley guitar hero doing his best to rid the world of actual melody forever.

There seems to be a kind of worrying genre beginning to spring up, however, and that concerns the fiery young amateur axe merchant who is seeking credentials for his playing by submitting something to the site. You can usually spot it straight away - the title is a dead giveaway. Just to give you some idea, I'm talking about videos that call themselves something like '18 year old boy plays Eddie Van Halen's 'Eruption' solo' or '14 year old boy plays Yngwie Malmsteen solo'. Things like that. I must say that it always makes me grin a bit because I instantly recall Spinal Tap's excellent Nigel Tufnel saying that Jimmy Page was 24 when he wrote 'Stairway To Heaven' but he could play it when he was 12. I mean, isn't it the same thing?

The fact is that it's easy to imitate, hard to innovate and so if you've mastered a difficult guitar showpiece in your early teens then good for you - it shows that you are developing technically along the exact right lines. But please don't take it as anything more than that, OK?
I have personally met young players who have mastered some very complex guitar pieces, but it's rarely an indication of extreme talent, just dilligent - and often blinkered - hard graft to the exclusion of everything else.

To illustrate what I mean, there is a story about a young boy who went into a music shop in the north of England and asked to try a guitar. Once plugged in he proceeded to play a simply breathtaking rendition of 'Eruption'. In the shop at the time was a seasoned player who plucked himself a guitar from the wall, plugged in and said to the kid, 'Let's play a blues together!'. The boy looked up and said, 'What's a blues?'