Friday, 17 April 2009

The Hidden Dangers Of Teaching Guitar

OK, so I know guitar teaching isn't dangerous in the same way that putting out fires on oil rigs or deep sea diving are – but it has hidden dangers if the teacher wants a career as a player as well as an educationalist.

Naturally, I can only draw on my own experiences as a guitar teacher – but all the same I don't think that my story is at all unique.

Before I started private teaching, back in the 1980s, I was really only interested in jazz guitar. That was my oeuvre, if you like... When I began playing during the previous decade, I was interested in progressive rock bands like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd – and I liked some blues-based heavy rock, like Zeppelin, Cream, Deep Purple and so on, too. But after punk hissed and spat its way onto the British music scene in 1976 I lost interest – and I think I lost hope, too. Suddenly, prog bands were seen as yesterday's news and so my prime influence was no longer valid, somehow.

I retreated into jazz as a sort of haven where chops were still necessary and musical invention still lauded. Hopeless case, huh?

So when I began teaching, I was really into teaching jazz; but my jazz pupils were outnumbered around 10-1 by people coming to me to learn rock, blues, pop, folk, metal and everything else besides. An average evening for me would be teaching someone an AC/DC riff, transcribing a Smiths song, showing someone a Hank Marvin instrumental and then maybe something by Stevie Ray Vaughan... In other words, I had to diversify in order to survive. Luckily for me I've got a fairly quick ear and, music being music, was able to pick out solos and riffs from various styles quite quickly. But it meant that, to a certain extent, I had to become something of a guitar chameleon at the same time.

It had a knock-on effect on my playing to the extent that at one time I found myself playing in a rock covers band, a jazz-fusion band, solo classical guitar and solo jazz guitar! It might be tempting to think that I was applauded for my ability to diversify – but the truth was that I was quickly becoming a jack-of-all-trades... And, insidiously, master of none.

So what happened? Well, I got into journalism which meant that I didn't have time to teach – certainly not every evening, six days a week, anyway; I still gave seminars and did the occasional private lesson, but the teaching eased up considerably. I still didn't have much time to think about playing, though; journalists are busy people.

When I left the magazine in order to write books, I was eager to start paying again and sat back to see what would happen. First of all, I got back into jazz, but that quickly evolved into acoustic guitar playing – DADGAD and so on. It strikes me that this is the first time in my career that I have actually specialised; I don't have to transcribe Metallica, SRV, Hank, Def Leppard any more and so I needn't immerse myself in diversity on a nightly basis. I can just concentrate on one style on one instrument. No distractions.

I know that there are many players who also teach – but most tend to teach what they themselves play: a single style. Anyone who shares my own experiences should be aware that there are perhaps fewer teachers who play...

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