Adults who decide to take guitar lessons tend to fall into two groups. There are those who played when they were younger and want to get into it again and those who always wanted to play but did not have the time, motivation and resources to do it when they were younger. There is a third group, those who have played for many years and just want to take their playing to the next level or learn new material but I see those types less than the first two.
I think what I enjoy most about (most) adults is they have open minds. Sure, they have musical favorites but most are excited about discovering new music too, assuming it’s of a style they enjoy. This keeps me on my toes, music-wise. During my weekly lesson planning session I try not to take the easy way out and go with the most familiar or easiest material. In the beginning I tend to lean on older favorites however, if for no other reason than the student can imagine what the finished product will sound like. This is hugely important. The sooner a student – especially a raw beginner – can experience a level of accomplishment the more he or she will want to pick up the guitar. Later on as a student progresses and understands the amount of time and effort that’s required to sound reasonably good, then I begin throwing unfamiliar material at them.
Two resources I’ve found really help when I’m trying to dig up new material are radio station WUMB out of UMass Boston and believe it or not, ITunes. I listen to WUMB when I’m driving and have been turned on to dozens of artists who I never would have heard otherwise. The station has an amazingly varied play list, but they lean toward more acoustic guitar material by both older and younger musicians. The old stand-bys like Tom Rush, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen show up along with those that I refer to as the “middle generation” of acoustic singer/songwriters like Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, Keb ‘Mo, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. They also give lots of air time to the latest generation and through WUMB I’ve learned about people like the Milk Carton Kids, Joan Shelley, Aoife O’Donovan and many others. There are few stations left that showcase such a wide variety of great music.
When buying songs on ITunes by some of the above artists I’ve also discovered others by listening to music listed under the “listeners also bought….” suggestions below the listed track I’m purchasing. There are always some curious choices there but every once in a while I discover someone who’s just great.
Then comes the challenging and fun part for me. What I try to do is demonstrate common finger patterns, strums, chord sequences and melodic mechanisms using both old and new music. The idea is to help the student recognize those things when they hear them and also get those concepts “into their fingers” so to speak. I do my best to not be random but have a kind of sequential learning process. The idea is that ultimately they won’t need me at all; they can figure things out on their own.
Sometimes my students will even turn ME on to an artist I didn’t know about. This is way cool! Not to say I always agree with their choices. For example, one of my long-time students just loves the young singer/songwriter Shaky Graves. Try as I might, after listening to quite a bit of his music the guy just doesn’t do it for me. Just my opinion, nothing more. We have light hearted but adamant argument going about him. Yet another reason I love teaching the guitar!
I’d like to believe that my mind is more open to new music than it once was. This is most likely a direct reflection of the openness of my older students. I well remember being a young guitar player who had a very clear idea of what constituted “good” music. The clarity of youth and all that. Dylan said it best: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Peace & good music (of which there is PLENTY!),