How accurate do we have to be about chords and the overall structure of a song? I recently heard a professional player who took great liberties with changes in some jazz standards. There is a long-standing tradition of tweaking the changes in jazz tunes to add some originality and interest to tunes. OK, I get that. I do it myself to a certain degree with my own arrangements. However, crossing the line too far is fraught with danger, in my opinion. You can easily end up with something that sounds just too far “outside” what the composer intended. Now I know some advanced players would argue this but what I’m talking about is the player who is weak in knowledge and ability. Omitting important (vital?) chords weakens the song. I guess all I’m saying is, spend the time to learn the tune RIGHT, then add what your ear leads you to. Otherwise the result is something that can be downright boring.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing simple pieces and in fact, a simple song played to perfection can be a joy to hear. Right now I have a young student who has learned to play very well in a relatively short amount of time. She pays attention to details and takes great pride in her playing. My guess is that she’s a “lifer” – someone who will play the guitar as long as she’s able. Her joy in discovering her potential is gratifying and students like her are one of the reasons I love teaching. Yes, the songs she plays may have only four or five chords and the rhythmic structure is simple and straight-ahead but she accomplishes those things so well that I would put her playing up against more than a few guitar bangers I’ve heard in bars over the years. My task in the weeks and months to come is to subtly but progressively move her forward. I’ve written before about the conundrum of so-called “natural ability” but if there is such a thing, I think she has it.
Last weekend I visited a fairly new guitar shop not far from where I live. Met one of the owners and had a very nice conversation with him about the guitar business and also about the teaching situation in his area. He had some interesting observations. There is a privately owned music school in his town and it sounded like what they are doing there confirmed yet again that I’m pretty certain the way I do things is the right way. The school is well attended but highly structured in their methods and mode of operation. Lessons are half-hour long, which I’ve always felt is much too short an amount of time to give an effective lesson. Between getting the student settled, tuning their guitar, and then reviewing what they practiced the week before I just can’t imagine there is much time to introduce new music and have it be understood. This leads to too many weeks spent on a single piece of music. Again, this is my opinion but I think it makes sense. Further complicating things, the school schedules lessons a half-hour apart. If a student is late, his or her lesson must naturally be even shorter to account for the next student who (hopefully!) arrives on time. I know I could make more money if I scheduled this way but it would be just too stressful for all concerned!
But to end on a more positive note, that store was pretty cool. They only carry used instruments but already have a solid following and seem to have a handle on repairs. It’s just kinda nice to see a small, local music store being successful in today’s internet-driven, big box marketplace!
Peace & good music from snowy Cape Cod!