It’s no surprise but the thick, humid air has done what it does to my beautiful Martins: made them sound dull and lifeless. I know their souls are lurking in there somewhere but it takes a bit of extra effort to grab one and play when I know it won’t sound like it can. Remind me of this complaint next winter when my guitars sound wonderful but it’s sub zero outside and my frozen hands refuse to move very fast on the strings and neck.
My precious granddaughters and daughter are visiting and we’ve had lots of fun making music or at least making something resembling musical sounds. The older one, Clara, is almost three years old and loves making up new words to songs. Her latest is a take-off on “My Favorite Things” in which we list Clara’s favorite things like ice cream, carousels and the beach. She loves to bang away on her small xylophone that I bought for her and also the ukulele. Her mother thinks it is time to get a bit more “serious” about playing those things in terms of learning notes and such but I tell her there’s no rush. The joy of making music at that age needs to be nurtured and be fun without any undue stress. This is something that all parents are a bit guilty of when a child expresses interest in music. When someone asks me about how early a kid should start playing the guitar I avoid giving them an answer and remind them that Eric Clapton didn’t even start playing until he was 12 years old. There’s plenty of time.
As I’ve mentioned here before, in the last decade virtually all my students have been adults and I do not take students under the age of ten. Recently I had some instances that reminded me that this is a good policy.
I had a boy about 12 years old start lessons about a month ago. I suspected from the get-go that this was nothing more than a way to give him something to do over the summer but agreed to give him a chance. In spite of my instructions before his first lesson that he should bring an acoustic guitar he showed up at the first lesson with a $400+ electric (and did for his second lesson too, in spite of reminding the person who brought him that he should bring an acoustic, which he did have access to). It was obvious from moment one that he expected me to wave a magic wand over his head and make him into a guitar player with no effort on his part. I have strategies to divest a youngster of that assumption and explained to him that he HAD to practice the relatively easy stuff I gave him – and I knew he could play with a tiny bit of effort. At the second lesson, two weeks after his first one, it was immediately obvious that he hadn’t practiced at all.
In my advancing years I readily admit I’m a bit crankier than I was years ago but this kid needed to hear the truth: that he was wasting his grandparents’ money and my time if he was not willing to practice. And this bears repeating: what I gave him was not difficult but would have sounded at least a bit inspiring with a minimal amount of effort. During that second lesson he sat there with a sneer on his face and basically refused to focus on the playing. I told him to go home and decide what he wanted to do and to have his grandparents email me with the answer.
As I knew would happen, I received an email stating that it “wasn’t a good fit” and that he would not be continuing. No surprise there, although I did bristle a bit at the “good fit” comment, which implied that I had somehow failed in my responsibilities. The bottom line is that this kid will most likely never be a guitar player, in spite of having a fancy electric guitar. I won’t comment on the parenting methodology on display here.
But on the other hand, I had a kid start in early June who had just turned 10. I’ve seen him at the Daily Brew for years with his mom and it was obvious from the attention he paid to my playing that there was genuine interest. He is a great kid personality-wise and after only the second lesson my wife (who can hear my lessons from in the house) remarked at how well he was playing; she was amazed that it was only his second lesson, and told the mom so when they were leaving the lesson. His enthusiasm is so wonderful to see!
Also, the mom clearly loves her boy and while she does not coddle him she gives him plenty of positive reinforcement. I am so happy to have him as a student that last week I gave him a decent quality steel string guitar, padded gig bag and tuner to replace the nylon string beginner’s guitar he had been playing. Both the boy and the mom were thrilled and regardless of how long he stays with me I am 100% sure he will continue to play. This is a win for all of us and I was happy to do it.
I keep reminding all my students that playing the guitar – or any musical instrument for that matter – is peaks and valleys. When you reach the top of a mountain it’s likely you will spot another one in the distance. But it’s important to enjoy the view from the one you’ve just climbed. Those valleys don’t need to be failures, just places to rest and reflect a bit on mountains you’ve climbed in the past. If a piece of music seems insurmountable, put it aside for a while and play something you know well. Do this enough and you will be ready to start that climb again.
Time to pick up my guitar and practice. Keep focusing on the Big Picture even if my D-35 sounds like it’s stuffed with socks. Maybe if I change the strings….
Peace & good music,