The seasonal changes we all go through at least here in New England are unavoidable. Unless of course you have the means to escape to someplace warm or better yet, tropical. I do not, at least until next February!
For me, autumn here on Cape Cod has a lot of pluses: many crisp and clear days and nights when neither the furnace or the air conditioner are needed; a slowing down of pretty much everything we do with the reasonably certain expectation that our routines won’t be disrupted by tourist traffic; for me, morning walks at dawn down the nearby Shining Sea Bikeway don’t require looking over my shoulder every two minutes to be sure some tourist Lance Armstrong wannabe isn’t about to run me over.
One of the greatest aspects of the autumnal changes is the positive affect it has on my guitars. With cooler, drier weather they “wake up” after a summer of high humidity saturating their wooden bodies, resulting in muddy tone and sticky fingerboards. I know that this waking up process always happens and love it when it does, but I also have to keep a careful watch on the humidity gauge in the studio and consider using sound hole-mounted humidifiers if the humidity dips much below 40%. If you don’t own one (I sell, use and heartily recommend the one made by Music Nomad, best on the market as far as I’m concerned. If you’re interested in one just shoot me a message on the “contact” page on my website). For now anyway the humidity is varying between 50% and 60% so I’ll wait a while before using mine.
Fall has a really positive affect on my energy level, too. It’s not quite as hard to drag my ol’ carcass out of bed before dawn for one of those early walks down to the harbor, secure in the knowledge that I will feel even better when I get back home.
When I’m on one of those walks I always think about music, what I need to work on, what to offer my students, but in most cases it’s simply something like figuring out a song running around in my head. Not the ear worm variety - I learned a long time ago that forcing myself to sing (out loud, sometimes) a song I like or recently discovered almost always banishes those crawly things in my musical brain if one tries to take up residence. Best part: Through nothing more than pure repetition I know I’m learning the song better than by just listening to it. It makes me anxious to get to work on it. Try this if you need to….it works!
And it’s a good thing my energy level improves at this time of year, now more than ever after all these decades of teaching guitar. My search for new songs for my students is a never-ending task and to be frank, sometimes it does wear me down. All the factors I have to balance (appropriateness for the maximum number of students in the long term; if it demonstrates techniques and musical elements that can be applied to other songs; how “make-able” it will be for students - to foster a sense of accomplishment and minimize frustration; and simply, is it a good song?) are a task, I can’t deny that. On average, I spend 3 - 4 hours per song listening, adapting, charting it out in a legible fashion and printing copies with hand-written notes and suggestions. Some songs take even longer only because I’m a stickler about accuracy. And sometimes even when I think I’m finished I have to go back and tweak certain parts, or even start all over again. I truly believe (at least in the beginning) every player wants a song to be as close to the original version as possible and I work very, very hard to make that happen. I know they appreciate my efforts and when I hear yet again a student tell me that when they left their lesson they had very little confidence they could play a particular piece - but when they return having conquered it, that brings big smiles to both of us. I guess that’s one of the main reasons I keep teaching.
I hope a natural outgrowth of that is inspiration. Success breeds success, as someone once said. I see that all the time but one big thing I’ve learned over those many years is that the most successful students learn how to take the long view. Right now the majority of my students have been with me for years and are all adults. Some are human sponges; they quickly absorb everything I throw at them and their progress is sometimes downright remarkable. With those types I have to REALLY keep on my toes to keep them challenged and interested.
But the majority learn at a slower pace, in some cases almost excruciatingly so. With those students - most of whom are sincerely dedicated and serious about learning - I have to teach them to celebrate small victories. One trick I’ve been using for years is to encourage them to record part of a practice session on their phone….but don’t listen to it when they’re done! Save that sound file for at least a couple months, then listen to it. It’s pretty much guaranteed they will find that their playing has improved, at least to a modest degree. Like I said, small victories.
I am pretty sure I've mentioned this in previous post but I have a good friend who lives in another part of the state and he is a superb guitarist and teacher. We sometimes compare notes and relate experiences we’ve had teaching. He always says something to the effect: You know what? You work too hard! Give ‘em a song, help them along as best you can, but it’s up to them to learn it! You’re taking this whole thing much too seriously!
Maybe he’s right, hell, I don’t know. But I don’t anticipate changing the way I do things, not now anyway when the cooler weather has given me a shot of energy. I guess if I do take things too seriously from time to time, I only want my lessons to my seriously fun!
Peace & good music,