Rather than look back at the year gone by, today I’m going to relate some of my hopes and goals related to making and teaching music. The trick is to take a step back and look at the big picture, what I’d like to achieve with and for my students and in my own playing. I think that for most of us, looking at any macro aspects of our lives can be daunting and I’m no different. The first thing is to be relatively sure you’re at least walking down the right path.
Based on the feedback I get from students and musician friends I know I am. Compared to a decade or so ago, I’m much more confident that I understand the needs, hopes and goals of my students. It’s more apparent than ever that my techniques of totally personalized instruction based on plenty of lesson planning is the way to go rather than relying on standardized by-the-book methods. I can’t deny that this is a big, time-consuming challenge pretty much every week. Almost all my students are adults and while a routinized guitar method might work with kids, who need well defined structure and goals, adults who are recreational players and doing it for their own enjoyment above all else need to be handled differently.
One of my goals this coming year is to concentrate a bit more on theory and ear-training with my experienced adult students. I’ve always done this to a certain extent but with an unlimited amount of information about songs and the styles of particular musicians available on-line this needs to be higher on my priority list. Why? Because lots of the information out there is either incomplete or outright wrong. I plan to push those more experienced students a bit harder to do more exploring on-line of their favorite players and style of music. My job will be to help them weed through what they find (songs, chord sequences, rhythms, etc.) and teach them to compare what they hear to what is on their computer screen. That’s what I do in some cases. Usually I can figure out songs by ear and boil them down to a guitar part that is as accurate as possible and close to the original recording. Much of this comes from many decades of experience of course but my plan is to spend more time helping them recognize the subtleties of a song and how to incorporate those things in their playing.
There’s a bit of irony here. If I do my job well, they should need me less and less. But that’s OK. I’ve always felt that I’m something like the captain of a ship and when that ship reaches its destination the captain shouldn’t be needed anymore. Not a good plan from a business perspective but a good captain feels satisfaction when the ship is safely moored and that’s good enough for me.
Another goal is to work a bit harder on stretching the minds of certain students in terms of the music they like. This is harder than it might sound and is especially true of much older and young students who often have pretty entrenched ideas about what constitutes “good” music. I get great joy from turning someone on to an artist or even a style of music that held no appeal to them previously. One of the things I’ve always told students at their very first lesson is that I will do my best to teach them the type of music they enjoy – but they must also keep an open mind. Depending upon the personality of a student this may be a challenge. On rare occasions, it even comes to the point that someone is so entrenched in their musical tastes that a wall is finally reached. I have one or two students right now who are just about at that point and part of this particular goal I have on my mind is to be less sensitive to what they may think of me both professionally and personally if I have to let them go. This is one of those “macro” things I mentioned in the beginning. Sometimes it’s best to stifle one’s ego and just do the right thing. But again, from a purely business perspective, this is not very smart! Whenever I’ve had to do this in the past however I never just put them out to sea, using another ship captain analogy. I always suggest they do their own research about the style they are most interested in, or take a workshop or guitar class in their particular style that are sometimes offered at places like the Music Emporium in Lexington, MA (a great store, by the way), or even….gulp….seek out another teacher.
The bottom line in that is I know that I’m doing the right thing and hopefully, sooner or later, the student will too.
Something that I definitely need to improve upon this year is developing and/or adapting techniques for left-handed students. I don’t see a lot of them but right now I have two lefties and spend more time than usual on weekly lesson plans for them. I know of a couple guitar teachers here on the Cape who will not even accept left-handed students because of the lack of texts for them. I wouldn’t do that but there’s no question I need to work on my teaching techniques in this regard. The worst thing is to force a lefty to learn right-handed technique. I have a student who has been with me for quite a few years who never told me she was left-handed until about a year into lessons. Huge mistake. She struggles mightily with finger-picking because of this and it was really too late to start all over again. Lesson learned. By me.
Finally, for my own improvement I intend to force myself into a more consistent practice regimen. Between my weekly gig at the Daily Brew, which I have been doing for seven years now, lesson planning (4 – 6 hours every weekend) and teaching about 5 hours a day, four days a week, it’s just really tough to get motivated to push all those things out of my mind and just PLAY. I have a somewhat depressing mental list of major weaknesses in my playing that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. I’m not getting any younger and the first hints of arthritis have begun to appear, something which is a curse of my Bourque genetic makeup. But so far, it hasn’t affected me all that much and I know I’m playing better right now than I have for my entire life. Just do it, Gene.
I hope you have a joyful and satisfying 2018. Treasure your time with family and friends, and see as much as you can of our world. Then pick up your guitar and let the things you learned and felt at those times come out.
Peace & good music,