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Teaching by Travel Brochure

The Realization

I couldn't understand why so many students couldn't just hear a passage and then play it. Or why they couldn't watch me play a scale run and then just move their fingers like that. I, like most other teachers, began by making the great cardinal mistake of teaching: I taught the way I had learned. I assumed that just because a certain approach worked for me, it would work for everybody. I soon found out I was making the WRONG assumption!

I realized that teaching this way only yielded hit or miss results. Of course, the really "talented" people would benefit. Those people will learn SOMETHING from any teacher. But my student body was becoming full of people who basically made no fundamental progress; they only made what I have called "Horizontal Growth". You can make horizontal growth (playing more stuff the same way) on your own; you don't have to pay somebody for it!

Dealing with this realization is what led me to develop the teaching methods I use today. But I am writing this to warn all guitar students and to advise all guitar teachers: the world is full of guitar teachers who haven't become aware of these things, and who only keep students "busy" learning more stuff, and playing it in the same "handicapped" fashion! They do not turn out, consistently, good players. I am not saying this in order to accuse or point fingers. It is just a statement of fact, based on knowing many guitar teachers throughout the years, and hundreds, if not thousands, of students. I am saying it because it needs to be said.

I have often thought that if reading and writing were taught in the same ineffective manner as the guitar is, we would be a world full of illiterates! (And at one time, we were, because the systems of effective teaching did, in fact, not exist.)

And I am not saying all teachers are like this. In fact, I am sure we all fall somewhere in the spectrum from "horrible" to "wonderful", and personally, I am learning all the time. But I believe the vast majority of teachers, (and this is probably true for teachers of anything) DON'T work to improve their teaching skills, modify their teaching style, or learn to improve the results they get from their students as the years go by.

No, I believe many teachers fall into the category of "teaching by travel brochure", and here is what I mean by that. Because the "talented teacher" has never had to experience the "beginner problems", they don't know how to lead the student from "beginner hell" to "talent paradise". The best they can do is describe, or demonstrate (by playing) what it is like to live in "talent paradise".

When the student can't "get" something, the teacher will grab his guitar and rip off that lick or whatever, and say "It's like this!" and then stare at the student, and wait for them to repeat it back (because that's what they, the teacher, were able to do when they were the student).

It's like, for instance, I grew up in a wonderful paradise island, and you live in a ghetto. You want to come to the Paradise Island and are asking me for directions. Well, since I didn't come from the ghetto, I CAN'T TELL YOU THE STEPS TO TAKE TO GET HERE! I CAN ONLY DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS LIKE ONCE YOU ARE HERE!

So, you ask me for directions, and I send you a travel brochure, describing my wonderful island paradise.

Rather than helping you get here, I'll probably just make you feel a whole lot worse about where you live.

Great classical players like John Williams and Pepe Romero were taught from a very young age by their fathers, who were master teachers. They were supervised constantly in their practicing. They were prevented from developing the usual problems in basic technique on the instrument. Do you think they can relate to the way it feels for a player who has not been so blessed with that early training? Sympathize maybe; relate, I don't think so.

Chopin would play for a student, expect them to be able to play it back, and kick them out if they couldn't. I once heard a story from a student of Julian Bream. He asked how to do a certain technique, and Julian said in an annoyed tone, "You just DO it". Segovia was known to play for a student and say "do as I do".

Is there something priceless and sublime to be learned by just seeing a Master play? Absolutely! I have had major revelations just by watching the way Segovia moved his right hand away from the strings. It said so much; but only after almost 30 years of my own playing experience. At another time, it would have been useless. (But I'd advise looking anyway!).

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