I have been teaching guitar since college, but it is only in the last 15 years or so that I have made a commitment as a career. After so many years feeling fortunate to experience the pleasures of discovering, learning and creating music I felt it was time to give something back.
I deeply believe that the pursuit of music is a discipline unlike any other. To master an instrument demands a unique combination of dextral, aural and perceptual skills, the acquiring of which offers the musician a multitude of pleasures: the satisfaction of accomplishment, the pleasure of making beautiful sounds and the excitement of sharing a musical experience with other musicians are just a few of the benefits of musical expression. I have cherished my musical experiences and at a certain point in my life I felt that I wanted to help others have similar experiences.
My goal has not been to create young budding virtuosos who would go on to lucrative careers in the music field. My experience in the field of music and arts in general has taught me that a successful career is only available to a select few. However, I feel strongly that musical pursuit has more to offer than just musical success. The beginning musician does not pursue an instrument with the long-range goal of becoming a virtuoso. He or she persists because of the pleasures of learning to make beautiful sounds: so many wonderful composers and song writers have given us the means to experience beautiful melodies, lush harmonies and seductive rhythms through recreating and interpreting the sounds that they have invented.
Or it could be about discovering the sounds within ourselves. Improvisation has always been a major focus of my musical life. But this is a skill that must be developed and honed. Many of us are not aware that it is possible to make up music on the spur of the moment. It has been a great source of pleasure for me to introduce a young guitarist to improvisation. The majority of my students that experience improv for the first time say, “That was fun!”
In addition to all that, teaching is a way for me to continue to learn and study while helping others do the same. I have learned more about guitar technique in these years of teaching than in my previous years of performing and recording through the process of seeing others’ struggles to master this instrument and through a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t work.
Yet, there is one big benefit that I didn’t foresee, a benefit which has been a great source of satisfaction to me. That is the people! Getting to know my students through teaching them and seeing them grow as musicians has been wonderful. Each student of music brings a different set of abilities to the table, in the same way that each student has their own particular challenges. I take pride in the ability to observe and understand my students, so that I can give them the tools they need to progress and get better at playing. I often try to impress on my students the fact that musical ability is complicated. There is no such thing as being “tone deaf” or having “no sense of rhythm”. These things are skills that can be acquired. One of my students couldn’t clap a steady 4/4 when he first came to me, and was convinced that he had no rhythm. We made that part of his goal and in the end he was playing James Brown guitar parts.
All the various aspects of my musical career has presented their own challenges to me, whether it be learning to play a difficult piece of music or to manage a rapid tempo in a solo, or arising to the task of setting a particularly beautiful lyric to an appropriately beautiful melody. Likewise, each student presents me with a challenge, and as the student progresses those challenges change. It is this changeable nature of teaching that keeps me interested and committed.