Young Guitarists

In the past few years, I have taken on a few select guitar students, kids that are focused,
disciplined and have that passion for guitar. It has been immensely rewarding to both
shepherd their development and find a place to share what I have absorbed over a lifetime
as a guitarist.

Earlier today, my eldest and longest under my tutelage came to me in sort of a panic.
She had recently been asked into a band situation that required a certain minimum of
basic chart reading. As a teacher, I have determined to teach by ear until the
reading becomes a necessity, feeling that one must learn expression
and technique–ie–develop hands and ears before eyes. It seems to work well
with my students, all of whom are building excellent four finger left hand technique
and great finger picking and flat picking chops with their right. The bottom line
is she was worried about the reading and more importantly about making
mistakes. To put this in context–she is 15 and can play a mean 12 bar as well
as wail like Hendrix, get funky with great feel and finger pick.

15 years old. The band is a funk outfit of young people 14-18 that is being MD’d
by the father of the two young singing horn players. My student is quick enough
to pick up a song in a couple of listenings but she has only begun to handle chord
charts with kicks and specific chordal direction such as C/E.
What this issue highlighted for me was a fear of making mistakes as a musician.
Granted that in a studio session context as a session player, one had better
be pretty quick and pretty accurate–as well as creative. But in a rehearsal
context, especially as young players, the atmosphere that encourages one to stretch,
experiment, grow and make mistakes is essential. Not to suggest that playing a
specific arrangement accurately is a drag–on the contrary.
But the overwhelming concern to already know how to do everything is not
productive for young players. I often say to my students, play what you hear,
not what you know. Playing what you know
often ends up as a series of practiced riffs–great soloists take chances,
follow the melody in their head and are willing to trip over themselves on
occasion. Generally speaking, one hopes that a chart
leaves some room for this kind of creativity as well. There is usually
a balance that needs to be found here.

Fear does not help, ever. We are all musicians and it is a joy to be
part of this amazing culture, this
special club with it’s own language and its own history and heroes.

In the digital, correct everything, world we live in–perhaps we
should remember that music is a performance art
not only a technological art. I love my studio and all
the bells and whistles, but picking up and acoustic
guitar and just taking it where ever I feel–that is still
at the core of what music is about to me.

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