Thursday, 16 April 2009

Guitar Teaching (part 1) “The Question”

Originally posted on 01 May 2008

I’ve been criticised quite a lot over the years for various opinions and ideas that I’ve expressed about music. This applies to other things too, but there’s been a lot of “music controversy” that I’ve generated. In hindsight, some of the ideas that I’ve shared have actually faced some very cruel and disproportionate ridicule. I don’t usually talk about a lot of these things anymore to avoid a similar experience but in a conversation yesterday, I engaged in a discussion about one of these frequently criticised “crazy ideas”. This was an old favourite, referred to by a friend as simply “The Question”. This was a question that I used to ask guitar tutors as a method by which I could immediately assess what kind of level they were working on. The question itself is a very simple “What note is behind the eighth fret of the second string?” The responses I got to this question in general were disturbing. The number of people who I’ve met over the years who don’t know this, had to work it out slowly, or dismissed the question as irrelevant (who were actually offering guitar lessons) has been incredible! I’ve heard every excuse possible why you “don’t need to know this” to teach but my response to all of them has always been, “What if one of your students asked you this question?”, “Would you tell your students that they don’t need to know where a note is on the fingerboard of the guitar?”, “How would you explain to a parent of a pupil that this information isn’t necessary?”, and “What kind of message is that sending the next generation of players?”.

I’ve considered this question again and offered it much thought based around asking myself: “Is this excessively harsh?” I’ll admit that where knowing every note on the fingerboard isn’t knowledge which some of these guitar tutors have had, their students will have undoubtedly learned some things, and be empowered with an ability to play to a certain degree, and achieved a certain level of understanding about the guitar and theoretical concepts. However, with this “question” I can’t help feeling that the quality of the knowledge and understanding that the tutor has is an essential element within the ability to effectively teach. Where I’ve thought about this a lot, I can’t avoid returning to an old maxim that effective teaching is ultimately reliant of the quality of knowledge that a teacher has. Taking this into consideration, if anyone wants to teach guitar I would suggest that they adequately prepare themselves to be able to answer this kind of question.

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