Saturday, 15 August 2009

Guitar Teaching (part 5) “What qualifies someone to teach?”

The topic of “What qualifies someone to teach?” permeates many conversations amongst guitar players and goes around in circles, particularly players who reach a certain standard and consider themselves to be in a new position where they are capable of offering ‘guitar lessons’.

I’m of the strong opinion that what qualifies someone to teach is not on paper, it is in their knowledge, and attitude to the job. Experience helps but at one time, everyone who has ever taught was inexperienced so I wouldn't suggest that this is always essential (contentious as this may sound). However, I will go so far as to suggest that there is no such thing as ‘amateur’ teaching. Where students are paying for lessons, whoever is giving those lessons should know their stuff, and be 100% committed for the duration of their lesson to giving them their best. If it's guitar, where the notes are on the fingerboard is part of a basic, fundamental body of knowledge that I strongly believe anyone who wants to teach guitar needs to know, as is a strong sense that they are taking on a role of a ‘teacher’ in order that they may assist in the development of a students playing. Paper qualifications are not completely irrelevant, and have a value, (although speaking of paperwork, I would suggest that if people are teaching young children, an enhanced CRB check, and sufficient public liability insurance are essential). If you're not ‘qualified’ (on paper), don’t think in terms of ‘teaching’. In my honest opinion, I don’t believe that to be the best approach unless you really know what you're doing. I would consider that taking an approach of ‘sharing’ what you know would be a better suggestion. ‘Sharing’ means that you will only ever be passing on the knowledge you have, and be able to relate it to the experience you had learning it yourself. If you're student asks you a question and you don't know the answer, "I don't know" will earn you more respect than anything you could make up on the spot to maintain the ‘teacher’ role (and it’s alarming how many people who offer guitar lessons seem to think that misdirecting a question or making something up as an answer is a good idea!) If you go into the situation confident that you are ‘sharing’ what you know, (remembering that can't share anything you don't know!) you will always be qualified to do what you do when it comes to ‘teaching’.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Guitar Teaching (part 4) "The Role of a Guitar Teacher"

Originally posted on 19 Jan 2009

Again, my experiences and questions I've been asked recently have led me to assemble a generic answer, to which I can point people in the direction of, if I'm asked this in the future. What is the role of a guitar teacher?

Before moving onto the "role", firstly I would like to express what I feel a guitar teacher (who has adopted this title and role) is actually responsible for:

A guitar teacher is responsible for the quality of a students 'teaching'. Not the quality and rate of the students 'progress'.

Regarding the 'role' of a guitar teacher:

Essentially, a (guitar) teacher’s role is to offer information, guidance and encouragement. This is done by establishing where you already are with your playing, together with where you want your playing to be through assessment, and using that as a basis for structuring a logically progressive path towards where you want to go. This can be done in a number of different ways, both formally and informally, sometimes even consciously or subconsciously, but it's what most teachers do unless they are teaching you what they think you should know. This is a bit more like school or the more formal classical training that you can have on a musical instrument. Both approaches are valid and suit different people according to their outlook/ personality/ needs etc although I think it is a safe enough assumption that most electric guitar players are not likely to wish to surrender all decision making as to what material they cover and how their progress is structured to a classical style, formal training system. Irrespective of this, nobody ever gets any better in a lesson, or because they have lessons. People only get better when they practice but there can sometimes be a large void here in that many people don't actually know how to practice, what it is, how it works, and what it's for in extension of the very vague and general "to get better", or "to improve".

All the information you ever need about playing is on the internet. All the guidance and encouragement anyone may want isn't always necessary if people are sufficiently self-motivated. A lot of the time, if you are considering taking guitar lessons, you have to ask yourself what it is you actually want from a teacher. If you take guitar lessons but are concerned that your teacher isn't giving you what you want, it's worth properly establishing what it is that you wanted from them in the first place. Clearly establish what it is you wanted from them in your mind, and discuss it with them. It's the reason I ask the first questions (of all new students) so that this is formally established before we get on with the learning:

"What do you want to be able to do with the guitar that you can't do now?"
"How do you consider that I may be able to best help you to get there?"

The responses I get to these questions are predictably vague almost every time. It's always "to get better" or similar, so we move onto what "getting better" means to them and establish examples of "better playing" which is simultaneously establishing short, medium, and long term goals for the students (dependant on how complicated the "better" playing examples are). If you don't know where you want to go, how are you going to get there? No matter who is helping you (teaching you), it's just not going to happen.