More Than Just A Song – Becoming A Complete Guitarist

Becoming A Guitarist Is More Than Just Playing Songs.

  Many people can play guitar and play really good, but they’ve never mastered the “essentials,” thus their ability to play in various styles is limited - they're not a complete guitarist.  That’s not necessarily negative, because many great, legendary guitarists play more by “feel” instead of technique.  But as I grew and developed my guitar playing abilities, I found myself longing to play more than just metal or rock - I wanted to BE a guitarist.  While I have a minor in music, I am basically a self-taught guitar player.  It has taken me decades to fill-in many gaps in my playing abilities.  In fact, even though I’m a guitar instructor, I myself am still a student, still learning, and much of my pedagogic style is out of my own desire to expand my guitar understanding.

Mastering The Fundamentals of Music Is The Key

In order to fulfill that longing to become a better guitarist, when I was in college not only did I take as many music fundamentals and music theory classes as possible (without declaring music as my major), I also took classical guitar classes as well.  In fact, virtually all my elective classes revolved around either music or guitar.  I developed playing tools in those years that changed the way I play guitar to this day.  I have played guitar now for over 40 years, and various musical instruments for over 50, and the single factor that has given me the ability to play guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboard, brass and wind instruments, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, and violin, is that foundation I have in understanding music and music theory.  I get great satisfaction in being able to pick up an instrument I have never played and within a few hours or days can “fake it” pretty good.  I contribute my ability and talent to learn a variety of instruments directly to reading and understanding music, something that would either be very difficult if not impossible to do had I not developed first that foundation of “essentials.”

My Goal As A Music Teacher: Help All My Students Master The Basics

As a guitar instructor my mission is to give my students more than just the ability to knock out riffs or songs; I want all of my students to master the “basics” becoming not only better guitarists but musicians as well.  I want to inspire in my students that same drive to “eat, sleep, and dream” guitar “24/7.”  Mastering the basics is not easy and it’s not always the most spectacular aspect of being a guitarist - musician.  But, after my students “graduate,” those who have learned to apply those fundamentals have the ability to teach themselves, and their ability to play different styles of music is virtually unlimited.  Jennifer Batten, the guitarist for Jeff Beck, and the late Michael Jackson, credits her musical achievements to having that solid “foundation” of musical understanding.  She also states that this understanding opened the doors to being recognized as one of the top guitarists in the music industry!  Chris Poland, former guitarist for the super-group, Megadeath, never attended music school, something now in retrospect he wished he had.  Why?  As Chris recognizes, there are many musicians he would like to play with, but in all likelihood he will not be given that opportunity, because he doesn’t have the ability to “read a chart”, and that it’s a “big blunder” playing the kind of music he currently enjoys and not being able to read musically. Ultimately, it’s really up to the student to determine what they’re going to get from their time learning to play guitar.  For myself, as a guitar teacher, I view the learning environment of teaching guitar as just a modality of learning that prepares the student for a much more fulfilled, enriched, optimized life!  Music has unlocked many inspiring “windows” in my life to create, think quickly on my feet, dream, set goals, and so much more.  Music has given to me effective tools that have served me well in business as well, not to mention my life.  My goal as a guitar teacher is to give my students these same “tools” of music and music understanding.  If I somehow help even one of my students to discover their “passion” in life, and not live with “what if’s,” whether it’s being a guitarist/musician, a mechanic, or a computer programmer, then all those years I’ve spent endlessly learning and playing scales and chord progressions has been worth it.  

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YouTube Music Teacher

Why is learning to play guitar with you better than say watching YouTube videos?

I can answer that question with one word - FEEDBACK.  Don't get me wrong, I use YouTube all the time and encourage my students to do the same.  But YouTube is a one-dimensional teacher.  YouTube can tell you what or how to do something, but it can never tell you whether you are doing that something right.  That's where I come in.

My students ask me all the time, "Hey, Troy, I learned this song off of YouTube, am I doing this right?"  I'll have them play the piece for me, and I can give them immediate feedback on how they're doing. That single element of feedback and its application is absolutely crucial for any student at any level of playing ability.

But there is a second, and I think just as critical component, and that is the element of MENTORING​.  Look, I'm old school.  We didn't have the internet to learn from when I first started playing guitar.  I learned by wearing out a LOT of records and record needles, trying to master the guitar parts (we didn't have tabs back then either).  Thank God for i-Tunes!

I learned much more by MODELING those I was playing with.  If I didn't know a guitar chord or riff, they would show me, I'd copy what they were doing, and we would go back and forth until I got it right.  That's the way I learned, and this method has been very successful for my students as well.  The only difference between then and now is that I can incorporate new technologies like YouTube into this dynamic process.

I also teach my students in their homes.  I feel it's more personal that way.  We develop really tight-knit relationships with each other, and I'm always available for a quick stop-by to repair a string, or if they're stuck, especially at the beginning, understanding the assigned materials for that week.  The relational aspect of working with my students in their homes, and with their parents, has proven to be quite successful - again old-school.  And for myself, this relational-triad has been very fulfilling as a teacher, and as a person.  I feel like I'm more of a friend coming over for a jam session than I am solely as a guitar teacher.

While the times and technologies have changed, I don't think the importance of that human element of connection has.  We want and need to have feedback from those who matter - to know we're doing something right.  We want somebody to come alongside and show us, guide us.  I'm just putting the human component into a virtual, cyber-age learning environment.

Today, it's all about synthesis and integration.  I always encourage my students to do both; YouTube in conjunction with their weekly learning materials.  And of course this is where ACCOUNTABILITY comes in.  As long as my students are practicing the materials for that week, and can demonstrate their newly acquired techniques, I welcome the "extra" learning my students do through YouTube.  I only remind them that their "practice" time is intended solely for their assignments, and YouTube learning is on their time.  It works great, and I think the parents appreciate the structure.

There is nothing, I mean nothing more valuable than having that one-on-one connection, especially when playing music.  The exchanging of ideas, the back and forth interplay of word AND song.  I know of no better way to put it - it's simply magical what can happen.  And frankly, YouTube alone just cannot provide that.

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Read my blog post:  "More Than Just A Song"

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