Ahhh.. Once again I begin this blog with an apology. I find myself playing guitar very little these days, simply because the weather is so nice and spring is such an exciting time of the year. My guitar finds itself sitting in the stand most of the time. That brings up a topic that I plan on covering in a future blog: you don’t have to play guitar. But for now….
I have been thinking about some of my past students lately, especially since I posted a video on facebook of one of them playing on a late-night talk show. I posted it stating that he was a past student of mine, and I did that for two reasons: 1, because he was!, and 2, to stroke my own ego a bit. I wasn’t trying to somehow make the post about me; as in, “look how great a teacher I am! One of my old students is making it!” It was more about the fact that I was really excited for him. But, it does feel good knowing that someone you taught is doing well.
But, to be totally honest, I have a very hard time taking any credit at all for him as a guitar player, even though he took lessons from me for a few years. As any teacher knows, often times the most successful students (and success can be defined many different ways) are usually the worst students. In the case of this person I am talking about, and with every student I can think of that I have taught who has really found their own voice and blossomed, I recall some frustration on my part during the time he took lessons because of his lack of practicing what I assigned or recommended him to practice. It wasn’t a tension filled frustration, just sort of “Ok, work on this for next week”, and then next week comes and it was more often than not “Sorry man, but I didn’t work on that.” But, more importantly, he would then show me what he did work on, and I was always totally blown away. Our lesson would then consist of jamming on the stuff he worked on, and then I would give him an assignment, with the same results the next week. I was always searching for things to assign him, knowing that he probably wasn’t going to work on it.
This is why I hesitated to post the video of him and call him my old student: I don’t actually feel like I taught him anything! He did it all himself! I thought of calling him a friend of mine (which is what I consider him), but my ego won in this case.
That has been the case with so many of the students of mine that have turned into great musicians. I remember another guy who began taking lessons from me as a freshman in college. The first semester that I taught him we started at the very beginning: hand positions, chord shapes, etc. He left for home after that semester, and came back the following fall, and the first thing he said to with huge, wide-eyes of enthusiasm, was: ”Skot- this summer I discovered the blues!”. He then proceeded to show me the blues riffs and licks that he worked on that summer, and totally kick-ass. He didn’t resemble the guitar player that I saw before that summer at all! He must have woke up every morning and ate guitar for breakfast. Over the course of the next couple of years he advanced in huge leaps, and I don’t feel like I can take credit for any of it. I eventually played bass in a band with him, and totally enjoyed listening to him play the coolest stuff on every gig.
So why am I telling you all of this? If you are a teacher, realize that sometimes your job may consist of, instead of actually “teaching”, being a cheerleader, guide, and inspiration to those who come to you for lessons. We can’t force someone to follow the same path we choose to the same goals we have. But, hopefully, we can make their journey a bit easier.
For all of you students (which is every one of us), know that you are the one in control of how successful you are at learning this instrument. Play guitar as much as possible, learn the things that make you excited, and do the work yourself.
I don’t mean to imply that you should not listen to your teacher; on the contrary, they are (at least they should be) more experienced than you, and can provide a lot of help and guidance. But, if all you do is practice what they are giving you, you are more likely to sound like them instead of yourself. A good teacher should be aware of cultivating originality and get out of the way if necessary, helping where needed.
I know I’m not alone as a teacher, in being somewhat embarrassed to call some students “students”. In these relationships, the teacher is often the one who learns more.