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Barriers to Perseverance

Part 4 of 4: Tackling Trust

By Chad Crawford

PMI Blues Guitar Instructor

The most significant barrier to eventual success with the guitar is not talent or even the quality of a given instructor. It is this: giving up! There are many reasons why folks give up on a particular course of study, but we see that over time there is a short list that covers most aspiring guitarists who drop out.





In this article I am going to address the loss of confidence in the teacher (or course). Experienced teachers see the signs when a student or prospect is questioning the teacher’s effectiveness - pressing us to replicate their favorite songs on the spot as a sort of “evaluation” of our mastery of the guitar; questioning the teaching materials and methods; and questioning the rate of progress in such a way as to suggest the student should be farther along if the teacher were more effective.

These are legitimate concerns and there are answers for them that we will look at below. But first let us agree that if you ever have such concerns you should not give up on your lessons without discussing these concerns with your teacher. A good teacher will know that these questions come up in the minds of some students - we probably had similar questions at times while we were learning to play guitar. We will not be offended by these concerns. Contrarily, it is a great opportunity for the teacher to inspire confidence in the student with effective answers to hard questions!

Debunking the Myth of the “Musical Copy Machine” It is common for beginners to tell with a certain awe of the guitarist they know, or know of, who can hear a song one time and play it back note for note. The truth is, in most cases this is an illusion. There is only a small group of people in the world who can do this. Typically they can do this only with a single-instrument piece, such as a solo piano concerto.

To immediately replicate a typical popular guitar song one would have to possess (1) a perfect ear for breaking the guitar out of the mix and identifying all the various split-second notes, (2) a perfect or “photographic” memory for re-assembling all the notes in perfect order and with perfect timing. While these would certainly be useful assets to a musician, the overwhelming majority of musicians do not possess such incredible skills. Rather, in some cases skilled musicians will play a song that they worked on for a long time and memorized, and leave one with the impression that this is first time they have ever attempted to play it. Additionally, it is possible in many cases to pick out the basic chord structure of a song, and the essential scales and techniques that carry the sense of a solo, and play back something that sounds similar to the ears of an untrained musician.

Self-expression with the guitar is a very personalized, unique phenomenon. Whether or not a given guitar teacher can duplicate Yngwie Malmsteen solos is irrelevant to whether he can teach how the guitar works and what you need to do to reach your own goals – even if the goal is to play like Malmsteen. It is quite possible in fact for you to end up being a better guitarist than your teacher! Do football coaches go on to the field and tackle the players to teach them how to play football? Of course not! The guitar teacher is the coach and knows what the student needs to do to win the game.

Musicians are artists, not copy machines! One can reasonably expect that a guitar teacher be able to play style standards and help learn favorite songs. However, it is not realistic to expect a teacher to be able to duplicate a complex song after one hearing, and this not a valid method to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness.

“Materials and Methods” A student usually will not have sufficient knowledge to evaluate teaching materials and methods. Despite this, it is common for music students to question the value of various assignments. Teachers use various materials and change the order of presentation depending on the age and experience of the student. Typically a good teacher will use materials and methods that are industry standard, up to date, and have proved effective for themselves and a host of other guitarists. This is not to suggest that teachers are infallible, only that one should be cautious in deciding to resist learning this or that technique, or deciding that the teacher is wasting one’s time with unproductive exercises or busy work. Everything we do has a reason, even though a student may not be able to see it clearly.

Rate of Progress It is very important for every aspiring musician to understand that rates of progress are going to vary widely among individuals. This will depend not only on the teacher’s effectiveness at continual development of a teaching strategy as the student progresses, but also on the student’s natural ability level, the amount of time invested in lessons, and most importantly, the amount of time the student is able and willing to practice. There is no way around this regardless of the effectiveness of the teacher.

It is in the best interest of all students to completely avoid comparisons to other guitarists at all – especially world class professional guitarists who practice for hours per day every day of the week. The better goal is to learn to play the guitar and play whatever comes out of you – self-expression. The only productive comparison is to record your progress and compare your skills today to last week or last month (I can help you with that). This is not to say that it is not useful to follow in the footsteps of the masters for learning various techniques and methods and licks - certainly we should and will do that. However, it is self-defeating to evaluate one’s own potential or progress rate (or the effectiveness of a teacher) by making comparisons to the skills of others.

Conclusion You can’t “buy” guitar skills in the same way you buy a physical product – simply lay down your funds and walk away with the finished product. You are investing over time in a result that grows out of a relationship. Your feedback is an important part of this process, so be diplomatically frank with your teacher if you have concerns. On the other hand, don’t be too quick to challenge or abandon your teacher. And remember that in the case of personal lessons, your teacher is also a human being … it is possible and proper to express concerns without being rude or insulting. The odds are that your teacher is properly directing you down the road to proficiency.

If you need help determining whether your current teacher or program is taking you in the direction you want to go, then click HERE to schedule a no cost, no obligation interview with the author.

Copyright 2008 J. Chad Crawford

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