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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Learning Properly is a Waste of Time

- Throw away the book and do it your way! -

Am I alone in noticing what I am about to describe? I hope not. It surprised me when I discovered it a long time ago from wise people who told me. It was reinforced by a book I read called "Compulsory Miseducation" - that too set my mind racing.

It's all about the ying and yang of education. As a consequence it encouraged me to bring up my children Dario and Adriano according to the unconventional model in so far as their musical education. As it happens they both turned out pretty good musicians!

Here's how it goes. Take two children: guide the first through a methodical approach based on sound technique from the start, reading music, and learning carefully graded pieces from one week to the next. Insist on methodical preparation and practise.

Take the second child on a different musical journey: get him or her to improvise, to imitate and to play back by ear. Tell him not how to play anything unless requested by him for you to do so. Put an emphasis on self-expression (yes, even with young children). Treat learning musical notation merely as a tool for remembering and no more, at least for some months.

Maybe you know already where I am going with this. I will tell you: the second child more frequently than not develops greater confidence as a player, becomes creative, enjoys his playing more, and sooner rather than later overtakes the first child in both technique and reading ability.

The first child is concerned with balancing the various demands made of him as he picks up the guitar (or any other instrument). These can include:
- sit properly
- read the right notes
- left hand knuckles in line
- hold up the right hand wrist
- grow your nails
- don't rest the little finger on the guitar top
- don't rest the thumb on the guitar top
- play in time, at a snail's pace if necessary

Meanwhile in the other corner, child number two is having a great time strumming with his nailess thumb, digging in to the strings with his very own homemade rest stroke technique, while his left hand fingers fly all over the fret board in anarchist abandon. The music coming from his guitar may be a well-known tune treated to his own embellishments, discreetly prompted by a sympathetic teacher.

So I repeat my question: am I alone in noticing these two contrasting types? I admit I have depicted two extreme versions, but still I think they are quite recognisable.

What conclusions do I draw? Where do we go from here? For the moment I am tempted to say throw away the book and let's focus on musical self-expression
straight away and the rest will follow from that.

Of course, some may think it is important to not allow "bad habits" to set in from the beginning, as is sitting "correctly", and adopting a good technique straight away. And all that is good.

We set a compass towards the goal we are seeking when we start on the long journey of learning to play a musical instrument. The moment we first set the compass may be the ideal time to decide where we are heading and how to get there.

The goal for me and my students is self expression through music in its many forms. It includes Improvising, composing, fluency, confidence, expression, reading skills, good technique, tone...they are all up there, and they are all important, jostling each other for good positioning within the goal mouth. How exciting!

And that's how it should be.

23rd March, 2013, Mauritius

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2294 .
© 2019.


  • Steve Higgs says:

    Typical Carlos...poke a stick into the ant hill and see what comes out!
    Great blog entry. Luckily, the two learning styles are not mutually exclusive and a good teacher like yourself can take the best that each style has to offer. I was lucky enough to have great teachers and a desire to improvise through popular and flamenco music. It's great to see how well a pupil knows a piece by improvising over it and see whether they can continue. More often than not, they want to know, 'how did you do that?' Teaching the 'correct' technique is only successful when you explain why. Once the pupil realises that a particular technique allows them to achieve something better (speed, tone, reach etc.) they will embrace it as part of the exploration side of learning. Keep those bloggs coming! Steve

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