Back To School
Published: 30 August, 2014

September means a fresh start for everyone, guitar-players too. Resist the pressure to conform and do it your way.

The long summer holidays are nearly over. No more digging holes in the sand to watch the sea-water fill them; nor sitting at the table with the huge round dish of a paella staring back at me; nor having a French loaf stuffed with Spanish omelette at tea time; nor running up the hill and see if you can catch me; nor lying in bed listening to the farmers going to work at the crack of dawn – these are my memories of idyllic summers in Valencia. Yet all the time in the back of my mind I was counting the days to the dreaded return like a detonating time-bomb.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Return to school should be a totally positive experience. Instead I remember severe unsmiling teachers, silly rules, and a semi-militarized regime. It’s all quite understandable I am told. After all, how else do you keep hundreds of children well behaved and attentive and sufficiently calm? No matter how many children are in the classroom you have to have quiet and concentration for them to learn something.

While learning is based on the collective principle there will be disorder, sometimes minor, sometimes major. We are all different, and we learn in different ways. Some thrive on exams, others on course work. Some are analytical, some are intuitive. Some are ready to learn at 10 years of age, others at 13. And so it goes on. The ideal learning is not in a class room with a catch-all approach reinforced by discipline but one to one: if only we could all go back to enlightened private tutors visiting us, or we going to them! Which brings me back to guitar playing.

Mis-education not only affects how we learn, but also what we learn. Forget about the “right” technique and of how to acquire it: there is not only one approach, there are many. Forget about “the authentic” Baroque style: views vary of what that is. Forget about “how you are supposed” to interpret such and such a piece: there are different ways of doing so. Forget about how you are “meant” to do things. One thing is for sure: the best way for you to be yourself and comfortable in your skin is to do it your way. Frank Sinatra was right!

To find your way now is a good time to start. September is upon us. A new season beckons. Make a clean break with the pressure to conform to the rules and decide for yourself.

30th August 2014, London

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