I deserve a gold star

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This past Thursday, Danny and I spent an entire hour working on the Simon & Garfunkel piece. Not because I didn’t practice. Not because it was difficult. But because he was delighted to see my progress and gave me page 3 and 4 for homework. Which means I’ve completed two-thirds of this fingerpicking song!

It felt really good–I mean, really, freakin’ good to have Danny proud of me. “Now, didn’t I tell you-you’d be great at fingerpicking if you just practiced?” he said in his twangy South Carolina accent.

Typically Danny’s lessons are complex due to his “pop quizzes” and ability to fly through an extensive amount of material but last week it was 100% fingerpicking. But even he said it was worth it.

Although, my performance was nearly a 180, there were a few errors Danny teased me about (that’s the kind of relationship we have). When reading music, I tend to skip measures when I get bored/zone out. And secondly, I often neglect my pinky. The latter is most difficult because I’d already learned how to play tricky finger patterns (my way) and now I have to relearn them by using my pinky. Oh well, it’s nothing a metronome and repetition can’t fix, right?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PIXTAWAN / FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

The woes & triumphs of finding a mentor

Kristen L. Acoustic Guitar

I’ve met some talented guitarists in the San Francisco Bay area but I finally settled on one–Alek.  He has something the other guitar teachers did not: a teaching style similar to Danny’s and chemistry that inspires me and makes me hurry home and start practicing.

To all of you self taught guitarists, I commend you because I don’t have the self discipline to watch videos and organize my own curriculum.  Instead, I need accountability and motivation or else, I lose momentum and wonder why I am doing it in the first place.  I can’t imagine sorting through thousands of guitar videos that are available today… do you ever feel conflicted in your interests?  I think I would learn things out of order. But if you ever decide to get a guitar teacher, definitely be extremely picky.

Growing up I’ve had my share of bland, non-inspiring, overpriced teachers.  Fortunately, I’ve figured out what I prefer in a teacher and came to the conclusion that no matter how talented or at what price… chemistry and teaching style is at the top of my criteria.

  1. Chemistry is everything.  This is my number 1 priority.  Three weeks ago, I had a “free trial lesson” with a guitarist who used to live in NYC and LA.  He had friends who played with Michael Jackson and what not… simply a long list of impressive connections but our lack of chemistry made me forgo his services.  Don’t get me wrong, he was really outgoing, a great conversationalist and everything but he didn’t get me amped up about practicing.  He also didn’t cater his lessons to my goals and it felt more like a check list: “learn the parts of guitar, okay good, CHECK.”  I felt like he didn’t care about what I already knew and was just going through the motions.
  2. Teaching style is not one for all, nor is it customizable.  I’ve stuck with some wonderful musicians thinking I could just ask them to slow down or reword their explanations but it’s difficult to change a person’s teaching style and mind set.  You must find someone who naturally accommodates the way you learn because very few teachers can adapt to different students.

My favorite thing about Alek is he jumps right into the nitty gritty: theory, technique and technical terms that hurt your brain.  Luckily, I enjoy squinting my eyes as I memorize and wrap my mind around music theory.  It helps, it really does–no, not all actually.  On top of that, I can visibly see in his eyes and hand gestures that he’s passionate and enthusiastic about my journey to layin’ down some sweet solos.  We typically (accidentally) we go over the allotted time period but he’s never rushed me out or glanced at his watch.  In fact, sometimes I am the one packing up my guitar while he’s still yammering on and on about our lesson–it’s refreshing.

The other guitar teachers I “tried out” simply covered barre chords (which I already know) and how to read music (which again, I already know).  It baffles me because they knew I can read music after I explained my history but they quizzed me anyways.  I know, I can’t be annoyed about that because, yeah, a lot of people are big fat liars.  But I proved to be well-versed, big thanks to my militant, high school marching band director.

In retrospect, Danny is still the best teacher out of the 8 or 9 I grew up with.  And I still keep in touch with him, in case you’re wondering.  In fact, he texted me a couple days ago asking when I’m moving back to the east coast!

Farewell, east coast!

I’m heading back to California tomorrow and I must admit, it’s bittersweet.

“Now, call me and let me know how you’re doing, okay?”  Danny requested as I walked out of the studio.
“I will,” I answered.
“You don’t mind, do ya?”
“Of course not.  That’s always the plan.”

Yesterday concluded my last lesson with Danny.   We played a few cover songs, reviewed 6th string barre chords then discussed 5th string barre chords.  Due to my renewed focus, it was the strongest lesson in the 2 months I’ve been here.

According to society’s standards, I have overly large hands and not to mention, feet.  Throughout grade school, I did every thing I could to hide or reduce the appearance of them.  But now, I finally appreciate my daddy-long-leg fingers as I advance in guitar. Thanks to them, learning the new barre chords were a breeze (after understanding the theory behind ’em, of course). It just goes to show how being a clone of everyone else has no benefit or value. So I’ll continue to stomp around in my size 10 Doc Martens boots and be thankful for the genes my father clearly passed along to me.