I’m in a practice room at a school in North London, teaching the bass part of “Boom Boom” to a boy in year 9. Then I’m teaching another student a song called “Bonecrusher”, a heavy metal pastiche using palm muting from Rock School. We work on the first four bars only. First we clap the rhythm of the notes then I ask him to play bars two and four while I play bars one and three, then we swap. This works well, building gradually, playing segments slowly and in time rather than attempting to play the whole thing and it being out of time and sloppy.
I have a tea break with one of the other instrumental teachers. We have a few laughs and exchange notes about students. I watch the sun bathe the playground, lighting up the wooden bench seats. The whole school is in the field having photos taken and I like the feel of emptiness, no one around except us two instrumental teachers with our mugs of tea and the sun and wind outside in the mid-morning and a cleaner passing through with a trolley.
At home I do a guided body-scan meditation and then go for a run in the slanted evening light. I have a bath and listen to a podcast from NPR music, an interview with the singer from the National. He talks about his creative process. He doesn’t have neat files for each set of song lyrics or even each album but instead just has one document with words in it and pulls out words and phrases for various projects in an intuitive way. He seems to have a fluidity between projects and even across art forms that I find inspiring.
Jack, seven, plays “Rabbits In The Rain”, a two note song, on three different strings, one after the other. I ask him if he wants to play it faster or slower: ‘faster’. Next we play “Fox”, the two-note accompaniment (which I explain as the ‘background music’, a phrase I discovered last week from another student) and then the melody – the ‘song’. We use a technique called ‘mosaic’ where the student plays just one note to start with – all the E’s for example – and the teacher plays the rest of the notes, then gradually the student adds other notes until they can play the entire melody. We only get to three out of five notes today. That’s what teaching is like, things are part-learned and unfinished and left there for this week. It makes me think about process as opposed to end product, that perhaps things are always in a state of being learned, that we are all in a perpetual state of becoming.