Guitar Teacher’s Diary 3

Getting off the 134 bus for the Saturday music centre I meet two colleagues and we walk through the school grounds together. The playing fields are frozen and it reminds one of them of winter rugby as a schoolboy. Big puffs of breath hit the air as we laugh and walk. Today I have six one-to-one lessons and two guitar groups – four and a half teaching hours. Jack, six (“and three quarters”), alternates between excited eagerness and heavy sighing after concentrated effort. He has good technique, holds the guitar as I recommend: right wrist arched away from the guitar, left hand thumb on the neck, feet flat on the floor. Some students don’t take to it so easily. One of my efforts to encourage another student to sit well was to assign a car name codeword to each technicality. Thumb on the neck became “Maserati” and “walking fingers” was “Lamborghini” – it worked for a while!

Robert, 14, is studying for a classical guitar Grade 4 exam. I started teaching him when he was six; now he’s leading a guitar group at his school, arranging music for ensemble and a confident improviser. It’s great to see. Red & Yellow Guitars, a group of seven year-old guitarists, is fun but challenging. I have to become a slightly different person. I’ve learned to be that person quite well now, firm and positive and occasionally stern. Able to raise my voice sometimes and cut through the noise. To begin I strum a rhythm loudly on my guitar and they know it’s Copycat, focus on me and strum it back. We do the same thing with rest-stroke then I ask who wants to be Copy Boss. The hands shoot up – today I choose Theo for sitting well. He plays a few rhythms and the rest of the group copy him. Then we play Call & Answer, where everyone gets to make something up in response to the previous person’s riff.

I’ve been working on some new instrumental music, most of which came out of a creative period in the summer holidays. The recording process felt more intuitive than how I’ve worked previously. A feeling of allowing what came to come, not complicating things too much, not trying to make something impressive. Just keeping it simple and showing up consistently. It’s mainly acoustic guitar compositions with layers of improvised electric guitar, lots of volume pedal swells, slide, reverb. I’ve been listening to a lot of Americana in the last year and I can hear that, as well as folky elements and hints of post-rock.

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