“That’s what all we are. Amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” (Charlie Chaplin)
Lately, I’ve found myself frustrated and dismayed, having others question my ability and qualification to teach music. I’ve been teaching piano and guitar since December 2010 and recently, I graduated in film. I tell this to people and they have this perplexed look on their face. Although I studied film at the University of Utah, I’ve been studying music for much longer. I started taking piano lessons when I was three, started singing at six, for ten years in the International Children’s Choir, played in the Clayton Middle School orchestra, second chair in the second violin section, a show choir pianist during my last year at Clayton Middle School and seriously started guitar lessons in high school. While studying at the University of Utah, I took Survey of Jazz, World Music and Sound for Film. During this time, I also took online classes from Coursera, History of Rock, Part 1 and 2 from University of Rochester, Professor Covach, Songwriting from Berklee College of Music, Pat Pattison and Introduction to Music Production from Berklee College of Music, Loudon Stearns. In short, I care a lot about music, my whole heart is in music. I spend almost all my waking hours listening to and playing music.
The other day, another guitar teacher, a disbeliever in my music abilities asked me, “How’s your music studio going?” and “What method do you use?” Without a pause, he went on to assume, “Suzuki?” I smiled while in my head, I went raging, “SUZUKI?! Who even teaches Suzuki for guitar?!” That bothered and offended me a lot. I’m sure he went on with his day, all smug that his music studio is going really well.
I don’t trust a lot of music teachers. I was about to take guitar lessons from that same belittling, belligerent guitar teacher. The first lesson, he overbooked and completely forgot about me. I decided to give him a second chance. That was when I played a G chord without the third finger. Still a G chord and he argued that I was playing everything all wrong. The previous guitar teacher before that was all in all, dysfunctional. I learned a few things, but suspect marital issues hindered his ability to function, teach and honestly refund a missed lesson on his absence. And then I had singing lessons, which I came out of, somewhat improved but less confident. I know we’re all human, but the air of superiority and authority, along with these experiences have made me not want to take any more lessons.
At the same time, I have a lot of love for music teachers. I really loved the ones that really cared and taught me everything there is to know. I still think about them, completely grateful I was able to grow and learn from them.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from taking music lessons and going to school for twenty years, it’s that I don’t believe in methods. Everyone is wired precisely unique and I have learned from my students, the various antics of the brain. Some learn by following a book and others not as linear, by learning song after song through means of sheet music, chords, tabs, etc. In all cases, I’ve learned that learning songs we love and listen to, prove to be the most effective way to learn music. And this is how I teach, by starting with basic techniques and music theory, working and building up to playing songs the student is genuinely interested in playing.
Being a music teacher, I emulate what I liked from my favourite music teachers and carefully aim to not repeat what didn’t work from those other music teachers. Teaching pushes me to learn and play new songs. I’ve learned to play songs through online posted chords and tabs, which I annotate, revise, modify and correct. I’ve arranged songs, listening by ear. I’ve learned through YouTube tutorials and YouTube videos of my favourite artists. I’ve learned to steal like an artist and I have benefited the most from going to concerts and watching how my favourite artists play their songs. By studying the details, I’ve been able to play songs exactly or really close to how they are played by the original artists. I have spent hours and hours preparing music lessons. I’ve become a better musician because of this.
I’ve been reading Tracks A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson. Bless her soul, I have such an affinity with her. She dreamed of walking across Australia with camels. She had never seen a camel and had never been trained to work with camels. Nobody had made such a 1,700 mile trip before. But she became an amateur with camels and then grew to be experienced through much adversity and experience. She was never a writer by profession, but became a prolific writer, after her camel trip. We all have our heroes and Robyn Davidson is my heroine. Her story has made me believe that all the possibilities live within us.
I don’t believe we become masters of music or of anything. There is always more to know and more to learn. We are all amateurs.