We’ve already hit the lighter nights and we’re quickly heading towards summer. Festivals, holidays and nature (…and rain most likely). One of the perfect times of year to be either getting more stuck into that guitar playing of yours (campfires/BBQs/festivals/parks or your back garden) or maybe picking up a guitar for the first time! Spring and summer are such inspirational times of year to be indulging in creative pursuits.
For some of my students at the moments it’s exam time in schools. Not only is it a busy and focussed learning time for them it’s also quite exciting for me (…and them!).
I was asked a few months ago to accompany one of my students in his A-Level Music exam. I was also asked to pick the pieces. The student in question is one of my more technically accomplished players.. He already had 2 solo pieces chosen (1 quite Rocky and fast and the other more Classical style) so we had to find something contrasting and for 2 guitars..I knew it was going to be fun. We bounced around a few ideas and looked at how we could push his playing standard, technique and styles and after I indulged in a LOT of listening to music came up with 2 pieces.
Beaumont Rag – Doc Watson
Tears – Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler
2 things this brought me..
- I had a great excuse to go off and listen to genres of music I may not have so quickly. I discovered/rediscovered 2 of the finest guitarists around in Doc Watson and Chet Atkins! These two guitarists who have gone on to inspire so many modern players including Mark Knopfler and Slash. I have a new found love of Ragtime after this experience and I listened to so much of it, it really contributed to a whole new chapter of awareness in my own personal guitar playing.
- I had the joy of working directly with my student as his Accompanist. We worked through the songs together and although I was the teacher we became a team. This is a student I have taught since the age of 14 and is now nearly 18. That transition in itself was really interesting and great to be involved in.
I came through the experience feeling so happy after enjoying our performing successfully together, like a good team who had found the songs and pushed the boundaries of his playing. I was also proud of how well he had done and how his playing has developed. I was proud and happy to know that there is another musician out there in the world that I would recommend and rate.
My student went from thinking he’d never be able to do it to absolutely mastering it….and making his Mum happy too, she was telling me stories of how she requests performances when visitors go to their house 🙂
Passion, learning and inspiration…..(and coffee)
Once I had arrived home after the exam and by 11am was drinking my coffee and pondering over a cinnamon bun, it led me onto want to write this blog post.
If you love doing something, you never stop being inspired or growing. You don’t have to be technically of a high standard to experience this either. After all of the gigs I’ve done, songs I’ve written and guitar lessons I’ve given, I’m constantly inspired by my students and this was another one of those times.
People don’t have to be ‘better’ than you to inspire you, just different.
Accompanying/playing with others
This so far is a very personal account of a professional experience. As a musician and guitar teacher I have to say, it led me onto thinking about the importance and benefits of accompanying as a musician. Or being accompanied, or just jamming (playing) with other people if you can.
I always try to push my students in lessons and where possible and relevant I will play chords along to their melodies, riffs or improvisations and I will coax them into swapping roles so they get a chance to see the other side. These different perspectives are invaluable to see as a musician and to anyone learning an instrument. At its basic level, to play chords underneath someone’s melody really highlights how important it is to change chords quickly, and why it’s important to be able to count and feel what you are doing. These things aren’t always as obvious as a beginner when you do it alone. To learn to keep time and to be sensitive to another players timing in order for it to work together. To learn to play with other people, especially people more experience than you will enhance your playing ability/speed/technique. The benefits are of high value. And there’s nothing better to explain/embed something quite like actually doing it.
5 benefits and enhancers of playing with other musicians..
- Learning to be aware of someone else’s timing other than your own. When practising disciplines like chord changes or progressions alone it is easy to overlook the extended gap inserted between your D and G chord for example (we’ve all done it! :)). This will become more obvious once you have someone to play along with because it just won’t fit. Learn how to catch up and readjust your playing to make it synchronise with theirs (and vice versa). The beat waits for no one (as is the phrase that I remember being told in college!). It also won’t catch up with you if you’re speeding along without concern! So pay attention. You may be surprised at first how ‘out of time’ you are but with a little bit of focus and work you will be jamming along smoothly. If you find this really tough then learn to practise with a metronome to ease you in., they have fantastic quality free metronome apps these days (so, no excuse to not when it’s in your pocket).
- Learning to keep focussed and concentrate when somebody else is playing along with you. It is much easier to play alone. One common thing I notice amongst my learning guitarists is that once another performer is brought into the mix it disturbs their concentration. For a little while they forget what they’re doing, loose time, forget things that they thought they had nailed. Any chances you get to practice maintaining your focus is a blessing and great practice. It will embed what you have learnt deeper and also heighten your ability to focus.
- Learning from other peoples skills/techniques and expertise in order to develop your own playing. How are they holding the instrument? What do they do to get certain effects and clarities? Be observant. Ask them questions. Good teachers are experienced, accomplished and passionate about what they teach and they will be happy to talk about their playing style any day. As a student I urge people to get as much as they can out of this as possible. Playing with other people (of all levels) will often teach you things about your own playing you never even thought of.
- Team building. Playing with your teacher or another musician is a shared experience and you have to be in it together. Two separate people of varied/the same abilities playing to perform the same piece of music and make it sound good. And remember to enjoy it! Even if you don’t feel comfortable at the time I can guarantee you will take a lesson of some sort away from it. When it works it feels great. It can also tell you a lot about yourself and the other person.
- Fun! Enjoy the process of playing along with someone. It may not come to you straight away but once you get into the flow of it there’s nothing quite like playing music with another person. It takes a bit of work to get things to run smoothly but it will bring a different level of enjoyment than what you get alone. Who knows, you may even start a band!
Enjoy heading towards the summer and don’t forget to take your guitar into the garden for a strum. If you don’t have one or you can’t play yet….?! You know where to come for lessons…. Just send me a message or call me for more information or if you have any questions.