Important Changes to Lesson Structure

There are many reasons for people to learn to play an instrument, I have only one reason to teach; to make you a better musician.

I have dedicated my work in music to teaching at the highest level I am able to attain. There is an ongoing process of examining what we are doing in lessons and for what purpose. There is constant observation of the effects of teaching techniques, materials, and circumstances.

There is no reason to compromise your music education; if there is a better method or technique that would be more beneficial to you, I am searching for it. I am dedicated to bring every student to their highest potential as a musician.

This article is an effort to address what has been discovered, the suggested solutions, and to give you the opportunity to decide how great of a player you wish to become.

Every few years, changes are put into effect that improve the learning process for students. All of the changes over the past year for me and Listen Hear are the initial steps to provide the best music education for you.

Most of my students are within three miles of the Listen Hear studio. This is the primary reason for choosing the current location. The additional space is another change to make your music learning experience the best possible. Many concepts of learning and teaching can only occur in groups. Groups require larger rooms than I have previously used to teach.

Private lessons do not develop creativity. Private lessons do not teach you how to effectively play with others. As a matter of fact, private lessons actually prevent you from developing your highest level of creativity and the ability to play at your best.

One reason for dampening of the learning process, is that the teacher does not usually make a mistake. When it is just you and the teacher, you are never required to play. If you miss any notes, you still hear them because the teacher played it. When you are playing with other students, nobody knows what will be missed or when, but it will likely be more often than with your teacher. This alone requires more preparation and ability on the part of each student involved.

Learning and performing in a group setting puts a higher level of accountability on every member of the group. If you are in private lessons and have not made notable progress in the last six months, it is because you are not being challenged to be better. Private lessons cannot uncover all challenges and weak segments in a students playing ability. A higher level of playing and responsibility are required when playing with others that are just as likely as you to make a mistake. This is what causes all students to, ‘Step up their game’, so to speak.

Private lessons are great for the beginning player and for specific physical playing problems. Physical playing problems are generally defined as difficulty making clean notes with the fretting hand or clean strumming or picking patterns.

Courses such as the Foundations series and the Creative Soloing program have been created to take each student’s playing beyond what is possible with private lessons. Once a student achieves the ability to play a simple song, there is no need to continue private lessons until another major playing block is discovered.

Major playing blocks occur not when we are unable to play new material, but rather when we are learning a new playing concept that is different than any other that we have learned. One example would be moving from strumming chords to arpeggiating chords. Arpeggiating chords requires the player to accurately pluck a series of notes within a chord, not just strum the chord. Strumming is a gross-motor skill; arpeggios are a fine-motor skill. Arpeggios are usually played one note per string; definitely a higher level of difficulty for the picking/strumming hand.

There are common and notable segments of learning that occur in a musician’s development and are roughly, as follows:

The Beginning. The student at the beginning is generally unable to play anything on their instrument. At this stage, development occurs in bursts. The student may work on something for three weeks, then suddenly make great strides in consistent performance and increases in tempo. Group learning as beginners is rarely successful and only appears successful with students that learn quickly with little support and reinforcement. Few students are this lucky. This is why Listen Hear does not offer Group Beginner lessons. Private lessons are best for beginners.

The Middle. The middle is where most students find themselves for a long time. The middle is where we learn to play the melody and/or rhythm parts to many songs. The difficulties here are common to all students and in most cases, require the same solutions with slight adjustments for problems specific to some players, but not all.

An example of a common difficult with few choices in solutions would be chord changes. One student may be able to change from G to C very well and move from C to G with marginal success, while another may be the opposite. Another example is where most students are either better at chords rather than melody or the opposite, being better at melody rather than chords. Rarely does a student play chords and melodies with the same level of comfort and ease in the early stages of learning.

The middle is where we learn songs by bands and musicians that we like, bringing to fruition the reason most of us have for learning to play music; to learn songs we like. The middle can be made more effective in a group setting because students can observe the struggles of their fellow classmates, learn and apply solutions together, and be motivated to make personal progress because other students are depending on them to arrive prepared.

Soloing. After spending some time in the middle, students often move to desiring to learn to play solos. Which, for the record, is not what it seems to mean. Rather, guitar solos are ‘Featured Parts’ rather than a true solo. A solo means that you would play alone; solo. Soloing is just like playing melodies in that what we are playing is in the forefront of the other parts.

This is another segment where we learn to play what others have done. When learning your first solos, private lessons are the best type of lesson to use. This is because you are at the beginning of another way of playing. After a short period in private lessons for soloing, students should then move into another group to start applying this new skill as soon as possible.

Creativity. Creative endeavors in music such as improvisation, songwriting, and arrangement are always best in groups. There is a saying: ‘Two heads are better than one.’. This has a direct application to creativity. We can create in a private setting, but our best creations are in cooperation with other musicians with the same goal.

If I teach songwriting in a private lesson, it is too easy for me to develop solutions and essentially the student provides ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to my suggestions. This causes the creativity to be dampened because the student is playing a very minor role in my creation of a song. The student is just deciding which part I should retain for my song; there is no real creative input from the student.

In programs designed to develop creativity, students work together to feed each other ideas which in turn develops a more creative atmosphere. A creative atmosphere energizes us to imagine and apply ideas more quickly than in the isolation of our homes, or with the two people present in a private lesson.

In a Band. For Listen Hear, the band-creation programs are similar to what I have done in other organizations. The concept of creating music performance groups started a few thousand years ago and we continue that tradition with students who are ready to perform in a complete band. One format is a 4-hour/day camp format that places 4-5 students together for a week to learn a few songs with a performance on the last night of the camp. This format works well in the summer months because students are able to attend a 4-hour session in the middle of the day. Also, there is ample time during the afternoon and evening each day to practice for the next day’s song.

A year-round program meets for a maximum of two hours once each week with a performance every three months. There are many formats that are useful in a year-round program such as: Guitar Duets, Trios, and Quartets, combinations of guitar and bass, or complete bands with vocals. Also, since the performances are less frequent and the groups are smaller, more challenging music can be developed.

I hope I have not melted your brain with all this information. I just want to communicate that I am developing solutions for the learning and playing difficulties that can be solved more effectively, and certainly with a more creative result. The most common reasons for students abandoning music have little to do with music. Students often leave music lessons for sports, theater, and other activities that are enjoyed with others.

We can enjoy learning and playing music together.

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