Archive for the thoughts on teaching Category

Zooming in

Posted in teaching, thoughts on teaching with tags , , , , , on 21 January, 2021 by flaviomatani

So, what can you _not_ do in a Zoom guitar lesson?

The most important one, probably, is being able to play together. There are many occasions in which being able to do this would save many words and get the pupil to understand what you’re trying to convey or what you’re trying to get them to do or change, much more easily.

There are some possible work-arounds. One that I find myself using increasingly more is the recording of short snippets of video during the lesson, illustrating a point of technique or interpretation. People have done similar things before, I know of several guitar teachers who would make audio recordings of the entire lesson -but who is going to wade through an entire hour of guitar lesson? I have found much more effective to make a very short video about one single point or a very short bit of music, often just a few notes or changes. Something that doesn’t take a lot of time and effort for the pupil to understand and follow and incorporate in their practice.

This idea of the very short and to the point video snippet is something that I will be keeping even when we are able to go back to face-to-face lessons. I’ve found them very useful for the pupil and for myself.


Left handed pupils

Posted in thoughts on teaching with tags , on 2 April, 2014 by flaviomatani


One in nine of us is left handed. Actually, I don’t ‘know’ this, it is just a phrase that I have often heard, quoted many times but the source of which I have never checked. It does tally, though,, with my observations of the proportion of left handed people amongst the pupils coming to me for lessons.

In a world that is, by and large, right handed, being a left handed guitarist can have a few disadvantages and also perhaps one or two advantages. Of course you cannot play on anybody else’s guitar… but the opposite is also true and might at times be something good. All the literature for the instrument (instruction methods, song-books, published music) refers to the playing hand as the ‘right’ hand and the fretting hand as the ‘left’ hand. Chord boxes in song-books are invariably drawn for a right-handed strung guitar. All these things can be just minor inconveniences and people soon get used to ways of getting around them.

I strongly suspect that we all come with a certain (but variable) degree of ambidextrousness, which most people don’t need to develop but for people whose dominant hand is not the same as that of ninety percent of the population this becomes a more pressing need. There are degrees of hand dominance as well.

The issue of left-handedness was one that often came up in guitar summer courses and other gatherings of guitar professionals and teachers, in the days when I used to attend such things regularly. There seemed to be a consensus that, if you got it ‘wrong’ at first and your pupil had been learning the ‘wrong’ way (more commonly learning the right-handed way because they had already started that way or preferred it so), it would take them a relatively short time once you switched them over to favouring their dominant hand. I’ve only had a few occasions to put that to the test and it does seem to work that way. My conclusion? Nothing new or unexpected: if a new left handed pupil comes to you already playing right-handed, let them continue like that but watch out for signs that you should make them try to play left-handed.

Keeping interest

Posted in thoughts on teaching with tags , on 24 March, 2014 by flaviomatani

There is a tricky balance to be kept between giving pupils what they may think they want and giving them what you think will be necessary for their development as guitar players. This is particularly true of young private pupils, who often start lessons with the idea that it will be easy and in a few weeks they’ll be playing like rock stars… (whatever this can possibly mean!) and for whom ‘what they want’, what they like, will quickly and often constantly change at that point in their lives.
I do believe it is good to give them technical exercises and scales, for many reasons that I intend to explain elsewhere. However, it is true that pupils almost universally hate them. You can disguise them as little pieces, etc but many, particularly teen-age pupils, will see right through this. My approach is simply to try and explain why these things are useful and how they may help. This works .. often enough.

In terms of repertoire, of course I resort to things I know but I also try to give them a little bit of music they can relate to. I ask them what artists or acts they follow, what styles and genres they like and try to draw from those part of the material I give them.

One important detail that we instrumental teachers seem to often forget: don’t tell the pupil just where they’re going wrong, tell them also where they are doing well and praise them for that. And perhaps don’t tell them straight away in the same sentence that whist they got the notes right the fingerings, timing or phrasing are quite wrong. One thing at a time.

Music education ‘for a minority’

Posted in thoughts on teaching on 15 November, 2013 by flaviomatani

A piece of news on BBC News laments the fact that quality music education is lacking in a majority of schools and only a few of the children that could benefit from it actually have access to it.

The feature in question is here: Music Education ‘only for a minority’ – BBC News.

There are many angles to this. There is the issue of what the purpose of music education in schools is. Do you want to form competent music makers, or just develop an appreciation for music, or is it something else, or perhaps a combination of these things and perhaps others? In the overwhelming landslide of pop culture, do you stick to high art values (‘classical’ music) or try to use elements that are more familiar to the kids (pop music of the kind they more likely will have exposure to), do you try to develop an understanding of other musics in the world?

three little things, maybe four

Posted in thoughts on teaching on 9 July, 2012 by flaviomatani

Little by little. Little and often. A little slower than you feel like playing it.  And, not to assume too many things too early, not let the ‘auto-pilot’ engage too early so you don’t teach yourself mistakes which are later harder to get rid of.  I keep repeating these things -to myself as much as to others,  because boring as they are they are sound foundations to build upon.

not fast enough

Posted in thoughts on teaching on 2 July, 2012 by flaviomatani

Why is it so difficult to practise slowly?  For many people this is one big obstacle, at least at first. In my own case, I have to tell myself to  take things a little more slowly even now. Your brain seems to refuse to take in something at a pace slower than that which it thinks should be the ‘right’ tempo for it.  Metronomes can be useful in this regard but bring their own set of problems.

Being able to practise slowly is, nonetheless, an important part of the practice toolkit. You will get yourself into fewer blind alleys, teach yourself fewer wrong things that it’ll take longer to unlearn later on. And yet, it is difficult. I may elaborate a little later on some strategies to manage this; for now, just wanted to touch on that point.


Posted in teaching, thoughts on teaching on 2 July, 2012 by flaviomatani

In the beginning you want to play the guitar. So you struggle on your own for a bit, get a friend to teach you the chords to ‘House of the Rising Sun’ or something like that. Eventually you decide that that is not enough and you need proper tuition; you can only go so far on your own steam. In my own case, I was lucky -after years of playing on my own, playing guitar in bad, bad little rock bands and playing protest songs with an acoustic guitar, I started ‘proper’ music studies at a conservatoire and eventually started guitar lessons with a teacher that was just right for me. Lots of lucky coincidences. For many people this is not the case. They discover the guitar (and that they really, really want to learn) much later in life, they don’t find a local teacher, or someone who is both capable and proficient and also encouraging and inspiring.

I have been playing and teaching now for way longer than I would like to remember; I have been jotting down notes on teaching for as long, but haven’t done this systematically or with the idea of putting together a method or an instruction book. I still don’t think I want to do that, but will be trying to put some of those ideas (both general things and particular approaches) here, little by little. Don’t expect a systematic approach or a guitar ‘method’, just scattered ideas. I’m still not that sure how I’m going to do this, so we’ll see how this turns out.

what it is about

Posted in teaching, thoughts on teaching on 15 July, 2010 by flaviomatani

One unusual  thing about this guitar teaching thing -and perhaps the most difficult to remember, is that the point of it all is not so much to give a sound technical foundation,i etc (important as it is) as to maintain motivation and the feeling that the work is worth the while…

how it begins pt 1

Posted in teaching, thoughts on teaching on 14 July, 2010 by flaviomatani

In the beginning you don’t get into ‘teaching music’, you get into music. You don’t decide you are going to devote most of your life -of your working life, at any rate, to teaching. Especially when you had a complicated and conflictive relationship with teaching in your school days. In my particular case, this has been a long process of getting nearer to understanding little by little what it is about -not just teaching somebody to play chords or scales or pass grade exams, but something else that emerges gradually,

Music was always important to me but it wasn’t the centre of my life when I was a child. I never would have thought that music could be, even less would be, my chosen profession. It was something at which you arrived because you were rich and could afford piano lessons (this was probably true in Caracas in the sixties) or because you had immense natural talent for some aspect of popular music and equally immense good luck and I didn’t meet any of those criteria.

I started teaching people to play the guitar very soon after I started learning it. One day in my second year Classical Guitar at the Escuela de Música in Santa Capilla my teacher made a small gesture of impatience… “that guitar of yours is not good enough, you need a better one”. I couldn’t afford a new guitar and said so. He replied that I could teach and save that money for a better guitar. But, profe, I hardly know anything… “Most people don’t aim at playing at a level like the one you’re aiming for… you already know more than most people would be bothered to learn and practise….” and so I started to teach, as a side-line..

to be continued….