these guitar lessons… (part 243 of many)

Posted in teaching on 13 February, 2015 by flaviomatani

Teaching a 62 year lady who picked up a guitar for the first time in her life five months ago and is now at a Grade 1 level (more or less) and who is  enjoying it enormously. There are good sides to this guitar teaching lark.

new year

Posted in teaching on 6 January, 2015 by flaviomatani

Year begins with one pupil preparing a DipABRSM, several preparing their Grade 7 and 8. Interesting and rewarding, even if it is a bit difficult sometimes to make a living doing this.

My post-grade 8 pupil is currently playing several sets of possible pieces for his Diploma: two sets of Villa-Lobos (2 and 9, 1 and 5), a couple of pieces from the lute suite BWV997 by Bach, two pieces by John Dowland, the Estudio de Velocidad by Tárrega…


Posted in teaching on 29 September, 2014 by flaviomatani

Had an interesting couple of first-time ever lessons a few days ago. The second one was a sixteen year old who is already quite advanced, fired up with enthusiasm and asking all the right questions. A few issues with position and posture, etc but very promising. The other one was more complicated: middle aged man, had a reasonable first-time-ever lesson. At the end he said he would only take one lesson a month if that ‘and he’ll skip a month on occasion’. He also announced he would not be abiding to my system of charging for lessons in blocks of four. He was not prepared to put any more money or time than that into a leisure activity. I had to say that in my view then whatever little money he spent on lessons would be wasted -you only get out of this as much as you put in. I do believe this. He could get to play well, but on the basis of what he said, I cannot see how that may come to happen.

I’m quite fortunate in that my core set of pupils are people who are indeed willing to put in a little time and effort into something that is for them ‘only’ a leisure activity but an important part in the mix of their lives.


Posted in teaching on 24 June, 2014 by flaviomatani

Change strings in good time before a performance or an exam… worn out strings will sound dull; new strings take time to settle so you may get a guitar going constantly out of tune for a couple of days…

playing together

Posted in teaching with tags , on 9 June, 2014 by flaviomatani

Interesting how very stimulating the playing together has been for the handful of my pupils who now meet once a month to play at the local Literary Café.  It has also revealed some gaps in some of my pupils’ understanding, technique or knowledge of certain things so it has been useful in filling those gaps. It has also improved their sight-reading and their music reading in general. I recommend ensemble playing to players of all levels, it is fun and a bonding experience as well as a nourishing one.


Posted in teaching on 7 May, 2014 by flaviomatani

Today, lessons, guitar practice and, in the evening, the Tuffguitar meet-up -my pupils meet to play together at a café in Tufnell Park.

This is something I should have got going a long time ago but, as with so many things, the weight of previous experience had prevented me from doing it. I had been part of the board of the Venezuelan Classical Guitar Society in the ’80s, helping organise concerts, scripting a weekly radio programme and doing other things of that sort. I found that very few people helped but everybody had an opinion on exactly how bad I was running things. So, I was as bit reluctant to start anything remotely like a guitar society. At the initiative of a pupil, my adult pupils started meeting around once a month sometime last year. They just talk guitar a bit, I give them some ensemble music and conduct a bit, we have a coffee. It works, it has, I beieve, made the guitar learning go from a solitary endeavour to a shared hobby (yes, for pretty much all of them it is a hobby, not something they may aspire to get money or make their living from), to bind with people with similar (albeit never identical, which is part of the fun) interests.

Exams, or not…

Posted in teaching on 24 April, 2014 by flaviomatani

Should I encourage pupils to take Grade exams or not?

I register pupils for exam all the time. For the most part, Guitar Grade exams with the ABRSM although occasionally also for the Trinity/Guildhall ones. There are many benefits to be gained from these exams -but they’re not for everybody. Some people thrive in them, some wilt and get discouraged with the pressure on what they regard as a leisure activity then turned into an obligation. I teach in two schools and these often expect you to have pupils taking grade exams. Also, as a private teacher, I have many adult pupils.

What to do? I do mention them, make the pupil aware that those exams exist and are a possibility. I also make it clear to them that I don’t expect them to take ezams and there is no obligation or expectation that they do. I try to give them what I think are the positive and otherwise points about taking grade exams.

I do believe they can be very positive for many people. Some people can keep themselves going without an external stimulus, kindling their own fire. Others (me included) have more of a need to be kicked forward. A grade exam can give you that gentle kick, by giving you a deadline by which you must have made ready those pieces -and also the ancilliary material that one might otherwise never get around to working on, those scales, arpeggios, aural training and sight-reading that are not as exciting but are important in building up muscular, mental and musical skills you need in order to play the instrument.

They’re not for everybody, though. They can make what is for most a leisure pursuit into another obligation, one more school subject, something else piling pressure on you in an environment, modern life, in which everything is screaming at you to get results faster, earlier, better. It is a good idea to make sure the pupil is ready for the exam before even floating the idea past him, that s/he is not going to be put off by the bit of extra effort and extra pressure. Handle, therefore, with care.

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?