Archive for teaching

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.


Posted in teaching with tags , , on 2 October, 2013 by flaviomatani

In the course of teaching guitar you keep going back to the same few bits of advice -which all seem to be quite difficult to take in and make part of the way you practise or tackle new pieces. Practise slowly, practise in small bits (small enough that you can quickly analyse and then repeat many times until they become automatic).

We all want to get there but most of us don’t want to put in what (at least at first) feels like a long slug, the drudge work of developing finger dexterity, finger strength, finger control. The interesting and difficult thing is to make the acquiring of that discipline less of a chore and more something you can enjoy in itself. Some of us eventually learn to do this, many don’t. It is one of the bigger challenges for an instrumental music teacher to get your pupils to develop this, to get to like their practice.

I reckon there may be many answers to this, all with different advantages and shortcomings. I will try and elaborate on these topics later on.

The main goals, though, remain the same:

– getting the pupil to take in the information available to them. We tend to take in bits and ignore large chunks of what is in front of us.

– getting the pupil to learn to break the task into manageable chunks

– to practise slowly

– and to repeat what they have learnt so it becomes ‘automatic’ , where each of the many steps involved in the task no longer have to be explicitly stated.