Thursday, August 14, 2008

What it Takes

Q: You've been playing a long time and can really play. And you have taught, I don't know how many students. I want my kids to play music because I wasn't able to stick with it (they are eight and ten). What is important to be a good player? Is it all up to talent? How can I teach them guitar so that they will become great players (and how can I get better for that matter)?

A: Man, this is a hard question. Sometimes it is much easier to answer a "what scale over this chord" type question, but I'll give it my best.

Talent - Is it talent? Sometimes that has a lot to do with it, but not always. It seems different things, all combined. Talent is probably part of it. But most people who play have some kind of talent, I think that is what draws us to playing an instrument. I mean, if you think about it, most of us start because we heard someone play and it reached deeper inside us than most other people. Surely that is a sign that we must hav
e some kind of talent. But I have taught some students with more talent than I have and unfortunately a lot of them don't amount to greatness. Talent almost seems like a kind of familiarity with music and the instrument, like they have done it before in a different life or something. It often strikes me as odd why some people can pick up a guitar for the first time and hold it like they have done it a thousand times before. I think my daughter has talent. Look at her photo up there, that's her at one years old and she holds it like a pro (pinky on the fretboard, no thumb stickin' out, nice right hand position, guitar angle, etc.). Now let's say that she has real talent, some sort of inborn insight to the guitar and music, does that mean that she will be a great guitarist or musician? Not at all (although, like you, I hope and pray she becomes a musician like her old man). Why not? Because she might not like it or it may not interest her. If talent is only part of the picture, what is the rest?

Love - I'll say love, but I could just as well say obsession or fascination. You have to love it and spend a lot of time playing. But not just playing, thinking about it. I know that half of what musicians become, is because of the time they spend with the guitar in their hands, in their mind. It is almost the same as r
eally practicing, imagining the guitar in your hands, playing this and that. The older I become, the more I realize it. I have been playing long enough that there is very little difference between practicing and visualizing and I have come to the conclusion, that this time visualizing, is a major part of the equation. That is why love is the key. If you didn't love the guitar, how could you think about it all the time? I think that more than talent, I've always had an infatuation with the guitar, and that has been the key to my creativity, my musicality. I have always had such a love for the instrument, that I play, in my head almost all the time. Even now, I can't get enough of it, when I sit on the airplane, flying over the Pacific, I'm playing the Blues. When I'm driving my car down the 110 freeway, I'm practicing some ii-Vs. When I was a teenager, I would go on a date to the movies with my girlfriend, would hold her hand and imagine myself playing this scale or that chord (don't tell her). This fantasy time is the key. Let's just say that the talent we have, has to be nurtured by love and passion. In the book, "This is your Brain on Music," Daniel J. Levitin comes to the conclusion that to be good it takes about ten-thousand hours on your instrument (that equals about 3 hours a day for 10 years). But I will add that a lot of these hours can and have to be knocked off in your head. I'm not that sure that your brain knows the difference.

Joy - This is why, it is really important to teach your kids to feel joy when it comes to playing music. You can start your kids at three, but if you yell at them to practice, and make them feel it an obligation to do so, it is unlikely that they will learn to be creative, vibrant musicians. The reason is simple, if they don't love it, they will not fantasize about it when they don't have the instrument in their hands, and they certainly will not crave it to be in their hands. It must first be fun. I let my daughter play with the guitar (as opposed to play the guitar), so she will see it as something fun. I play f
or her and I play fun songs that she will enjoy. This way she will see the guitar as something that we can enjoy together. I want her to equate the guitar with good times. I set up all her stuffed animals as an audience and have her play a concert for them. I let her see me play in front of an audience so she can see that people love music, and love me when I play it well.

I play at her pre-school and she sings the loudest. Her friends say I'm cool!


Herrie said...

Love to read this, because the fascination starts with love for the music and instrument and with a little talent you could be a lucky one to enjoy the playing in a band together

bali said...

I think it's very true what you tell us about joy and teaching your daughter.
This is how all parents should introduce the instrument to their kids - keep it light and FUN! It should never be a chore for the children to practice their instrument. I'm sure that your daughter will still be playing the guitar as a grown up - because your smart way of teaching!

Cheers: Bal√°zs