For the life of me, I can’t remember where I heard it. Possibly from Jason Vieaux in one of his lessons in regards to warm ups. It was mentioned that classical guitarists are athletes from the arms down and as such require a good warm up before working out. With all the books and reports out on physiology, ergonomics and biomechanics, there is more emphasis being placed on guitarists physical and mental well being.

Watching a master players performance leads me to believe that we are more athletic than just that of the arms, and in learning about tensions and relaxed playing I find that we need a more extensive warm up. Tension can settle in to your body like an old friend. It can rest there for so long that it will seem natural to you, more unnatural should it not be there. These tensions will work like chains on your body when you play guitar, especially when you start to get to some seriously tough bits, or start to get nervous. That little twinge in your foot, a touch of muscle in your jaw, or that firmness in your calves will link to other major muscle groups here and there and prevent free relaxed dynamic musical movement for the rest of the body.

I have found that through my tension awareness exercises, I’ve noticed tensions in other areas of my life, especially where I’m doing bulk time tasks. Such as sitting at computers at work, waiting in a reception room etc. Work is the worst place for tension as you have the pressure of the job on you, and tasks that need to be efficiently completed. I’ve noticed that those little tension areas that I’m fighting with in guitar are very present in my work situations. So learning to relax for guitar means adopting a whole lifestyle of relaxation. Now who couldn’t use a good dose of relaxation in their life?

Things I’m learning to watch for are long durations of sitting. I have to make sure that when I’m sitting that I am able to stretch and move to keep things from tightening up too much. When I get up, I have to stretch and work my arms and legs about some. Windmill arm exercises, leg stretches, and I have found stairs are the greatest! Luckily, I work night shifts with no one really around to watch my erratic movements, but I still try to pick my time and place for the odd spurt of jumping jacks or sprinters stretches.

Other things I have found out are tensions induced by incorrect ergonomics. It seems that employers are throwing computers everywhere and expect their employees to be able to work freely on them when needed. I have found though that these conveniently place computers are anything but convenient, being situated on odd angles on corner runs of desks with crowded foot areas to be able to sit properly when you do work. I have found doing a task for even 10 to 15 minutes on such a work station creates a tremendous amount of stress in my legs and midsections, which in turn creates stress when doing those given tasks along with the mental aggravation that goes with it. Knowing this now, I can make efforts to remove those stresses when I can. Re-align computers that are under foot, straighten out the angles when I can while working on odd work stations and by simply breathing and making specific relaxing efforts prior and during a workout in those awkward situations.

Clutter and crowded work areas at home and at work are another tension builder. It may take work, but having a nice clean organized work place with lots of free work space on my desk really helps with my relaxation efforts.

Exercise, stretching and relaxation are so critically important to productive musical performance. Especially since all the time you spend sitting at desks, watching TV, waiting in reception rooms and waiting for kids and family, tension will build and get the better of you. Don’t forget that sitting in a classical position with foot raised on a foot stool isolates major muscle groups in one position for some time. So take a break, stretch and learn to build a relaxed lifestyle to support that musical athlete we are cultivating!

Derek

 

 

So many times I hear comments from people who say that they quit because they have no time to practice.  Others will say that they can’t learn an instrument because it takes too much time.  Let’s stop and look at this a moment to find out how much time they are really talking about.

The Canadian Encyclopedia online lists that Canadians watch on average over 20 hours of TV in a week.  If we take just the 20 hours per week of television watching and break it down a bit further, we see that an average hour long television program being about 45 minutes long, leaves us with approximately 15 minutes of commercials per hour, which gives us 5 hours in one week devoted to advertising and commercials.

It is commonly recommended for kids to practice at least 15 minutes a day to make a reasonable musical progress.  This equates to just the commercial time in one hours of TV watching.  If you were to PVR 2 hours of TV each night, cutting out the commercials, you would have an extra half hour of leisure time that you could spend playing an instrument!

This is just a start.  I have seriously worked on other methods to make room for music practice in my life, and in turn increase the quality of life in our home.  For instance, I have incorporated a bedtime routine into my guitar playing.  I have a half hours worth of material that I play for my kids when we tuck them in at night.  This brings some intimate together time for my family and it establishes a wonderful bed time routine.  We alternate this from time to time with bedtime reading, or another favorite of theirs is an improvised musical story.  This is where I make up a story for them and improvise the music as part of the story telling.  They absolutely love this!  This is usually followed up with our bedtime music as they tend to get excited about the stories.

Telephone calls are another time waster.  Many calls from friends can easily last up to an hour if allowed.  I’ve made an effort to limit these types of phone calls.  I try to maintain a regular phone routine to keep in touch with family members that aren’t connected strongly by social media.  I’ve also learned to watch out for drama phone calls.  Those calls where someone has something annoying going on in their lives and wish to share them with you.  Yes, it’s good to be there for support.  Too much drama without any sign of resolution is just wasting time.  Likewise how many times has it occurred that you call a friend and they can’t talk as they are in the middle of watching a TV program, or watching a game.  If it is ok for your friends to be busy for such things, then why can’t I make myself unavailable because I’m busy practicing music?

Video games are another horrible time waster!  One post I read listed the original Starcraft game as having a total of 60 missions, each taking about an hour or more per mission to complete.  Then you have custom missions, head to head play.  The answer is many hours can be wasted on each game.  This doesn’t take into account games like World of Warcraft online where there is no limit to how long you can play.  Luckily, I had stopped playing computer games long before this phenomenon came to bear.

So really, the only excuse for not learning a musical instrument is not the lack of time.  It is rather, lack of motivation, and possibly the financial costs.  Regular music lessons may be expensive, but with internet technology now, DVD resources and connections with the right teachers, learning to play classical guitar has never been easier, or cheaper.

Learning music is by far more beneficial than the above mentioned activies.  There is nothing better for family bonding than a romantic supper with wine, candle light and a musical serenade.  How about a hot bubble bath with flowers and candles with guitar music.  After supper with friends nothing beats a couple songs while your guests are relaxing, waiting for desert.  I’d rather score my points that way than with an hour long computer game!

Derek

I love music, I love classical guitar and I love teaching.  If I could give free classes, I would.  As a matter of fact, I have!  There are some issues though with giving free classes.

First, there is an issue of competition with other guitar teachers for students.  Guitar teachers can argue that they make their living from teaching, and that by giving free lessons, it steals students from them and limits their ability to earn an income.  Fair enough.  That said however, how many classical guitar teachers are there in the city?  How many of those teachers that actually teach classical guitar have classical guitar students?  The answer to both questions is next to none.  There are very few teachers that are teaching classical guitar in Regina, and of those teachers, they have very few classical guitar students.  A quick search online and in music stores, and you won’t find any advertising for classical guitar lessons or performances.  There will be some references that some teachers will teach all styles of guitar and they will include classical.  However, ask them about what grade levels they have, or grade level they can teach up to, and most will be very limited and also unfamiliar with up to date RCM material.  Generally, they will introduce some classical technique, but branch off into other more mainstream styles.  So if they aren’t marketing classical guitar, and they aren’t maintaining their classical guitar technique, how can the offering of free classical guitar lessons steal students from those teachers which they never had, and are unlikely to have access to in the first place.

There has been a dramatic shift away from classical guitar in the city in favour of other guitar styles.  This is due to the fact that classical guitar by nature is a more demanding formal style of guitar.  That is not to say that it’s more demanding than for example, flamenco. ( Try to find a flamenco player in the city! )  Rather, other styles of guitar are more favorable and forgiving for an amateur player, and return a quicker reward for effort.  Likewise there are far more guitarists who are excellent at those other styles of music.   As for the school system, when I was young, my school offered a classical guitar classes.  Long ago, the schools have swapped out the nylon classical guitars for steel string acoustic guitars, effectively shutting out access to classical guitar for students.

Now if any given private teacher has an issue about free classical guitar classes being offered to the public by a private teacher, how do they take to free guitar classes being offered to the public in the school system?  There are also free lessons for students in after school and lunch room programs.  These students are also being taught non-classical guitar, and some electric guitar too which is in direct competition to the private music teachers.  In fact, in discussion of this matter, one local teacher I’m in association with related to me just such a situation.  Once his regular student was old enough to take the guitar classes in school, they dropped classes with him.

In the summer of 2012, I offered a free classical guitar class, open to anyone.  The only requirement was that the students had to have a classical guitar.  Many students inquired.  Lots were amazed, and some thought I was crazy to give the lessons for free.  There were lots of calls and emails, and many signed up for the class.  Lots dropped out even before the first class as they had changed their minds.  Others dropped out after one or two classes.  Still, others would only show up once in a while.  There were a few who worked through the lessons and continued on from start to finish.  There were even some who felt obligated to pay for their lessons. This was a really nice touch and an affirmation for my project.  The free classes served several purposes.  It promoted classical guitar, and it got me back into the mind set of teaching regular classes.  Also, it showed me where classical guitar stood in the grand scheme of things in Regina and outlined the next steps I would have to take as an educator for classical guitar.

Some of the important lessons I’ve learned was that everyone wants something for free and will jump at the opportunity without thinking.  Things that seem too good to be true are too good to be true.  People found out that what seemed like a perfect opportunity to get something for free, in fact required work, commitment, passion and time.  Something that each person who quit found they were lacking in one form or another.

I also learned the value of my own time, and what I have to offer, and neither should be wasted.  As I begin the New Year teaching with 8va Classical Guitar Studio, will I continue to give free lessons?  Yes and no.  Giving free lessons is completely not fair for my students that are paying.  Also, as my schedule fills up, I won’t have as much time available to give free classes, after all, I have bills to pay, and a family to feed and house as well as anyone.  I still wish to promote classical guitar and to make access to learning available to all who truly wish it.  So I will look to the school systems for after school and afternoon classes that wish to incorporate classical guitar training.  Also, for those in the community, that are indeed in true financial need, who have kids who are passionate for learning, and have a desire and are committed to working with classical guitar, there will be room in my studio for them.  For them, they would have no money to pursue private classes or formal classes through an institution, and it would be a loss to the community should we fail to reach out and provide them what they humanly deserve.

If you know of anyone who wishes to study classical guitar but are hindered by fiscal or personal hardships, have them apply to 8va Classical Guitar Studio with a letter outlining their situation, their need for assistance and their desire and commitment for music lessons.  Arrangements can be made for lessons at a reduced cost or for free depending on a case by case situation and class availability.  I know of other teachers who have made extraodinary efforts to reach out in similar fashion, and I hope there will be more.  For truly, no child should be left behind!

Derek

We have now received our kids report cards and evaluations, and soon we will have the 3 way conferences. I’m glad as a child that they were only parent teacher interviews. I don’t think I could have handled sitting there with my Mom listening to all the mistakes and issues I had as a child in school. Today, I’m glad I can share in them with my wife and kids together. Fortunately, my kids don’t have the problems that I had growing up with school. Being on both sides of the parent / child position, I have come to an understanding. The report cards and interview are more than just a review of a child’s scholastic progress. They are rather an overall litmus test for the child and family’s well being. They report on highlights of the students achievements, and the areas where they need to do more work. But children can’t do the work alone, so it is also a guide to where the parents need to direct attention. The report cards then become a review as to how effective the efforts are for both the students and parents. If things still aren’t measuring up to where they should be, if goals aren’t being met, then it’s time to ask for help.

These days now with so much ADHD, behavior, learning, and social issues, there is more support than ever. These are programmed responses to a text book condition. Children however are not static models from some clinical lab, but dynamic beings subjected to the stresses and influences around them. These elements must be taken into account when dealing with other issues. Children must be taught how to deal with these outside forces, self discipline is one such tool they need.  Discipline is not just a matter for the student having problems, but it’s ever so important for the parents supporting them. Discipline for the parent is needed to be able to sit down and work with the children toward common goals, providing a positive framework with accountability and rewards for achievement. Not treats or prizes for getting work done or learning new material, but rather the reward of self satisfaction and pride of hard work. In this regards, my experience growing up and homework was more of a labourer being driven by the task master. It didn’t matter how the work was done, just that it got done. There was no requirement of quality, just quantity and task completion.  It was me against the homework, get it done in the least amount of time. This is even more exasperated by the demands of a single parent family and the given workloads needed to get by. This is where we need help.

I’m ever so impressed with the reports and studies I hear about how music fits into this role. Private music education opens a whole new facet to the equation. The student gets dedicated one on one attention. Goals are set involving expectations and tasks to be accomplished, and rewards are achieved with the students growing ability to create music and express themselves. Parents working with a structured music teacher are able to create an added level of structure in their daily routine with musical practice. This is different than the regular scholastic homework routines, as music provides a definite tactile feedback, physical interaction with the instrument, and auditory feedback with sound creation. Most importantly, they develop confidence and self worth as they learn to master their instrument. They can connect with their musical self that is as big and strong as their imagination.

This is a vital aspect in these days of social media where it is so easy for a person to lose their identity to their cyber peer pressure and image, and where a few viral insults can crush their spirit and confidence.  It’s not just enough for a student to practice an instrument. Private practice is just that, private. This builds and feeds that dark shell for those that are introverted and isolated to begin with, that have difficulties in building social connections. This is where musical performance comes in. When a student is able to take what they have learned, and bring it into a controlled environment and perform, where people are there to see them, mistakes and all, and applaud their hard work. This gives reinforcement and confidence that is needed to help find their place. Then after their success, to celebrate their achievement, reap the rewards, reinforce their hard work and set new goals for their next stage in learning.

I’m thankful for the confidences I have gained through music, and for the teachers that have inspired me and given me the confidence to achieve.  I can also see how learning disabilities can be so devastating to a child’s progress, and how music has helped me in those regards.  I am also very thankful for family and friends for their support in my musical performance.  I also wish to thank my children’s music teacher for their insight and efforts in providing not only a challenging structured learning program for my kids, but also for the recital programs she and her peers offer for their students.  A chance for each student to shine and show off their hard work and reap the applause they ever so deserve!

Derek

 

 

We have all heard the statement “There are no stupid questions.”  This is said to encourage students to explore and grow.  So there may be no stupid questions, but what about the answer? 

I’ve always been impressed with teachers who take the time to entertain even the silliest of questions, with respect and a level of deeper consideration.  Especially if they can further explore aspects to the question the student didn’t think about and inspiring the student.  But at the very least, the teacher should at least answer the question, and explain why it is.  If the teacher cannot answer why, then they must be able, and willing to admit that they do not know why. This is fundamentally critical whether in sports, education or sales.  If a sales person can’t explain why one item is a better buy, he risks losing a sale.  If the coach can’t explain why a play action is important, there is risk of losing a point, and education, one sacrifices learning. 

It’s even more important to gain respect and trust to admit when you don’t know the reason or can’t give an answer instead of trying to give round about fast talk to brush off the question.  So many times I’ve seen this has happen with sales for electronics and computers.  Sales people making things up to make it look like they understand the product and to finalize the sale.  I’ve had great fun asking technically stupid questions to sales people and received even more outrageous answers.  A reason why I refuse to shop in a certain electronics store.  Customer and sale lost.

I’ve always been fortunate to have had excellent teachers, particularly with music.  Often times, a question to one of my teachers would trigger a learning tangent.  This would lead to extra reading and exercises or handouts for me to work on.  Lately, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in music where there seems to be a reluctance to explain anything, especially if it involves theory.  One family member asked their teacher about scales and chords, the answer, “You don’t need to know that until grade 3″.  Worse still, one of my teachers would often say, “Don’t worry about that!” as if the answer were bothersome.  In other ways it seems that these teachers don’t want to scare off their students.

I’m very happy now that my kids have a very solid piano teacher.  She answers their questions and is not afraid to challenge them with work.  I can say the same for my guitar teacher, Jason Vieaux.  One of my latest questions was in regards to a specific situation of formalities in music theory.  His answer, I’m not sure, but I will check with another instructor who would better know about that.  Then I was given the follow up, to which I’m comfortable with and even more confident in my learning.

When looking for a teacher, look for one that will not only be open to you asking questions, but one that answers them clearly, be able to explain the technique or theory to support their explanation, or else admit that they do not know.

Derek