You’ve heard it before… the tired, old analogy of the three-legged stool. You know, the three things that MUST be equally developed or something of significance (like your health, marriage, business, etc) will be out of balance. I’m not going to dig up that old illustration. Nope… no stools here. Just drum thrones!
Conveniently, drum thrones have three legs and they are designed to be of equal length. You wouldn’t want to try and rock out behind the kit on a throne that’s, well, rocking. Our drum throne represents the foundation that you are helping your student build as a musician. What are the three legs that must be equally developed? Skills, concepts and vocabulary.
You may argue with me that some other combination of “legs” would work better. Maybe so, but let’s not split hairs. The important thing here is that you have a plan for your instruction. What are you teaching your students? What are you trying to accomplish with them? How do you know if you are succeeding? You may focus on some other list of standards or benchmarks for your teaching. That’s great! The most important thing is to make sure you have measurable standards that keep you on track with your teaching and allow you to evaluate your students and course-correct to provide the most effective music education you can.
Skills: How to do it.
I’ve heard it said that most students don’t want to learn music, they want to play music. This resonates with my own teaching philosophy: get students playing quickly, help them fall in love with their instrument and they will let you lead them anywhere. Yes, even into the Valley of the Shadow of Music Theory. This is why I focus first on helping students develop playing skills. A beginner guitarist doesn’t need to understand chord construction or even know the word “triad” in order to play a G major. The acquisition of skills should start first and should never, ever stop. This is where touch, form and ear training come into play. Once the student realizes, “Hey! I’m making music!”, you can begin to unpack all that she’s doing. It’s thrilling for a student when you can say, “That lick you just played… it’s from the minor pentatonic scale. That scale is the backbone of most rock guitar. Let me explain what you’re doing.” The other option involves lots of talking and theory before the student ever touches the instrument and tries to actually play anything. This approach causes disinterested staring into the middle distance, lack of momentum and eventually a disengaged (and lost) student.
The skills that we teach and evaluate for Level 00 – Newbie in the LessonNotebook.com Guitar Method include how to:
- Hold the guitar, make a chord & strum
- Tune with an electronic tuner
- Read chord diagrams
- Play two chords from Chord Group #1
- Play a basic strum pattern from Strum Pattern Group #1
- Move fluidly between two or three chords to play first song
Concepts: Why you do it.
Once the student is playing the instrument, take the time to explain how things work. Unpacking music theory ideas is much less threatening if the student is already applying them. Show them how the ideas work specifically with their instrument of choice. For instance, while teaching a student to tune the guitar with an electronic tuner, you can help them become familiar with the concept of pitch and what it means for a pitch to be flat or sharp. You are teaching your student how to tune the guitar. Why? Because pitches can be flat, sharp or in tune and we want our guitar to be in tune.
The concepts we teach and evaluate for Level 00 – Newbie in the LessonNotebook.com Guitar Method include:
- How the guitar works
- Standard tuning
Vocabulary: What to call it.
As a primarily self-taught teenage guitarist (without the power of the Internet at my disposal… we’re talking about the dark ages of the mid-90s), I remember trying to talk about gear at the local guitar shop and having NO CLUE what to call things. Though I could play pretty well, my confidence as a budding guitarist was undercut by lack of “insider” lingo. I sounded like a dumb, newbie guitarist.
New students need all the confidence they can get. Teaching vocabulary gives them a special language shared around the world and helps them feel initiated into the fellowship of musicians.
If you’re teaching guitar, drums or other rock band instruments, your students are probably looking for a less technical, more recreational experience in their lessons. Don’t let vocabulary make the lesson feel too much like school. I often share my story from above and say, “Here’s a cool guitar word… pull it out in front of your friends and they’ll think you are a super-smart guitarist.” This type of approach gives the student a reason to pay attention to the word and use it outside of lesson.
Vocabulary is the doorway into concepts. Evaluate your student’s vocabulary and you’ll have a good idea of what concepts he understands.
The vocabulary we teach and evaluate for Level 00 – Newbie in the LessonNotebook.com Guitar Method include:
- Strum pattern
- Standard tuning
These three legs of the throne work well for me. Use them or any other combination of standards that you choose to teach. Whatever you do, have a plan for your instruction, follow it and evaluate it regularly with your students.