Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Youtube revolution - What it means

Youtube is definitely driving a revolution of learning because it is based on the idea of rapid evolution. The more people who can collaborate on an idea often the faster it will evolve. The video above points out this fact out and shows examples of dancers who have learnt purely from Youtube videos. While I am extremely excited about this revolution I am cautious about overstating the idea of actually learning from Youtube. I think we need to be careful not to take the approach that one hat fits all. While some students will become great guitarists with nothing more than an Internet connection most will probably not. I believe the Internet is driving both inspiration and innovation which is fantastic but developing fundamental skills has not changed. The Internet may introduce new and wonderful ways to play a guitar but the essential skills have not changed and are unlikely to change. What's more is Youtube does not know you or understand your needs. When learning guitar like say learning a language what we need most is a teacher who knows your particular needs hopefully with a method that can be tailored to suit those needs.

Questions and answers

Youtube surprisingly is creating more questions then it answers. Youtube is inspiring people to learn guitar but can also leave them with unanswered questions. Every student is different and when a video is made it may be good for one student but not another. Its the Goldilocks scenario. Too hot, too cold, just right. When you go searching for Youtube videos most will be too advanced, too simple or just irrelevant. I uploaded some videos for beginner students and while I got some good comments of appreciation others would criticise making comments that I was going too slow or giving too much explanation. I knew these comments were from frustrated guitar students who felt I could have said in 2 minutes what I took 10 minutes to say. This was because they were obviously more advanced and did not need so much explanation.

Nothing beats a teacher

There is no question that Youtube is the best thing since the invention of the guitar but it should compliment your lessons not replace them. Students who only learn from Youtube are in fact spending a lot of time searching and watching Youtube videos and often less practicing. Youtube videos unfortunately need to be watched before you can decided whether they are relevant to you.  There are those individuals who no doubt sit with their guitar watching Youtube videos for 8 hours a day and become amazing guitarists and if you have the time why not. For the rest of us who don't have that luxury we need to make sure we make the most of our time and that is where a teacher comes in. A good teacher will know what you need to be working on at any given point. They will know the next logical step. You won't spend hours searching for what you need.

Work hard and smart

A teacher is still and probably always will be your best option for learning guitar. When we hear of great guitar players who were self taught we don't see the whole picture. The whole picture usually shows someone practicing for hours and hours everyday for several years. Their method for success is simply hours invested. Its like the person who has a million dollars from working 14 hours a day for 20 years. They might be rich but they didn't necessarily work very smart. I do believe in working hard but also smart. A good teacher will show you how to be efficient with your time and a smart student will find a good teacher.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why expectations matter

When we first begin a new project (E.g. guitar) it is likely that we will have unrealistic expectations. Have you been to a movie highly recommended by a friend only to be disappointed? Compare that to a movie by one of your favourite directors with familiar actors a somewhat predictable plot based on a well known formula. The first example while sometimes just a really bad movie recommended by a friend who thinks Elvis movies are cinema classics is really just a movie that did not meet your expectations. When we are told a movie is brilliant we expect our idea of brilliant and anything less is disappointing. Whether we like it or not we have expectations about almost everything in life and in some cases those expectations are met and in other cases they are not but our expectations often affect our decisions. When it comes to learning guitar your expectations play a major role in whether or not you decide to continue learning or give up especially in the early stages. 

Where did my student go?

I have seen guitar students who role up for their first lesson with their brand new $1500 Maton guitar, half a dozen books on how to play guitar with the excitement of a 6 year old on Christmas morning. Then within a few weeks they disappear. In my early years of teaching this would surprise me but over the years it became an all too familiar pattern which I learned to recognise early. It was simply that their expectations were not being met. I knew in order to keep these students from throwing in the towel too early it was important to set them straight from the outset. Their expectations were way too high and they were expecting too much too soon.

Hope for the best but expect the worst

It is true that some students are better at focusing and putting first things first and there are also students who walk into their first lesson with a musical history so therefore have a head start but over the long term the above differences tend to even out. A good teacher will help the student to prioritise, the less focused student learns to focus and any musical history tends to be less and less relevant. The important fact here is staying in the game. Staying in the game is about understanding your own expectations. If you expect to be playing the entire Beatles collection within a few months you will be disappointed whereas if stringing a few chords together in time is enough you will likely be pleased with your progress. This should not be confused with goals. Its good to aim high but just don't expect too much. The old saying 'Hope for the best but expect the worst' will serve you well.  

Parents - Do you think your child has realistic expectations?

Most guitar teachers are familiar with parents who when inquiring about lessons for their child say something like the following; "Is it possible to borrow or hire a guitar for a few weeks just to see how she/he goes?" I understand of course that some parents don't want to spend $100 on a new guitar only to find out a few weeks later that their child's interest has waned. The problem with this approach though is it sends the message that the parent perhaps does not have faith in their child's ability to learn guitar. But here's the thing, questioning your child's ability to follow through is not actually a bad thing. Most parents know their child extremely well so their instincts should not be ignored. If you are a parent and know your child is unlikely to follow through it is better to address the reasons why before they start. Even if your instincts are telling you they are 80% likely to follow through then address the 20%. Talk to your child about what will be involved with learning guitar. Daily practice, weekly lessons, initially sore fingers, good days and bad days, boring exercises at times and so on. As a parent you know your child so as much as possible laid it all out for them so there are no surprises. 

Good teachers address your expectations early

A good guitar teacher knows that your expectations must be met if you are to continue long term. Unmet expectations soon wear us down. Unless your teacher has some kind of magical powers your pace of learning is quite predictable based on the amount of practice you do on a consistent basis. Basically practice equals progress. A good teacher might be able to get you to practice more than you would otherwise or focus more of the essential skills and therefore help you to progress quicker but ultimately if your expectations are not met you will still be disappointed. The teacher's goal therefore is to evaluate your expectations and then ensure they are realistic and inline with what is reasonable given your average practice times. This is one of the many reasons why you should be using the *Practice Log. Your teacher needs to know how much you are practicing to know what you should be expecting in terms of progress.

*Practice Log is available in the G4 Guitar Method Kit.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Steve Jobs lesson for guitar students

I recently read that when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple his first priority was to axe as many of their products as possible and focus on only a few key products. Initially there were about 300 different Apple products which he managed to cull back to around 10. Jobs certainly did not invent this philosophy but he did make a great case for the less is more argument. 

A lack of focus

I decided many years ago to take the same approach with teaching guitar. In my early years of teaching I witnessed too many students with guitar cases full of half tabbed songs often from previous teachers. If I then asked them to play a complete song they would confess to not actually knowing a song from beginning to end. The problem was not really the fact that they could not play a complete song. After all many songs include sections that are simply beyond the beginner student and may take years to learn. For example there might be a simple intro but a challenging solo or chord. The real problem was they seemed frustrated, lacked focus and were not heading in any real direction. When one song got too hard they just moved on to a new one. Every week! 

Songs are projects

Students who jump from one song to another (affectionately know as 'Riff junkies') often fall into the habit of skipping difficult sections or what they may perceive as boring. Songs should be seen as projects. You should aim to finish any song you start. If you learn say the intro and then find the verse too difficult don't just give up. Instead talk to your teacher and ask them what you need to do to be able to play the section in question. In other words what skills do you need to develop. It may require a skill that will take you several years to learn but that's okay. The process of developing this skill will lead you often to new discoveries. 

Short and long term projects

Not all songs are equal of course. Some will be short term projects and others long term projects but either way, don't take on any project you do not intend on finishing. Perhaps do some research first. Ask your teacher to be honest with you as to how difficult the song will be for your current level and how much practice will be required. I saw a video recently of a very respectable session guitarist who said it took him more than 20 years to perfect Van Halen's 'Eruption' and perfect it he did. It was the closest I had ever heard to the original. Even closer than live Eddie who always plays it slightly different live.

Becoming more selective

Taking the approach of finishing what you start will help you to become more selective about the songs you choose to learn. Like Jobs you need to throw out the hundreds of songs and focus on just a few. Don't try try to be the ultimate guitar jukebox. Your friends might be impressed initially but as a guitarist you will be compromising your playing. Its better to play a few songs really well than a lot of songs poorly. . 

Your 'Ultimate Song List'

To help students to focus I created a blank list called the Ultimate Song List (USL). (To receive a copy please visit the  G4 Guitar Student Site) On this list students write down a maximum of 25 songs they ultimately hope to be able to play. I usually ask students to fill this list in over the first few weeks. The list is not written in stone at this point. It is simply a starting point. Students are free to change songs at anytime but their list can never be anymore than 25. When they are satisfied with their list they can see they then have a clear direction. New songs and riffs may come along and of course they can learn other songs but the USL is the goal. It keeps the student focused and acts as a reminder of where they are heading.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Lesson in Persistence

As children we are all born into particular circumstances. Our family, neighbours, local community and even country will have an impact on how we turn out as adults. In the USA for example there are certain neighbourhoods where your odds of ending up in prison are high. Children who grow up in these areas are introduced to crime from an early age and simply know no better. There are often very few opportunities where they can escape their fate.

Teaching us a lesson

Despite the grim reality there is hope for children in some of these areas. KIPP schools in the USA offer an amazing opportunity to children in these less fortunate areas. KIPP schools are free but the standards are high and they only accept students who accept their terms. In areas where most children will never reach college at KIPP 95% of their students graduate high school and most go on to college.  KIPP is turning education on its head and is fast becoming America's most talked about schools.

So what do they do differently? 

KIPP schools understand something very important. They know that all children given the opportunity can excel but the secret is persistence. KIPP schools operate from early in the morning until 5pm in the afternoon. Too much time at school many might say but the kids love it.  KIPP knows that their students have more time to problem solve. When a child is taught to persist they solve more problems and as a result their confidence grows. To children success is like sugar. Once they get a taste they want more. I once read that Asian students tend to perform better at maths problems compared to the rest of the populations because they persist longer on the problem. This happens because usually their parents work with them at a young age but that's for another blog.

Persist and you shall succeed

As a guitar teacher and an entrepreneur I know the importance of persistence. Those students who persist get results and then their confidence grows. When we give up too soon we never realise our potential. Now when I say persist I don't mean persisting with your weekly guitar lesson or even daily guitar practice. I mean to persist on solving a problem or developing a skill. When a child is learning to play a new song and its difficult they will often want to stop or play something more familiar. By pushing them to go just a little longer they improve their ability to persist. Do this on a daily basis and overtime they will learn to persist much longer and therefore achieve more but a word of caution. Don't push too hard too quickly. Build them up gradually. Perhaps reward them for persisting.

Check out the KIPP Schools Video online.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is your brain wired for guitar success?

Functional MRI scans are now revealing a lot about how the brain actually works. Researchers today are curious to learn about a whole range of brain functions and how they relate to real life. One such area of research is the brain of successful people. Apparently successful people across a broad range of areas show some similarities in brain activity. Contrary to popular belief there is no real relationship between I.Q. and success. Success it turns out has more to do with the way we respond to situations and especially how we respond to failure or set backs and this definitely applies to successful guitarists.

Guitar will test your brain

Learning guitar is actually a very difficult challenge and one that will test you especially over the long term. Learning guitar at first is exciting because our naturally optimistic outlook has us believing that it will only be a matter of months before we will be playing our favourite songs. It is true that some songs are quite simple but it is unlikely that every song you hope to play is actually simple enough to knock over in a few months. Many of the skills you will need to acquire will take years to learn. This reality will often frustrate and question whether you have the talent or whether its worth the effort. The statistics show most will abandon their guitar dreams within the first year. Most of us will question our commitment on a regular basis and it is how you answer this question that will decide whether or not you succeed.
Rewiring your brain for guitar success

The researchers found that the FMRI scans of those who were successful actually showed a different result to those who gave up. There were actually different thought patterns in the brain of successful people. This may lead you to believe that you either have a successful brain or you don't. Fortunately we are not born with one brain or the other. The term plasticity is now used to describe how our brains work. This means our brain can be shaped but it takes work. You must begin by being aware of how you respond to a situation. Knowing and understanding this will increase your chances of success. They found the most common traits of successful people were persistence and resilience and such people know how to respond to themselves when in times of doubt.

So how do successful people respond?

Imagine you have been learning guitar for a few months and the practice seems tedious and the rewards small. You get home from a hard day at school or work and the last thing you want to do is more study. By being aware you will be able to listen to what you are actually saying to yourself. If you do not feel like practicing chances are your self talk is negative in terms of guitar practice. The successful person's brain will still have the same negative thoughts but they respond differently by challenging their own opinion. E.g. Negative brain "Practice is boring and besides if I had talent it wouldn't be so difficult". The positive brain argues "Maybe it's boring at times and yes it's challenging but the practice will get easier and my playing will improve. It's just a fact. More practice equals more progress."

Why not talk yourself into practicing

We often talk ourselves out of practice through justification. You might say to yourself that you have too many immediate priorities but deep down you know its just an excuse. The above is just an example but the idea is to train your brain in overturning your negative thoughts with positive ones. Justification is part of human nature but if its sabotaging your dreams you need to question it. When you notice yourself talking yourself out of practicing challenge yourself and talk yourself back into practicing.  You should also consider the fact that if you are able to do this exercise on guitar you can then apply it to other areas of your life. If you give up on guitar then your negative brain has won. If your positive brain wins your confidence will grow because you now know that success is in your hands and not just a matter of luck. You will have literally rewired your brain for success.

Guitar teachers are wired for success

A good guitar teacher can help you develop the successful brain. After all they have done it. A guitar teacher is someone who overcame the same doubts that you will go through. A good teacher will not only  teach you how to play guitar but if you dig a little deeper they will also share with you their personal challenges and how they overcame them. A good guitar teacher knows how to get you over the humps and a great guitar teacher knows how to prepare you for the humps before you even get to them.

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